The year 2000 was capped off with one of the most memorable bowl games in Maroon Nation history. The storyline was perfect. Two Land Grant schools clad in the same colors, one in all maroon and one in all white - brought to relevance to the spite of their rivals by the same coach - were facing off in Shreveport, LA in a snow storm. Wayne Madkin, Dontae Walker, Dicenzo Miller, Willie Blade, and Julius Griffith all made big plays to lead the Bulldogs to a 43-41 overtime (Independence Bowl) victory over Texas A&M.
Bulldog fans were excited. We were entrenched in an era of winning, and our program was where we had all wanted it to be for so long.
And then, to quote Coach Sherrill, "The bubble popped." 2001, 2002, and 2003 saw the Bulldogs record a total of 8 wins and fall to the bottom of the SEC, a place we thought we had left behind. The NCAA and its principle investigator Rich Johanningmeier were camped out in Starkville (with or without 'Xenareb') and took 3 years to investigate 18 far-fetched allegations only to find that Sherrill and Mississippi State had committed no major violations. During that time, however; the NCAA was able to find enough to place the Bulldogs on probation for several minor violations (I am left to wonder what they would find at any school after a 3-year investigation). That time also proved significant as other schools were able to use the specter of NCAA probation against the Bulldogs on the recruiting trail.
After the 2003 season, (former Mississippi State Athletic Director) Larry Templeton made a splash with the hire of (Green Bay Packers assistant coach) Sylvester Croom as head coach. As the first African-American head football coach in the history of the SEC, Croom quickly brought a good amount of positive media attention to Mississippi State.
The honeymoon was short-lived, though, as the transition to Croom was not a smooth one. Croom tried to split his time between the Green Bay Packers, who were making a playoff run, and the Bulldogs. That decision cost him valuable time in putting together a staff and in getting in the homes of recruits. Then early losses to Maine and Troy drew concern from the maroon nation.
A successful 2007 season at 8-5 with a Liberty Bowl victory over Central Florida once again had the Bulldogs back in postseason play. However, Croom's inability to put an offense on the field that could effectively put points on the board in the SEC ultimately did in his administration. A 3-2 loss to Auburn and a season-ending 45-0 loss to Mississippi proved to be too much for Croom to overcome and he and Mississippi State parted ways.
A little more than a year ago, (University of Florida offensive coordinator) Dan Mullen took the helm of the MSU football program. Hired by State's ninja of an Athletic Director, Greg Byrne, Mullen brought with him years of coaching and winning with the vaunted spread-option offensive attack and had gotten the likes of quarterbacks Alex Smith and Josh Harris to the NFL. He had also coached quarterbacks Chris Leak and Tim Tebow to BCS national titles. He finished his first season 5-7 which could have easily been 7-5 if a couple of plays had gone the Bulldogs' way. What is most impressive, though, is that a year after the 45-0 debacle, Mullen led his troops to a 41-27 trouncing of "That School Up North."
So, here we sit at the beginning of the "teens" with the hope that our Bulldogs are ready to take some huge leaps forward. We ended the first decade of the 21st century with a 42-76 record. Minus a few seasons here and there, Bulldog football, since the end of the Second World War, has been a frustrating creation. After this past season's loss to LSU - a game where the Dawgs were inches away from the upset - one of my friends sent me a text message saying, "It's easier to kiss your own elbow than to be a Bulldog fan." Of course, it was said in humorous frustration, a voice that many MSU fans speak. I like to think that there are always possibilities, there is always tomorrow, or next year - and that our Dawgs will have their day, preferably many of them.
To prepare myself for our glorious future, I often look to a quote from one of history's greatest Bulldogs to inspire me.
"Never give in. Never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." - Sir Winston Churchill