Still Kicking

Andrew Ritter is a daily weather watcher. At least he is while he's a placekicker for a football team.

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Few who play football are affected as much as the kicker when it comes to conditions. Lately the concerns have been mostly about the cold and the wind.

"Absolutely," he said of his undivided attention to the weather forecast as part of his daily ritual. "Every day of the week I check it. I want to know how to prepare and what the conditions are. I have the Weather Channel app on my phone, and I'm checking it on a daily basis."

Last weekend against Missouri, Ole Miss lost to the Tigers 24-10 in Oxford as temperatures dipped into the low 30s. Thursday night in Starkville, more of the same is predicted. Before sunrise on Friday, some predictions have the low falling into the mid-20s.

Translation: Winter has arrived early in northern Mississippi.

Ritter said as a kicker it is different when the warmth and heat of August and the early part of the season turn into cold and winter as has been the case these last several days.

"The ball just doesn't have as much pop when it's cold like that," said the fifth-year senior veteran of the Rebels. "When it's hot outside, the ball tends to jump off your foot. When it's cold, it doesn't."

There isn't anything that can necessarily be done about it. It is what it is, as the old saying goes. But it does perhaps make for a somewhat different thought process for coaches and kickers, and also for trying to stay warm throughout the game.

Kickers are active only for a select few moments in any given contest.

"Standing around on the sideline, I tend to tighten up a lot quicker. I just have to stay moving," Ritter said. "Stay on the (stationary) bike. Get in front of the heaters. Keep the blood flowing. If I do that, I'll be able to kick the ball fine."

Ritter said it appears the wind, which was blowing strongly Saturday night during the Missouri game, won't be moving quite as swiftly at Davis Wade Stadium/Scott Field.

"It's looking like there's going to be only mild winds," he said. "The other night it was pretty high winds, 15-16 miles per hour, which takes the temperature down another ten degrees. And it's hard to control the ball in that kind of weather. It is going to be cold, and I don't really like it. But it affects both teams. I worry more about the wind than the temperature."

Ritter's game-winner against LSU in October
Bruce Newman

It's been 30 years since that most famous of all "wind-blown" plays in this Battle for the Golden Egg series. Leading 23-7 as the fourth quarter began, Mississippi State found itself trailing Ole Miss 24-23 with only seconds to go.

State's Artie Cosby lined up to kick what the late radio play by play announcer for Ole Miss, Stan Torgerson, called "a chip shot." On most days, a 27-yard field goal would have been.

But on Nov. 19, 1983, the winds swirled throughout the stadium all day, and at times gusts were so strong it made standing difficult. One of those massive gusts came along just as Cosby's kick headed straight toward the goalposts, got right up to them, but suddenly made a direct turn left as the wind kept the football inside the playing field.

Ole Miss had kept its 24-23 lead. Rebel quarterback Kelly Powell took the final snap of the game moments later and fell face first to the turf, capping one of the most dramatic comebacks in the series and certainly one of the most memorable games of them all between the two arch-rivals.

"The Immaculate Deflection" it was called by many, and sports writer Billy Watkins of Jackson wrote in his postgame story, "It was possibly the only field goal ever celebrated by two teams. It was good. And then no good."

Ritter, from a family of Ole Miss alumni and fans, has heard that story all his life. As a placekicker it has been of special interest to him.

"My family's always told me about it," said Ritter, a native of Jackson, the city that was the site of that Egg Bowl and all others from 1973-1990. "I've actually seen the footage from it. That was a crazy thing. I do not want that to happen to me."

Ritter would, however, like to kick the game-winner, just as he did to lift Ole Miss to a 27-24 victory against LSU last month in Oxford.

"That was big for me and my confidence," he said of the memorable moment against the Tigers. "It was also good for our team to get that win. That was the first time for me to be in that situation (in college). I feel like I got over a hump."

Ritter said he knows the Bulldogs will be ready to play.

"They're a good football team," he said. "They're going to play us as hard as anybody's played us all year. We've got to show up and do our best. We're prepared for it."

The Rebels are 7-4 overall and 3-4 in Southeastern Conference play. MSU is 5-6 and 2-5.

Ritter knows what Thursday night means. He's lived this rivalry all his life.

"It's very important to me and to this team," he said. "We're not only controlling our own destiny as to what bowl game we go to, but it's also for the state of Mississippi and our fan base. This is for 365 days of bragging rights. It's also huge for recruiting in the state of Mississippi, and we understand that.

"To our fans, it's the most important game of the year. And it's that way to us."

And if it comes down to another field goal opportunity to win it for the Rebels?

"If we're in that situation, that's something I've dreamed about, that's something I've prepared for," Ritter said. "Hopefully our offense will be rolling and it won't come down to that. But if it does, I'll be prepared for it."

And hoping all the while that the winds on the east Mississippi plains will be calm.

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