You almost always hear it every year during the Egg Bowl Broadcast: It’s the most underrated rivalry in the country.
And it’s true. The Egg Bowl is a great rivalry. The only thing lacking about the Egg Bowl is national prominence. Just because it doesn’t have that, it does have a whole lot of other things going for it.
Blue Collar vs. White Collar
One of the best things about this rivalry is the sheer difference in the two schools. We each have tailgating meccas that the other school hates. Ole Miss has the Grove. It’s packed full of people, sundresses, alcohol, and fine china. My wife showed me a picture that someone took at the Grove this past weekend of an ice sculpture that was brought to a tailgate. Ole Miss fans revere the Grove like it is Holy Ground. State fans think it is pompous and overrated. The idea of fine china at a football game just sounds ridiculous to us.
Mississippi State has Dudy Noble Field and The Left Field Lounge. One of the greatest sights to a State fan is seeing the smoke from a grill rising in front of the center field camera. We call it the Carnegie Hall of baseball stadiums. Ole Miss fans think it is nasty and trashy.
The point is this, Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans have vastly different ideas about football, atmosphere, and what makes a good time. When State or Ole Miss fans don’t spend a lot of time around the other, it makes it difficult to truly understand the mind set of the other. It can also lead fans to resort to name calling when talking about football or anything related to the two schools.
Nothing can make a State fan and Ole Miss fan disagree and go at each other faster than that of the cowbell. It is a beloved tradition at Mississippi State, and it’s one that virtually every other fanbase doesn’t understand. Mississippi State believes in it so fiercely, that we lobbied hard for the SEC to change its rules regarding the cowbell. We now have the “Cowbell Compromise” in which State fans are allowed to ring cowbells after plays, during timeouts, and other times when play is not taking place. If we don’t abide by the compromise, we face stiff and escalating fines from the League Office. We were fined twice in 2010, but I am unaware of any other fines since then (Feel free to correct me in the comments section if I am mistaken).
A beloved tradition at State, the Cowbell is considered a loud nuisance by Ole Miss fans. They, more so than any other SEC fans, would love to see the Cowbell Compromise done away with and State punished severely for allowing any fans to bring cowbells into the stadium. Ole Miss even set up a system for Ole Miss fans to text security when they saw a cowbell at Vaught Hemingway Stadium last year. To say the least, they don’t like cowbells.
Ole Miss has their own tradition that doesn’t make sense to a lot of other people, and that tradition is Colonel Reb. Colonel Reb is the beloved former mascot of Ole Miss. In an extremely unpopular move by the administration of the school, Colonel Reb was removed as the sideline mascot after the 2003 season. In an equally controversial move, Colonel Reb was replaced by a Black Bear for a mascot in 2010. Rebel fans believe that Colonel Reb was a symbol of time when the South was great, and many of them fought fiercely to try to keep him on the sidelines.
It isn’t necessarily State fans that don’t understand why Ole Miss loves Colonel Reb is so important to them, but other parts of the country. People who don’t like Colonel Reb believe it is a symbol of slavery. It’s a controversial topic. One that probably won’t go completely away for a long, long time.
Ole Miss has a pretty decisive lead in the overall series compiling a 61-42-6 record in the series. Recent history, though, the series is much more even. Since the series was moved back to on campus stadiums in 1991, Mississippi State has a slight lead compiling a record of 12-10. The Home team has gone 15-7 since the game was moved back to the campuses. In the last fourteen meetings, the road team has only won twice. In 2003, Ole Miss was a heavy favorite when they won in Starkville, as was Mississippi State in 2010 when they won in Oxford.
It’s hard to win this game. It’s emotional. Players hear about it all the time if they lose. Winning this game is rarely easy, and I don’t expect it to be this year either.
Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen
Dan Mullen was viewed as an up and coming coaching star after Mississippi State finished the 2010 season with a resounding victory over Michigan in the Gator Bowl that year. He was rumored to be a leading candidate at numerous coaching vacancies, most notably at the University of Miami. State gave Mullen a hefty raise to keep him, and State fans rejoiced. A lackluster 2011, a terrible losing streak to finish 2012, and an inconsistent 2013 has tempered that enthusiasm.
Ole Miss fans despise Dan Mullen. They often refer to him as Eddie Munster or Mullet. They feel disrespected when Mullen refuses to call them by name and only refers to their school as “The School Up North”. Making it worse for them, Mullen won the first three meetings of this rivalry and made it a priority to point our their wins over the Rebels. Ole Miss reveled in their victory over the Bulldogs in 2012 because they so desperately wanted to beat Dan Mullen
Many Ole Miss fans were skeptical about the hire of Hugh Freeze initially, but many of them bought in after his first public press conference. His predecessor, Houston Nutt, never thought the Egg Bowl was a big deal. A large part of that could be attributed to the fact that he had overwhelming success against the Bulldogs as the head coach at Arkansas. When Freeze came in and showed a deep desire to beat Mississippi State, Rebel fans were even happier. Freeze got off to a fast start, finishing the year 7-6 when many predicted that the Rebels would struggle to win a single game in the SEC. He followed it up with an unprecedented recruiting class on Signing Day in 2013. He has been labeled and up and coming star in coaching as well.
Mississippi State fans despise Freeze. They believe him to be a hypocrite. He makes his Christian Faith a huge part of his public persona, but they see incidents like the one after the Texas A&M Game to be a sign that he isn’t as committed to his faith as he might have you to believe. Mississippi State fans desperately want to exact revenge for last year’s Egg Bowl loss.
The two coaches have added fuel to an already intense fire. During the years Croom and Orgeron were leading the two schools, it was a game that both fanbases wanted to win, but weren’t desperate for it. Those times are now gone. The rivalry may have reached its peak this year. Their is only one way the game can be more intense.
Make it Relevant Nationally
This is the one thing that is missing from the Egg Bowl rivalry. It never gets played when the two programs are having their best seasons at the same time. The most important thing that ever seems to be decided by the Egg Bowl is bowl eligibility or bowl positioning. I will be honest, I would love to see an Egg Bowl that has the stakes that this year’s Iron Bowl is going to have. While it will be more difficult for Auburn to get there if they win, the Iron Bowl winner has a great shot to play for a National Championship. I think nothing could be greater for our state or for this rivalry if we could at least get close to that level with the Egg Bowl.