Justin’s Journey as a Bulldog: The Early Years


These are the Cowbells my wife, an Ole Miss alum, had made for me and my son for my 30th birthday.

Every fan of every team has a story. It doesn’t matter what kind of fan you are or what team you cheer for, each and every one of us has a story about why we love the teams we do. The fans of Mississippi State University are no different. We all have our reasons, and they are all unique. Today, I will begin to share mine. I start with the beginning of my journey.

The Early Years

Some of you who read our site frequently probably have baby pictures that your parents have shown you of you holding a mini cowbell just as soon as you were strong enough. There might have been Halloweens where you were dressed as a Mississippi State football player if you were a boy and a Mississippi State cheerleader if you were a girl. Lots of people get ingrained with the teams they will cheer for early on in life.

That wasn’t the case for me. My mom and dad were divorced when I was around two years old. I was so young, I have no recollection of my parents ever being together. As a matter of fact, one of the first memories I can recall is when my mom married my step dad shortly after I turned three. As is the case with most divorced homes, my brother and I lived with my mom and step dad. My mom hated sports and my step dad worked the middle shift at his job. We saw my dad once or twice a month, so there was never any real influence on either my brother or I to get interested in sports. As a matter of fact, I didn’t take any interest in sports whatsoever until I was 8 years old.

When I was 8, I read an biography about Jackie Robinson that was written for 3rd and 4th graders. It was part of a book report I had to do, and I couldn’t think of anything to read, so my teacher suggested it. I loved it. I was fascinated by all Jackie Robinson went through to play baseball, and from that moment on, I was a Dodgers and baseball fan.

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After picking up a love for baseball, I then decided to start paying attention to the other sports. As most kids are, I was attracted to the biggest stars of the game. It turned out, they all ended up being teams based in Los Angeles. Bo Jackson was huge back in the mid and late eighties, so I became a fan of the Raiders. My favorite basketball player quickly became Magic Johnson, so I became a fan of the Lakers. And there was no bigger star in hockey than Wayne Gretzky, and I got interested in hockey right after he was traded to the Kings. I didn’t plan it that way, it just kind of happened.

At the time, I didn’t really have much interest in college sports. I followed some because the kids in my neighborhood were big time college football fans, but they weren’t on television that often, so I was only mildly interested. My favorite college teams changed frequently, often based on who my favorite players were in the professional sports I followed. In football, I was a Bo Jackson fan so I sort of liked Auburn. I tried to be a Michigan State fan in basketball, but that was pointless back in the late 80s, so I switched to Georgia Tech because I liked Dennis Scott. Weird, I know. I was a fan of Mississippi State baseball out of convenience more than anything. There isn’t much coverage of college baseball now, and there certainly wasn’t much back during this time. I knew Mississippi State was good at baseball, and I had expressed an interest in attending there around this time, so I became a fan of Mississippi State baseball.

Like I said, I really wasn’t vastly interested in college sports, but I kind of paid attention. I remember using the 1988 Sugar Bowl as an excuse to stay up later with my mom when she wanted me to go to bed earlier since Christmas Break was about to end. Other than that, I really don’t have any memories of wildly pulling for any one team. Mississippi State was always on my radar though for two reasons I already mentioned. I had talked about wanting to go there, and I was a fan of their baseball team. So things always had a chance to change as I got older.

Taking the Bulldog Plunge

When I started 7th grade in 1991, Bo Jackson had suffered a career ending injury in a playoff game in January of that year, so any small allegiance I had to Auburn was pretty much broken. And one of the biggest news stories that was going was Jackie Sherrill being hired to coach Mississippi State. I knew the Bulldogs had been bad, and I didn’t understand why the Sherrill hiring was such a big deal, so I decided to start following the Bulldogs. When the season began, I wasn’t a huge fan of college sports, but that slowly changed. The Bulldogs unsurprisingly beat Cal State Fullerton that year, but they grabbed everyone’s attention that year with a shocking victory over 13th ranked Texas. They had my attention. They beat Tulane, and came surprisingly close to beating Tennessee in Knoxville that year. Another close call against Alabama and a trip to the Liberty Bowl made for one of the best stories in college football. I still wasn’t a die hard fan of college athletics at this point, but I was much more interested. So much more interested, that I convinced my dad to take me to the Liberty Bowl in the freezing cold temperatures that they played in that year. It’s one of my favorite memories with my dad.

My interest in the Bulldogs stayed about the same through basketball. Mississippi State was coming off a historic season in 1990-91, but was upset by Eastern Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. I was mildly interested in the basketball team, but they were a pretty mediocre team, so it didn’t really take off at the time. The baseball season might have boosted my interest in MSU even more, but coverage was still terrible. The Bulldogs went 40-22 and hosted a regional as a #2 seed. I followed along in the Memphis paper as best I could, but that really doesn’t fan the flames of fandom.

The 1992 season in football rolled around, and the anticipation for the season was high among Bulldogs’ fans. I was now 13, and while I thought I knew everything, I look back now and realize I had no idea what Mississippi State was supposed to do that year. It wasn’t until the polls came out and I saw that Mississippi State was ranked 21 in the preseason that I realized they were supposed to be good. So my fandom received an additional spark. The Bulldogs began the year with a return trip to Texas, and hammered the Longhorns 28-10 in Austin. It would be the start of a season in which the Bulldogs would not fall out of the Top 25 all season long.

The 1992 season was a roller coaster. After their clobbering of Texas, they lost to a bad LSU team. It was the start of the streak that just came to an end this season. Including that year, Mississippi State only beat LSU once in 23 years. My 13 year old self had no idea what the frustrations I was going to experience with the Tigers would be like. They barely beat Memphis, clobbered Florida on a Thursday night, hung on to beat Auburn, and lost to a previously winless South Carolina team. Then they hammered Arkansas State, and clung to victory over Kentucky. Then the Arkansas Razorbacks came to Starkville on the first Saturday of November.

One person in my life who has had a great deal of influence over me has been my uncle on my Mom’s side. He was a Mississippi State graduate, and he is one of the reasons I wanted to attend Mississippi State. I wasn’t just hung up on the idea at this time. Heck, back then I didn’t even know where Starkville was. So when the Arkansas game came along, my aunt and uncle had three tickets to go. I’m not sure why they had three. They might have been planning on taking my cousin who was three at the time, and thought better of it. They knew that I had started cheering for the Bulldogs, so they asked my mom if I wanted to come. I was thrilled.

On the way to the game, which was about a 2 1/2 hour trip, I started feeling sick. However, I wanted so bad to go to this game I did everything I could to not let on I wasn’t feeling well. When we first got to Starkville, we went to the famous Log Cabin Burger King to eat breakfast since it was an early game. We then headed over to the campus, and my aunt and uncle showed me around.

I fell in love.

I loved everything about the campus. I thought it was absolutely gorgeous. Everything about the place brought joy to my heart. The bookstore where I bought my first Mississippi State hat. The Perry cafeteria where we ate lunch. The Drill Field in all its splendor seemed to shine on a cold, crisp Autumn day. My interest in attending Mississippi State had gone from passing at best, to nothing else in the world I wanted more. It made such an impression on me, despite the fact that I was so sick with what we found out was the flu and kept me out of school the entire following week. I was now a die hard fan. From that point on, I couldn’t get enough Mississippi State. It didn’t matter what it was, I wanted everything related to the Bulldogs.

The game against Arkansas was kind of boring. It was a 10-3 win. It would also be the last win of the 1992 season for the Bulldogs who finished the year 7-5 after a loss to North Carolina in the Peach Bowl.

Tomorrow: It’s all about the Rebels and Sherrill