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Looking Back

Bo Wallace US Presswire

I don’t think two days after the fact is considered too late to talk more about the game Saturday night. After all, this one actually lasts 365/24/7, right? So here it goes.
By: Jeff Roberson, OMSpirit Reporter
I’ll admit it, here’s one of my thoughts during the latter stages of the Rebels’ 61st win in the Battle for the Golden Egg series: the Houston Nutt era is indeed over.
So forgive me for reaching back to that era, and of course some of the main role players in Ole Miss’ 41-24 romp over Mississippi State are from those years. Like, say, Donte Moncrief. He got fed this year, and did he ever feed the Rebel crowd Saturday night.
Moncrief got fed this year like the entire program did, and like Rebel Nation did. Thank Hugh Freeze for that.
This was an “All In” season, and the finale proved that with a packed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium that had at least 56,000 of the attendees cheering for the Rebels. The MSU fans, maybe 5,000 of them in the announced throng of 61,005, were few in number and no factor.
I know how the finish to your Saturday went. How did the earlier parts go? My Egg Bowl afternoon started on a Miss98 radio show at Rebel Rags. Jake Gibbs was on there. Keith Carter was, too. I was clearly third man down that list, a real wanna be among legends.
Jake thought the Rebels had a real shot to win the Battle for the Golden Egg and said so. Keith assured listeners of an Ole Miss victory and is again today accepting checks from Ole Miss faithful to get those facilities built. Keeping the faith and being positive has got to be at the forefront of how a fundraiser approaches things.
I asked Jake why Coach Vaught emphasized the Mississippi State game so much, and why the Rebels were so dominant back then. You know Coach Vaught only lost to the Bulldogs – or Maroons as they were called during some of that era – twice in 25 seasons.
In Jake’s junior and senior seasons, two of Ole Miss’ finest years ever, the Rebels won 42-0 in Starkville and 35-9 in Oxford. Know how I know those scores? Jake rolled them off like they were yesterday, not 50-plus years ago.
Jake said Coach Vaught really didn’t have to get the players motivated to play MSU, even though the Rebels were clearly the best program in Mississippi all during that time. Jake said players knew how important it was, especially since both teams had a lot of Mississippi players on their rosters.
Nowadays there are fewer Mississippians. So Jake and I agreed Hugh Freeze is the reason things are swinging back toward Ole Miss in this series. Saturday proved that in a big way.
Hugh Freeze. Mississippian. Independence native. Senatobia High graduate. Oxford resident.
He’s from here. He gets it. One of those north Mississippians, like Jake who is originally from Grenada, who grew up completely understanding what Ole Miss-State means.
And Hugh knows how in recent times Ole Miss people have suffered, not only on Egg Bowl day but the other 364 days of the year. He said so after the game in the postgame press conference.
“I understand that was difficult,” he said, on the verge, but not quite, of some emotion in his postgame remarks. “I’ve lived it. I‘ve been through it, and I know how important it is to this state and to our University. And our kids were very aware of that tonight.”
Freeze did a little more encouraging of his players for this one than perhaps Vaught had done. At least according to Jake’s take. He made sure players on the team, wherever they are from, knew this one was of utmost and singular importance. The Battle for the Golden Egg stands alone.
No matter what Vaught did or didn’t do to get them up for State, Freeze said you do whatever it takes.
“Regardless of how you motivate your team,” he said, “every coach has to decide what is best for him and his program. We went about it a little different than some.”
Freeze went about it differently than Vaught, it seems, but that wasn’t who he was talking about. We all know the Dan Mullen approach since he arrived.
I went to Mullen’s postgame press conference in the southeast corner of the stadium as bedlam still reigned on Hollingsworth Field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It was a lot about him and his words, as well as his team and its performance.
But Mullen does like the focus at times, it appears, to be squarely on Mullen. He obviously was pleased Ole Miss ran a video of him with a musical ending attached that signaled failure saying he’d never lose to this program.
“They love me. They keeping put me on the jumbotron, that means they love me,” he said.
“Give them credit,” Mullin said of Ole Miss. “Their kids played hard, made a lot of plays when they needed to make big plays.”
Mullen on potential overconfidence for his team: “No, our kids were prepared to go play, but we didn’t execute very well, and we didn’t play very well.”
Mullen on Ole Miss’ energy and attitude and focus: “I can’t imagine it being any more for them than for us. This is such a big game for us, and we take this game extremely serious.”
Thank Hugh Freeze for Ole Miss taking this one as serious again.
There were a number of people here for this one who’ve seen or been involved with a lot of these “Battles.” Mrs. Charlie Conerly sat in the press box with us during the game. Jimmie McDowell, the former executive director of the College Football Hall of Fame and an Ole Miss grad, was up there. And Larry Liddell, too, a former sports information staffer at Ole Miss who led the Saints media relations office for several years when Archie played there.
I saw Michael Harmon in the IPF after the game. His smile said it all (and he had read my story).
All of them had smiles on their faces. But the smile on Mullen’s face appeared to be a forced one, even when he was talking about how much Ole Miss loves him since they put him on the videoboard.
Somebody asked me the last time I could remember students and fans rushing the field. I said I thought it was 2002 when Ole Miss beat Florida at home and the goalpost came down and made its way through campus.
So much for, “Don’t rush the field. It’s only Mississippi State. Act like you’ve been there before.”
For Ole Miss, these Rebels had not been there before with three straight losses to the Bulldogs. Now they have, and a bowl game during the holidays is their reward.
Some people have already started posting on message boards and probably talking in coffee shops, too, that Freeze is the best football coach here since Vaught. Time will tell. It always does.
But one thing we know for sure. Freeze definitely understands what the Battle for the Golden Egg means. And what winning it means for all concerned on both sides.

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