Cleveland: On the Battle for the Golden Egg

It is from an unbiased perspective these eyes have viewed more Egg Bowls than the brain can remember – more than 40 now. I came late to this 118-year-old party.

You see, I grew up in Hattiesburg – essentially on the campus of Southern Miss. When State annually played Ole Miss sometime around Thanksgiving, I often watched USM play Louisiana Tech or Memphis State or some other rival. Truth is, Ole Miss’ and Johnny Vaught’s dominance of the Battle for the Golden Egg was so complete in my early years, there wasn’t much reason to watch.

The State-Ole Miss rivalry was first viewed from afar on black and white TV on those infrequent occasions when there were TV cameras present. And then I covered it a couple of times for the Hattiesburg American and again for the Monroe (La.) News Star/Morning World, before coming back to Mississippi and the staff of the Clarion-Ledger.

My first two jobs in Jackson were covering State for two years and then Ole Miss for two years. I saw the rivalry from both sides – and both sides always insisted on how loathsome the other side was. As the legendary announcer, Keith Jackson would surely say: Ole Miss and State loved to hate each other.

It quickly became apparent that both feared to lose the game as much as they anticipated winning it. My first Egg Bowl as a Jackson-based sportswriter was the 1979 game. That was Emory Bellard’s first season at State and it was nothing to write home about unless you were into sob stories. Bellard inherited a team chock-full of talent but one lacking a quarterback who could run his wishbone offense.

The Bulldogs were 3-7 heading into the game. Ole Miss wasn’t much, if any, better. Steve Sloan’s team was 3-7 as well. That’s why the late Tom Patterson, The Clarion-Ledger sports editor at the time, named it The Egg Bowl. If none of our teams were going to be good enough to go to a bowl game – and they weren’t – Patterson decided to create one and cover it with a special section. From a distance of 40 years, I can assure you: Never has so much been written about so little. Instead of one game story, we had stories about each quarter of the game. As the new guy, I was assigned the first quarter. It was, of course, scoreless.

Ole Miss won 14-9 and, post-game, my assignment was the Mississippi State locker room. Bellard, as tired of hearing my questions about why his wishbone offense did not work as I was of asking them, blew a gasket. “We’re going to have a blankety-blank good football team at Mississippi State, and you can write that in your blankety-blank newspaper,” he shouted, sticking his index finger into my Adam’s apple.

I did write in my paper. The next year, he did have a very good team.

Ole Miss leads the all-time series, 62-45-6, but it has been much more even in recent years. Most surely will remember that last year’s game ended with the Bulldogs celebrating on the Rebels’ field – while officials from both schools heatedly argued. That was after a 35-3 Bulldog victory that included one brawl and several player ejections. Believe this: That was nothing new where the Egg Bowl is concerned.

In fact, there was bickering before the series began. Ole Miss began playing football in 1893. Mississippi State – then called Mississippi A & M – fielded its first team two years later. Although located only 93 miles apart, they could not agree to play one another until 1901. When they finally got together at Starkville in 1901, kickoff was delayed nearly an hour due to a dispute. Ole Miss accused State of playing non-students. A & M vehemently disagreed. And since there was no NCAA to rule on such matters then, they played. Due to the late start, the game was called for darkness midway through the second half. A & M won 17-0.

The A&M school newspaper accused the Ole Miss boys of dirty play. The Ole Miss school magazine said A&M’s complaints came “from one who has never indulged in any exercise more violent than the milking of a patient cow.”

This Thursday night, some 118 years later, the bickering continues.


Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@mississippitoday.org) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.

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