I can remember as a child in the 1950s and early 60s when a Saturday football game away meant that you would drive up to the Square and park your car over by Neilson’s, and try to face the Courthouse with the front of the car. The “City Fathers” in their great wisdom played a local radio station that had the Ole Miss game through a speaker system. When Ole Miss would score the people would blow their horns and shout. It was great fun.
The medians that are now on both the east and west sides of the Square were not there. People would park headed toward the Courthouse. It was like the cars were spokes on a wheel the way they radiated out from the Courthouse. This was only on the eastside of the Square. If you came too early you would be closer the Courthouse and you would have to remain parked there until the cars behind you had moved in order for you to exit the Square. So if you came early you were surely there for the entire game.
The children would not stay in the cars as the parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents did. They would play on the Courthouse lawn and yell to the top of their lungs every time the Rebels made a great play. They would also boo the referees when they made a bad call and the other team when it was as needed.
The last game of the season, Ole Miss versus State, could be called a season to itself. A former Ole Miss player, Cornerback Brad White, stated, “If you can’t get up for State you can’t get up at all. You can feel the tension building.” Another former player, State defensive tackle Jackie McCovey stated, “Nobody has to be motivated for Ole Miss.” Mississippi State head coach Charles N. Shira captured the importance of the game when he stated, “Ole Miss is a separate season.” That maybe the reason our season may not be lost.
Head Coach Johnny Vaught, who coached in more of those blood battles than any other man, described it best when he stated, “This is a big game because the whole state is watching. No one straddles the fence over this one. You love one team and hate the other.” A writer for the Commercial Appeal called it “the maelstrom of mayhem (that) combines the tragic overtones of Russian drama with comedy straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan.” Former Ole Miss coach Harry Mehre, who had also coached at Georgia, referred to the annual game of Georgia and Georgia Tech as “mild by comparison”.
In his book Mississippi Mayhem: Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State, author W. G. Barner states, “It’s a rivalry born of competition and nurtured by envy, hate, hope, pride and much more. In the early days, they tried to commit physical mayhem on buildings, on people—anything. Sometimes they were and were, in turn, ‘mayhemed’. At state, a tradition that ran from the ‘30s well into the ‘50s was that of beating the big drum the week before the Ole Miss game. Freshmen took turns slowly pounding away, 24 hours a day, to keep the spirit going.”
As a freshman in 1964, I can remember that the fraternity that I pledged required us to drive down to Starkville and steal as many maroon freshmen beanies as we could. At that time, some of you will remember, male members of the Freshman class were required to have their head saved but upper classmen in a makeshift barber shop in an area just outside the Grill. We were then required to wear a freshman beanie that was red and blue until our hair would grew back. The freshman students at State had to do the same thing. It was quite a prize to steal the beanie of another student from another school.
Bulldogs and Rebels sometimes look on each other as being from difference worlds. If you were a State fan you were referred to as “the good ole boys”, driving tractors, wearing overalls clanging cowbells and chewing tobacco. If you were a Rebel you were a member of the “preppy Rebel crew” in matching blue blazers and khaki pants with Bass Weejun shoes— ‘a multitude of obnoxious doctors and lawyers’ or a soda jerk, which was a reference to a graduate of the pharmacy school. One State graduate who attended the University of Mississippi Law School did not want to admit he was an Ole Miss graduate and the stigma attached to it, so he declared he attended the “Mississippi” Law School.
The rivalry runs deep—-very deep. Saturday the Egg Bowl will truly mean the entire season for each of us.
Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.