Leaving a Legacy
Bo Wallace, lying flat on the Davis Wade Stadium grass, football well out of reach. What could have very well been a game-tying score, pending an extra point, resulted in the low point of his football career.
Mississippi State 17, Ole Miss 10.
“I’ve been thinking about this game since last year,” he says now, a year removed from the play he never forgot. “Every single day I’ve thought about this game. Pushed me this offseason to work harder than I ever have. That thing drove me every single day.”
That thing. That cruel, unforgiving, unrelenting thing.
He longed for his redemption moment, to put a past of frustration behind him and move forward. To be remembered as one of the greatest players in Ole Miss history and not for “Bad Bo,” the narrative he’s tried to run from but hasn’t been able to avoid.
Because careers are defined by such plays.
Only when they aren’t.
“I had to win this game,” Wallace said Saturday night, an hour or so after Ole Miss (9-3, 5-3 SEC), following weeks of frustration and disappointment, defeated in-state rival Mississippi State, 31-17, in the annual Egg Bowl rivalry game.
“I knew it. Talked to a lot of guys about it. I had to win this game for what I want to be remembered for.”
He heard the taunts for a year. He knew full well the criticisms of his play, of his abilities as a quarterback. He was mocked and ridiculed by both Mississippi State and Ole Miss fans alike, however many there were.
It comes with the territory of playing in the Egg Bowl, one of the fiercest rivalries in all of college football, and of playing the most recognizable position in the sport.
He had to beat Mississippi State (10-2, 6-2). Anything short was unacceptable. Players are defined by how they respond in such moments. His legacy was at stake.
“It means everything,” he said of the win. “We had to have this game, I had to win this game.”
He didn’t practice much in the week after suffering an injured ankle in the Rebels’ 30-0 loss to Arkansas the week before. He didn’t play all that well, either, finishing 13 of 30 for 296 yards, an interception and a rushing touchdown. He was even intercepted on Ole Miss’ first scoring opportunity in the first quarter, flashes of all of his past mistakes rushing back into the minds of a near-capacity crowd inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
But he responded. He gutted his way through. He could barely run, yet he finished a two-yard scoring plunge anyway, forcing his way through two defenders to break the plane.
Bo Wallace fought.
“Unbelievable,” tight end Evan Engram, Wallace’s favorite target on the night with 176 yards on five receptions, said of his quarterback’s performance. “One of the toughest players I’ve played with my whole career. A lot of guys could’ve just milked the injury and sat on the sidelines and not done anything. That wasn’t going to happen with him. He pushed through a lot. He played huge. A very good, smart performance.
“That toughness, that speaks volume for his character and his love for this team.”
Wallace moved into 10th place in SEC history with 9,425 career passing yards in the win. His 83-yard pass to Engram in the third quarter was the longest of his career and tied for the third-longest passing play in school history.
All the numbers. All the accomplishments. What mattered most, all that mattered, was one.
“I told everyone you would have to chain him down for him to not play,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “For all the stuff he gets talked about, I would hope this seals his place in Ole Miss history as a quarterback that helped us restore pride and returned this program to relevancy, two Egg Bowl (victories), three bowl games. I hope this cements his legacy here in a very positive light, because he deserves that.”
His team rallied around him. A motivational video of the fumble, as well as the resulting sneering of Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley, was replayed on Sunday.
There he sat again, in the team meeting room of the Manning Center, reliving the nightmare, all of his teammates alongside.
Only this time, it was different. Arkansas disappointment turned to anger and focus. The Egg Bowl became everything. A team rallied. They rallied for the task in front of them. They rallied for their rival.
More than anything, they rallied for their quarterback.
“Pissed off,” Wallace said. “The fumble was embarrassing, and then for (the taunting) to happen, it’s embarrassing. So pissed off. That was something huge that brought us together.
“The crazy thing is, looking back, I’m kind of thankful for that. I think it made me have a better season this year.”
And cement his place among the best ever to play at Ole Miss. End of debate.
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