Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Column: It’s College Football Time Again In Mississippi

By Jeff Roberson

If you think there hasn’t been much going on football-wise in Mississippi in recent months, you haven’t been keeping up.

After Ole Miss hiked its way to a loss in the Battle for the Golden Egg 10 months ago, Matt Luke was relieved of his duties and Lane Kiffin was hired. Weeks later, Mississippi State fired Joe Moorhead and hired Mike Leach. 

Spring drills and spring games were called off because of COVID-19. 

Ole Miss and Alcorn State, both led by ADs who are Ole Miss graduates and former Rebel basketball players, announced a football game to be played in Oxford a few years from now. Finally, Ole Miss is playing an instate SWAC team on the gridiron. There should be more. 

Tip of the cap to leaders Keith Carter in Oxford and Derek Horne in Lorman for getting this done.

Ole Miss also signed up for a home and home football series with the Pac-12’s Southern Cal. And another with South Alabama. And Charlotte.

In May, we lost Ben Williams. While we’ve mourned the death of the first African-American to ever play in a football game for Ole Miss, we celebrate “Gentle” Ben’s life and legacy, his friendship with so many, and his love for his alma mater. 

In June, Kiffin and Leach and other coaches and athletics folks from across the Magnolia State traveled to the Capitol in downtown Jackson to support a move to change the state flag. And it happened. 

As the group gathered in solidarity, Leach reached over and pulled Kiffin’s face mask (the COVID kind, not the football kind). The playful gesture got national mentions. It’s a new era for Egg Bowls.

Former Ole Miss player and assistant coach Jay Hopson was the head coach at Southern Miss when the season started. One game in, a home loss to South Alabama, and Hopson stepped down. 

In late August, Deion Sanders brought a high school team from Texas to play a game at Madison-Ridgeland Academy. This week, Prime Time was back in Mississippi, this time to be named head football coach at Jackson State.

And hello there, Dan Mullen. He’s back in Mississippi again this weekend, here at “the school up North,” as he calls it.

I’m not sure then Florida assistant coach Mullen ever got over the Rebels bringing Tim Tebow to tears that day in 2008 in Gainesville when Ole Miss left Florida Field with a 31-30 win. Maybe that’s one reason Mullen was so set on making life miserable for the Rebels for nine seasons while residing in this state. Ole Miss won the last couple of games in Starkville against his MSU teams, one of those to vault the Rebels into their ninth Sugar Bowl appearance, so there’s that.

I saw a photo this week of a jubilant Jevan Snead, smiling broadly, after that ‘08 win in the Swamp. Unbridled euphoria was apparent on the young Texan’s face as life must have been as good in that moment as it could possibly be.

It’s been a year this week since the quarterback who led the Rebels to some good times in his short time here took his own life. Continue to rest, Jevan. Our thoughts on so many great wins during your years at Ole Miss bring smiles to our faces, too, and we’ll always remember the gentleman and competitor you were.

Ole Miss and Florida haven’t played each other in football all that much. In the series between two charter SEC members, Ole Miss has 12 wins and Florida 11. Nobody’s likely ever called it a rivalry. 

But there’ve been some interesting moments between the two schools in football. There was even a 7-3 Ole Miss victory over the Gators in the “Gator Bowl” postseason classic in Jacksonville in 1958.

Florida won in Oxford in 1965 with a future Heisman winner leading the Gator attack. Quarterback Steve Spurrier and his teammates left with a 17-0 victory. 

Three seasons after retiring, John Vaught returned to coach the Rebels for eight games in 1973 after Billy Kinard was fired. One of Vaught’s five victories that season, his 25th and last year as a head coach, was a 13-10 win at Florida.

The game in 1989, a 24-19 Rebel win in the Swamp, came early in a special season, but a season that also had its share of pain with the homecoming game injury to Chucky Mullins, who died a year and a half later.

In 1994, Spurrier was back in Oxford, this time as head coach, and his team won 38-14. The Gators were ranked No. 1 nationally that weekend. 

So many talk about the win over Alabama in 2014, and that goalpost victory. There was another goalpost game, the one against Florida in 2002 with Eli Manning and crew winning 17-14. 

The goalpost that day made its way to the Grove and the Square and who knows where else, thanks to the efforts of Ole Miss students who paraded it well into the night after Florida fell.

The 2003 game in Gainesville, when Eli and company won 20-17, still ranks as a defining moment of that 10-win Rebel season.

So who among us dares to guess what the 2020 matchup on Saturday will bring to those who watch – mostly in other places than inside the stadium – as the Lane Kiffin era kicks off? 

As day to day as things are in the world this year, I just hope they play. We could all use a football game around here, that’s for sure.