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Cleveland: This is All "Our State"

The Rebels and the Bulldogs are on a tear through the Southeastern Conference at 3-0 each. / Photo by Chuck Barnes
The Rebels and the Bulldogs are on a tear through the Southeastern Conference at 3-0 each. / Photo by Chuck Barnes

Let’s forget the rivalry for at least this week. Forget “The School Up North.” Forget “Cow College.” Forget, even, the Egg Bowl. Heaven knows, we will get there soon enough. Let’s enjoy this. Let’s soak it in. Inhale it. Revel in it. This is for all “Our State.”
Let’s enjoy that Mississippi State ranks No. 1 in the nation. Let’s enjoy that the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss if you prefer, ranks No. 3, inexplicably-considering-the-merits, two points behind No. 2 Florida State. Let’s enjoy that ESPN has become MSPN this fall.
Let’s enjoy that Wesley Walls is going into the College Football Hall of Fame, and that Ray Guy just went in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brett Favre will join him in Canton, Ohio, two years from now, as soon as he is eligible. We’ve got more Pro Football Hall of Famers, per capita, than any state in the union. We are the state of Jerry Rice and Walter Payton. Of Archie Manning and Lance Alworth. Of Kent Hull and Jackie Slater and Charlie Conerly and Steve McNair, and so many more. When it comes to football, we can flat-out play.
Still, as good as this state has been at football, this season is unprecedented, off the charts, really. Two of the top three teams in college football are ours. Not California’s. Not Texas’. Not Florida’s. They are from Mississippi.
Yes, po’ ol’ whooped-down Mississippi.
52351c60aa26e.image_-1Mississippi State is No. 1 — and deserves it. You beat three Top 10 teams in succession, decisively, you deserve it.
Ole Miss is No. 3 and you can make a strong case the Rebels should be No. 2. They beat Alabama and Texas A&M, back-to-back. Florida State has not done anything close to that. Not that it matters, really. Who’s No. 1 — or 2 through 25 — in mid-October gets you nothing in January. Nothing.
That will all play out. Soon enough.
So will the Egg Bowl.
No doubt, many Ole Miss fans believe they are the best team in the state and the nation. After all, the Rebels slayed mighty Alabama. They dominated A&M, a desperate team that had to win to remain relevant, before the largest crowd in Texas football history, 110,000-plus.
No doubt, many Mississippi State fans hate sharing the spotlight with their arch-rival.
Put all that aside for now.
Let’s look at this way: Florida played LSU last Saturday, and Arkansas played Alabama, and Georgia played Missouri, and that was all on what amounted to the SEC’s undercard. The main events featured State drowning Auburn and Ole Miss bludgeoning Texas A&M.
How many times has it been the other way around? How many times have the Mississippi teams played the early game as the hors d’oeuvre to someone else’s main course?
Always, it has seemed.
For whatever reason — and mostly, I suppose, because I am old and have seen a lot of Mississippi football— sports writers and sportscasters around the country keep calling and asking me what to make of this situation.
They want me to give them a historical perspective of what all this means in Mississippi.
At first, I tried to be funny. When someone asked me what it looked like for State and Ole Miss to be tied at No. 3 in the nation, I said, simply: “It’s like college football on LSD.” But LSD would mean flashbacks. This is unprecedented.
My first job at The Clarion-Ledger was covering Emory Ballard’s first season at Mississippi State. Those Bulldogs went 3-8 and played to crowds of fewer than 30,000 in Starkville. A couple years later, I switched over to Ole Miss and covered Steve Sloan’s last two seasons at Ole Miss. The Rebels won 8, lost 13 and tied one.
I’ve covered little thick — and mostly thin — since. I’ve covered a lot of Egg Bowls when the only reward for the winner was a spot in the Independence Bowl.
This year, it will be for more, a whole lot more. That will be Nov. 29. We’ll get there, and getting there should be fun. But now, for once, let’s enjoy this remarkably extraordinary situation.
Halfway through the 2014 season, the two most accomplished football teams in the USA are from Mississippi.

images-1Rick Cleveland rcleveland@msfame.com is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

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