For Whom the Bells Toll

With due respect to East Carolina's version of southern football and even the SEC's other Bulldogs, West Virginia's ‘Eers will ring this weekend like never before.

A road contest at Mississippi State (1-4) might not immediately intimidate via record, players or history. But the SEC bottom-feeder's 55,082-seat venue is tops in one in-game ritual so loud it had the WVU coaching staff placing orders for practice props this week.

The Bulldogs are collegiate rarity, a program that allows an artificial noisemaker into its stadiums for non-conference games. And though the vaunted cowbells are artificial, there's nothing of the sort associated with the noise 30,000-plus of them make. Which is why, when head coach Rich Rodriguez inked the deal with MSU, he also inked an agreement to have cowbells shipped to Morgantown to be used during practices leading up to the game, which kicks Saturday from Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville at 2:30 p.m. EST.

"They just started handing them out," said fullback Max Anderson, who as a Morgantown native has seen overflowing crowds at Mountaineer Field, but insists this adds another sound dimension. "We were all surprised, but we had fun with it. We ran 60 plays in the indoor facility, and it was pretty annoying. They called in all the redshirt players and the graduate assistants. Everybody had one, and they were right there in your ear. After the play, they backed out when we called cadence, then started up again."

The 50-plus bells, even while up close, didn't generate near the noise 30,000 will this weekend. Rodriguez said that when he was an offensive coordinator at Clemson, when the Tigers played MSU in the Peach Bowl, the magnification in the Georgia Dome was unreal, and that "it seemed like all 30,000 were back at our hotel after the game." It's enough to leave some players – and visiting fans – reaching for an Advil. But not quarterback Patrick White.

"It doesn't really give me a headache," he said. "I kind of enjoy them."

So does Mississippi State, which has utilized the noisemakers since the late 1930s, which was the self-proclaimed "golden age" of Bulldog football. According to the MSU athletic site, www.mstatesthletics.com, the "most popular legend is that during a home football game between State and arch-rival Mississippi, a jersey cow wandered onto the playing field. Mississippi State soundly whipped the Rebels that Saturday, and State College students immediately adopted the cow as a good luck charm. Students are said to have continued bringing a cow to football games for a while, until the practice was eventually discontinued in favor of bringing just the cow's bell.

"In the 1960s two MSU professors, Earl W. Terrell and Ralph L. Reeves, obliged some students by welding handles on the bells to they could be rung with much more convenience and authority. By 1963 the demand for these long-handled cowbells could not be filled by home workshops alone, so at the suggestion of Reeves the Student Association bought bells in bulk and the Industrial Education Club agreed to weld on handles. In 1964 the MSU Bookstore began marketing these cowbells with a portion of the profits returning to these student organizations."

Mississippi State's campus bookstore and athletic outlets still sell the bells. A favored model is a top-of-the-line, heavy chrome-plated offering with a full Bulldog figurine handle. But experts insist the best and loudest results are produced by a classic long-handled, bicycle-grip bell made of thinner and tightly-welded shells.

The bells are actually illegal for SEC conference games as a result of a 1974 vote for a rule banning "artificial noisemakers" at football and basketball games. On a 9-1 vote the SEC schools ruled cowbells a disruption and banned them. The lone dissenter was MSU.

"They let them loose," linebacker Reed Williams said. "It will be different. I don't think I have even heard a cowbell since high school."


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