Battle for the Golden Egg always important

The Egg Bowl, as it's been called since the late 1970s, will take place again on Saturday. The Rebels lead 52-21-5 since the trophy was first awarded in 1927. Ole Miss also leads the overall football series with Mississippi State 58-38-6 dating back to 1901.

This one always means so much.

Coaches want to win it just like they want to win every game. Players want to win it because of their competitive nature of playing sports, and also the fact that in this one some familiar faces are usually just across the line of scrimmage.

It may mean more to the fans than anybody else. They have to live it 365 days a year, and even for an extra day during leap year.

As usual, there have been postings all week about fans' first Egg Bowl or their favorite Egg Bowl or their most memorable, etc. Everybody has answers, either written publicly or just in their minds and hearts.

You can't live in Mississippi or support one of the two schools without this game becoming a part of your very being. It simply won't happen.

A reporter who hasn't been to one of these asked me recently what the Egg Bowl is like. "Is it like the Iron Bowl with Alabama and Auburn?"

Kinda, I responded, without as much national hype and lately without TV.

But the truth of the matter is it's every bit as important to those who wear red and blue and those in maroon and white as the Iron Bowl next door.

On the Rebs' side, I think back to coaches who knew the game's importance and also those who learned about it quickly.

John Vaught (with only two losses in 25 games against State) and former Rebel player Billy Brewer (8 wins in 11 meetings) understood from day one how important beating your instate rival is. And they worked at it to make sure the Rebels succeeded as often as possible in this one. It didn't just happen.

Vaught won nine games and eight games his first two seasons (1947, '48). In 1949 he was 4-5-1. But all three years he beat State, and the combined scores were 93-21 in those three Battles for the Golden Egg.

In 1950 his team entered the game 4-5. There were rumors and rumblings. One of the true glorious eras in college football history hung in the balance.

"Don't worry about getting me fired. You're not going to get me fired," Vaught told his Rebels before that game, according to his memoirs, Rebel Coach. "I had the choice of the players in this room or the players over on the Mississippi State side today. I chose the men in this room. If we can't beat the men on that other team after we've been coaching you for three or four years, I don't want to coach anymore. If we don't win, I'll quit before they fire me."

Final score: The University of Mississippi 27, Mississippi State College 20.

Vaught's successor, former Rebel player Billy Kinard, only got two shots at State and won both handily, 48-0 in Starkville in '71 and 51-14 in Oxford in '72.

After Kinard, Georgia alum Ken Cooper led Ole Miss and was 1-3 against MSU head coach Bob Tyler, an Ole Miss grad, even though the Rebels got two of those three back when MSU had to forfeit. But it was too late for Cooper who was fired after four seasons. Not beating State on the field more often was only one of the reasons he failed.

Former Alabama QB Steve Sloan understood the rivalry and won big his first year as UM head coach with freshman QB John Fourcade making his first start in the Egg Bowl, a 27-7 UM win. But Sloan was 2-2 against MSU after that and not beating State more was only one of the reasons he failed as well.

After Joe Lee Dunn lost in his only Egg Bowl as head coach of the Rebs, albeit with the interim label, along came Tommy Tuberville who clearly understood the rivalry and its importance. He pulled off two wins in dramatic fashion at MSU (13-10 in '95; 15-14 in '97) but lost both times in Oxford.

Alabama alum and longtime Tennessee assistant David Cutcliffe didn't quite understand the rivalry when he got here and admitted it. He and Deuce McAllister quietly watched the postgame celebration from the field house door in 1999 when the Bulldogs posted a rare miracle comeback - for them - to win in Starkville. Ole Miss has won the Egg Bowl several times that way. Not State.

On the MSU side, former Alabama player Sylvester Croom lost in Oxford 20-3 two years ago and said he didn't understand just how intense the rivalry was and that he'd have his team prepared the next time. And he did.

Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron, a Louisianian, said this week that he understands the rivalry more now since he's been through it once.

In the late ‘90s and in the early part of the new century, this game was nationally televised and several times had both teams advancing to play in bowls. Lately it's been a more local, neighborhood game. Just one for bragging rights mostly, since players and coaches normally tell us recruiting isn't hurt or helped all that much by the outcome of this one.

If that's the case, that leaves at least a couple of reasons to win it, if you're in the Ole Miss camp – those bragging rights, and to make sure the Golden Egg is back home in Oxford.

Pretty important ones, huh. Bring on Saturday.

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