Golden Egg Stays Home

Editor Jeff looks back at Egg Bowl weekend 2004, the 101st football meeting between Ole Miss and State.

Sometimes when you're 3-7 with one game remaining, it often amounts to nothing more than a handful of little things to make you stop and think and even feel a little better. You kinda look for those few highlights to draw on when you're assured of a losing season and no postseason bowl bid.

Thursday and Friday were beautiful days in north Mississippi. We'd known for several days it looked like wet and cold conditions for the Egg Bowl. That's what those who predict such things had said all week.

It wouldn't have been Ole Miss-Mississippi State football if it had been a nice, 65-degree, sunny, pleasant day. Those are indeed rare in this 101-game series.

Had the contest been scheduled for Thanksgiving this year like the past six seasons, I'm certain it would have been wet or cold or both instead of the chamber of commerce day Thanksgiving turned out to be. Just the nature of Ole Miss-State and Egg Bowl conditions.

But sweet victories always make you forget about all that. At least for a moment or two, even a final record of 4-7 seemed to fade a bit late on Saturday afternoon.

Although wet and cold and semi-wintry, Egg Bowl 2004 was a beautiful day in Oxford, the capital of college football in Mississippi.

A complete and total domination of the instate rivals was actually not as close as the final tally of 20-3 indicated.

Late Friday night after the Rebels' exhibition basketball game had been over for a while, I was driving across town. I had my XM radio on in the car – you know, the one I've talked about on here a couple of times, inquired to some of you about, the one I got back in October after much contemplating – XM or Sirius, Sirius or XM.

It was tuned to ESPN Radio. I really wasn't paying much attention.

But something got my attention.

The host was interviewing Dave Revsine of College GameDay on ESPN Radio. There was talk of the current football season, conversation about the BCS, about who would win the Heisman, about all things football during the interview session.

Then came the question that got my attention.

"So Dave," the host asked Revsine, here for the UM win over Florida along with Mel Kiper, Jr., in 2002. "Of all the places you've been with GameDay Radio on ESPN, what's your favorite? Which place was best, the one you remember the most?"

Without hesitation, Revsine, who has been with the show from Los Angeles to South Bend to Baton Rouge and Gainesville and Ann Arbor and many places in between, said, "Oxford, Mississippi. The place is unbelievable. You have to see it to believe it."

Wow. What a statement about Oxford and Ole Miss.

Makes you wonder why College GameDay on ESPN TV has not visited. I still can't believe we haven't had Chris, Lou, and Kirk here on one of those special Saturdays in the fall, especially since Lou and Kirk seemed to like it so well here on their Egg Bowl Thanksgiving night visits.

That Revsine would say that for all the listeners to hear across the world made me once again forget 3-7 for a moment and focus on how special it is here. Even during 4-7 years, sometimes we need to be reminded. Took a national radio sports personality to make me do that late on Egg Bowl eve.

There were others of those type moments this weekend. Some of the ones for me came as the game neared its completion and beyond.

The relief, the joy, the elation of keeping the Golden Egg in Oxford for the third straight year was apparent among our fans as I left the press box and headed down to the field with the Rebels leading 20-3 and the outcome no longer in doubt.

I broke out of the crowd in the west side stands just in time to see Ty Freeman racing down the field after catching a pass from Omarr Conner and heading for a possible touchdown. But along came Travis Johnson who caught up with Freeman, knocked the football loose, and recovered it himself before it got into the end zone for a possible Bulldog touchdown as several white-shirted MSU players were nearby.

It was a sensational play on Johnson's part and it was indicative of the way the Rebels played all day – with a sense of purpose and direction and commitment. It hasn't appeared that way from this team every Saturday this season. But it clearly did this particular Saturday.

But I will say this. Except for the game at Arkansas, I'm not so sure this team didn't just about give it all it had every gameday in 2004. Sometimes they were a bit outmatched. Sometimes the ball bounced the wrong way. Sometimes the indecision of important matters like who the quarterback would be appeared to keep them from reaching their full potential.

But no play indicated their total focus on victory Saturday more than Johnson's late-game effort – from the chase to the hit to the recovery at the 2-yard line – all no less than a thing of beauty and one for the highlight reels in a year of fewer of those than usual.

As the final seconds ticked off in victory, I stood at the southeast corner of the field before heading into the tunnel for postgame interviews. I watched Oxford's Kerry Johnson hold the Golden Egg high above his head in his hometown, knowing what the moment meant to a kid who grew up here and around Ole Miss football.

I then watched as Doug Buckles carried it high above his head toward the new field entrance tunnel in the southwest corner, totally sure just what that moment meant to a kid who admittedly grew up with thoughts of being a Bulldog, although with more reservations of his past leanings as the years have gone by here.

It was appropriate indeed that it was Buckles, the highly recruited lineman in the late 1990s from Madison Central that State folks coveted so badly, who would carry the ancient and historic trophy down the tunnel to the magnificent new IPF, the home of Ole Miss football.

I watched as some State fans – and some Ole Miss fans – marveled at the new IPF on their way out of the stadium. They looked all around it. They checked out the newly-placed statue of the Ole Miss football player in the plaza.

I made my way inside and visited briefly before the press conference with Karen Cutcliffe, the first lady of Ole Miss football. It has been a difficult season for all, including Karen and the Cutcliffe family.

I then listened for a moment to her husband begin his press conference and I took a few notes before heading back up to the press box, past the MSU buses lined up to take the Bulldogs back to Starkville and through a sea of maroon-clad faithful who awaited their departure from the visiting locker room.

Before all that, however, as I opened the door to leave the IPF, I ran face to face with the Chancellor.

"Smile, Jeff," Robert Khayat, the former football player for the Rebels, said as he entered the IPF.

I must have had a serious look on my face. I guess I was preparing myself mentally to go write a story and getting my postgame face on to make my way through a couple hundred disappointed, quiet Bulldog fans.

But he was right. I needed to smile.

At this moment on this day, we all did.

Once again realizing just how good it feels to beat State, even with our final slate of sub .500.

Once again realizing that many people throughout the country and even the world know what a special place this is, especially on gamedays, thanks to comments of people like ESPN Radio's Dave Revsine.

Once again for a few moments watching Ole Miss players and coaches and all our people euphoric and celebrating and enjoying the moment that always comes from victory in the Battle for the Golden Egg.

A couple of hours later as I left the press box, friend J. Stern of Ole Miss sports productions drove up. There was the matter of the final David Cutcliffe TV show of the season.

"Need a ride to your car?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.

"Hold this," he said.

And I picked up the Golden Egg from the passenger seat and held it as I was taxied to my vehicle.

Gave the most important sports trophy in this state a pat or two or three on its 77-year-old golden shell, knowing how meaningful the last few hours had been to all those in red and blue, forgetting for a few more moments the pain many have felt for weeks as the first losing season in eight years unfolded.

(For the record, the Rebels have now claimed the Egg for the third straight season, not an unusual occurrence here. There have been many longer streaks than that for Ole Miss. The last time State won it three years running? 1940-41-42).

But now it is back to the reality of what a 4-7 season and a tie for third in the SEC West at 3-5 mean to the big picture. There is a winning tradition here again. There are facilities unmatched in this state.

There are many minds working at this very moment, contemplating the future of the program, deciding what is best for all concerned, hoping to resolve any of this as seamlessly as possible and as soon as possible.

All search for answers. Few, if any, have them yet.

Subscribers and readers ask us here at the Ole Miss Spirit what we know. And we, like them and you, wait.

There will be answers and they will come in due time, most likely quite soon for the good of all. They could range from no changes to a few changes to many.

Who really knows until we hear anything officially?

Until then, I'll recall those special moments from Egg Bowl 2004 weekend, and enjoy knowing the Golden Egg is at home for yet another year.

Home in Oxford, right where it belongs.

OM Spirit Top Stories