“There’s no such thing as luck” goes the old saying. “You make your own luck” goes another. There is a certain element of truth to those sayings, as I will demonstrate in a moment. But let’s face it – luck – both good and bad – sometimes plays a role in the outcome of games, which is why it is often said that “it’s better to be lucky than good.”
Ole Miss has certainly felt the sting of bad luck this year. In one play against Auburn, the Rebels were within mere inches of a huge victory, but instead lost not only the game and a chance to play for a national championship but also their star receiver for the rest of the year. And that all happened in one play. That’s just really, really, bad luck, the kind that rips the heart out of fans.
There is also good luck, and I can remember two instances during the early 1980’s in which Ole Miss got really lucky against Mississippi State and won games they shouldn’t have won. I remember these moments vividly because I was in attendance for both of them.
Most fans, even the younger ones, know of the “immaculate deflection” that occurred in 1983. State, trailing 24-23 with just seconds remaining, lined up for a 27 yard field goal that would win the game. The kicker, Artie Cosby, was one of the best in school history and never missed from that distance. Everything about the kick was perfect – the snap, the hold, the kick – the ball sailed high and straight. But inexplicably, a huge wind gust blew in, suspended the ball mid air for a moment, and dropped it just short of the goalpost. You have to see it to believe it…
Having a wind gust strong enough to deflect a field goal come up at precisely the moment needed is just about as lucky as team can get. But the truth is the game never should have come to that. Mississippi State dominated for most of the game, leading 17-7 at halftime and 23-7 going into the fourth quarter. The one touchdown Ole Miss scored was something of a freak play – the Rebels went for a punt block right before half and didn’t get it, but somehow return man Timmy Moffett managed to get loose and return the punt for a TD to give the Rebels a lift before halftime.
More from Mississippi State Football
- Meeting the Opponent: Week 4 – South Carolina Gamecocks
- Mississippi State football vs LSU: The good, bad, and ugly
- The Wednesday Wrap: Maybe Mississippi State Football Coach Zach Arnett shouldn’t do it his way
- Mississippi State football history vs. South Carolina: Records, streaks, and more
- Mississippi State football bowl projections after Bulldogs crushed by LSU
State simply self-destructed. First a fumble set the Rebels up at the State 12 yard line. On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Rebel fullback Arthur Humphrey fumbled as he dove for the end zone. But remember that luck thing? The ball bounced right to quarterback Kelly Powell who grabbed it in stride and ran untouched for the TD.
On the next possession, State would fumble again, this time on their 22 yard line. Two plays later, Powell hit Moffett for the TD to cut the lead to 23-21. With the next possession came yet another turnover, this one a pass interception that led to the game winning field goal.
So while it would be easy to just say Ole Miss got lucky with the immaculate deflection, the truth is that the game never should have come to that. Had the Bulldogs simply taken care of the football in the fourth quarter, there would have been no last second field goal for the wind to knock down.
Lesser known, but equally as painful, was the ending to the 1981 game. State was 7-3 and headed to a bowl game while 3-6-1 Ole Miss was headed nowhere, but the Rebels played hard and kept the game close. The Bulldogs appeared to have salted the game away when Dana Moore knuckle-balled one of the ugliest successful field goals in the history of college football through the uprights to put State up 17-14 with under a minute to play.
But the Rebels, led by embattled QB John Fourcade, had one final shot. With no timeouts, the Rebels completed a couple of passes to put themselves within striking distance. With just 13 seconds remaining, Fourcade threw for the end zone, but State’s Kenneth Johnson intercepted the pass. Incredibly, referee Dick Pace, whose name should go right next to MLB umpire Don Denkinger on the worst-calls-of-all-time list, flagged Johnson for pass interference, setting Ole Miss up with first and goal at the one yard line. Fourcade took it in on the next play and the Rebels had an unlikely 21-17 victory.
This particular pass interference call happened right in front of where I was sitting and it was a really bad call. Watch it for yourself….
Notice that Johnson had turned and was facing the ball and there was no significant contact on the play. It was a great defensive play that should have secured the win for State, but instead the official decided he would determine the outcome of the game instead of the players. Call it what you want, but I call that luck of the highest order for Ole Miss.
And yes, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.