Which came first, the football or the egg?
In Mississippi, if someone tells you to “Go to Hell!” it’s time for a ball game. And not just any old ball game, either; it’s time for the most fierce and infamous matchup in the state. It’s time for an Egg Bowl.
Next Saturday, the Rebels and the Bulldogs will face off in the state’s favorite and most heated rivalry. Ole Miss will be defending its two-year winning streak and leads the series 63-43-6. It will be the teams’ 113th meeting, their 89th Egg Bowl and the topic of Thanksgiving dinner conversations, maybe even arguments, for SEC fans across the nation.
The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University have a complicated history. They are undeniably brothers, both born, raised and fed with Mississippi pride and Southern spirit. Their football teams even played their first games against the same opponent. They share a bond that crystallizes every year around Thanksgiving and awakens the state’s spiritual connection to its unspoken religion: football.
The first time either team “went to Hell” was Oct. 28, 1901, in Starkville. Back then, the Ole Miss team was nicknamed “the Red and Blue,” and Mississippi State, then the Mississippi State Agricultural and Mechanical College, or A&M, was the Aggies. The 3:30 p.m. game was famously delayed by a dispute for about 40 minutes while the teams quarreled over A&M’s lineup. Eventually, things settled down, and history got rolling.
“There was no big buildup to that first game,” Langston Rogers, special assistant to the athletics director at Ole Miss, said. “It was like ‘We’re in the same neighborhood’ kind of thing. Ole Miss had played at Alabama and then two days later, heading back to Oxford, stopped off in Starkville to play.”
It only took the Aggies two minutes to score a touchdown. A&M went on to win 17-0; the game was called early because it got too dark to play in the second half. Football was still a young sport, so the match didn’t stir up too much in Mississippi. But by the time the Red and Blue and the Aggies parted ways that evening, a rivalry was born.
Year after year, tradition-loving Mississippi fed and watered a football rivalry that would eventually become what it is today; the 10th longest uninterrupted series in the United States. But it wouldn’t be the Egg Bowl just yet: there was still some growing to do.
A short and bitter break
From 1912 to 1914, no one went to hell in Mississippi. A three-year hiatus, caused by what roughly boiled down to either team being dissatisfied with the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association for one reason or another.
The armistice disheartened nearly the entire state of Mississippi; the big game generated income for the state, and its cancellation meant loss.
But tensions eventually cooled, and before too long, it was time to get back to football.
13 consecutive wins, 1 kick and an Egg
In 1915, Ole Miss opened its own field, what is now Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field, and A&M had what is now Davis-Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Their football programs were fleshing out. It would be a few years before either team played each other at home, but after a three-year ceasefire, the Ole Miss-State rivalry resumed.
Mississippi was thrilled to get the biggest game of the year back. But as W.G. Barner said in his 1982 book, “Mississippi Mayhem,” “[Resumption] of play that fall caused a bang almost as big as the bombshell which suspended relations three years before.” (62)
They met in Tupelo, and A&M annihilated Ole Miss 65-0. Not only does it still stand as the largest victory in series history, but it was the beginning of the longest winning streak in the series to date. A&M’s shut down kicked off a 12-game winning streak which, if you included the Bulldog win before the three-year break from 1912 to 1914, totaled 13 consecutive wins against Ole Miss.
Things were looking glum from a UM perspective, and year after year of A&M victory left fans feeling a little more angry than anxious whenever the “big game” would roll around. If there was a question of rivalry before (and there never, ever was), now the football games between Mississippi State and Ole Miss had become somewhat of an annual war.
But then came the game that would father the Golden Egg trophy. On Nov. 25, 1926, Ole Miss football history was forged at a game known as “The Battle of Starkville.”
It was the Thanksgiving afternoon, and the Red and Blue had a bone to pick. Thirteen games was too much winning; it was time for an Ole Miss upset.
The field was muddy, the crowd was the largest to ever see a sporting event in the state and tensions were high. UM was leading 7-6 at halftime, thanks to a kick from “A veteran center who had never before even tried an extra point kick.” (Barner, 120)
Ole Miss held the lead, and by the end of the game, it won the day. The dynasty of A&M was over. Fans from both sides stormed the field. Fights broke out, and some from Ole Miss reportedly tried to tear down the goal posts. From all the chaos, yet another tradition was born.
“Ole Miss had won only five times in the previous 23 meetings, and our fans rushed the field, which was not well received by the home team, and some fights broke out,” Rogers said. “The result was the Golden Egg trophy that was approved by both student bodies and then presented to the winning team each year.”
Eighty-eight games later, the Golden Egg has become the most coveted relic in the rivalry between Mississippi brothers, the Bulldogs and the Rebs.
A Good Egg or a Bad Egg?
The tables turned. What followed “The Battle of Starkville” was a 10-game undefeated streak for Ole Miss that lasted until 1935.
Since then, there have been winning streaks from both sides, though none have lasted longer than six consecutive games. The Battle for the Golden Egg practically became the statewide Thanksgiving plan for Mississippi, but in the late ’70s, it became the game we know it as today.
According to Rogers, the Ole Miss-Mississippi State series took on a new twist in 1978.
“With both teams out of the bowl picture, Clarion-Ledger Executive Sports Editor Tom Patterson decided to do something extra to spice up coverage of the game, instructing his staff to follow the “Egg Bowl” theme throughout the week,” he said. “State was a heavy favorite, but Ole Miss stunned the Bulldogs 27-7. It’s been ‘Egg Bowl’ in the minds of the media and the fans of both schools ever since that game.”
It’s obvious these days that the Egg Bowl matters to fans. Senior journalism major Tyler Bullard said watching the 2003 Egg Bowl on TV at age 9 was what led him to become an Ole Miss fan.
“I’ve been to the last five Egg Bowls, and I will be attending this year’s,” he said. “I believe it is the biggest day of the year in the state of Mississippi, and the Egg Bowl trophy is the most important peace item in this state.”
The Golden Egg incarnates Mississippi football. Games have been played in Starkville, Oxford, Jackson, Columbus, Tupelo, Clarksdale and Greenwood. There have been legendary shutdowns, close calls, ties and forfeits. Undeniably, the series has played a major role in state history.
“Sports in general play a significant role in Mississippi history, and that includes the Egg Bowl,” Rogers said. “When it comes to sports, it’s something we do well in this state, beginning on a serious note in the high schools and extending for many of those athletes into the college and professional ranks. Halls of Fame in most every sport are filled with proud Mississippians.”
For some, however, the Egg Bowl rivalry is ugly. In July, Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger called the Ole Miss-State rivalry “toxic,” “mean spirited” and “a detriment to the state.” While it’s no secret that Bulldog and Rebel fans tend to butt heads every now and again, neither the Ole Miss nor State athletic departments feel the series is anything but sportsmanly and celebratory of one of Mississippi’s favorite pastimes.
“The rivalry has always been important to both schools and to the fans,” Rogers said. “Many of the Mississippi athletes either played on the same high school team or played against each other. I’ve always felt there is great respect among the players. As for the fans, some years may be a little more intense than others.”
Kyle Campbell, associate athletics director for Ole Miss, said the Battle for the Golden Egg is simply a reflection of Mississippian passion.
“From every corner of the state, emotions always run high surrounding the football game and fuels the rivalry across all sports and between all fans, all year long,” Campbell said. “Like other in-state college rivalries, it determines bragging rights between coworkers, neighbors, friends and family. It is our hope that it is a healthy rivalry, and we encourage fans from both sides to be respectful of the other.”
Mike Nemeth, senior associate athletic director for administration at Mississippi State, also said that while the rivalry can get intense, it’s simply a reflection of how important the Egg Bowl is to fans.
Nemeth said he believes tensions between fans can sometimes appear tense but are really no more than neighborly banter.
“Just as many friends, neighbors and relatives may end up on opposite sides in this rivalry, so too do the student-athletes. They know each other,” Nemeth said. “They either played with or against a lot of their rivals. I think each side ‘feels’ the rivalry a little more because of its in-state nature, but I also think each side has respect for the players on the opposite sideline. I think that has led to good sportsmanship on both sides. I believe the recent success by each school’s football program is a credit to the coaches, student-athletes and fans, but has little impact on the rivalry itself. It would be a spirited rivalry no matter the overall success by each school’s team.”
The 113th Battle for the Golden Egg
It’s been 115 years since Ole Miss and the MSU faced off for the first time. They met in Starkville at the Fairgrounds casually one afternoon because both teams just happened to be in the neighborhood. The boys couldn’t even get started without picking a fight about something, but just like brothers do, they brushed it off and got on with their football playing.
The rivalry between the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State boils down to good ole-fashioned family feuding. While we may have migrated from fairgrounds fields to fortresses of LED lights, concrete and steel, traded in cotton uniforms for several pounds of protective padding and introduced a trophy just to solidify yearly bragging rights, one can’t deny the relationship football has built between the two schools and within Mississippi. The Ole Miss-State rivalry has raised both schools from childhood, nursing them with pigskin, sweat and golden eggs.
As the Rebels and Bulldogs prepare to battle again for the 113th time at the 89th Egg Bowl, one must remember the tradition binding them together, and the sport that unites Mississippi.