Despite what Ole Miss fans would tell you, there is another premier college football program to be found in the state of Mississippi. Although those of the Oxford ilk may not have many positive things to say about their Starkville brethren, for the last couple of years the Mississippi State Bulldogs have fielded the more competitive team in the Magnolia State. Naturally, I wanted to investigate the game day experience there first hand.
With lofty preseason expectations and a top 20 ranking, the Bulldogs Thursday night game against LSU made for the perfect opener for an SEC weekend doubleheader, so I penciled this one in early in the season with a Saturday chaser in Tuscaloosa. Joining me on the long weekend journey would be my father, whose only previous experience south of the Mason Dixon line was his annual winter pilgrimage to Florida. An SEC night tilt in Starkville would be a perfect induction into the real south.
Swallowing my pride and ponying up twenty bucks for some closer parking, we hustled into campus quickly, making our way over to Davis Wade stadium to fetch a few tickets before kickoff. From the outside, the stadium is a far more imposing venue than its 56,000 capacity would belie, the soaring grandstands towering above the adjacent brick architecture. Although LSU would be the biggest opponent this year, we snapped up a couple of tickets for less than the $50 face value and marched into the North endzone passing in front of the imposing student section on our way to our seats.
The most predominant feature of any Mississippi State game is, of course, the cowbells. A tradition tracing it’s roots back to the 1930’s when a cow accidentally wandered onto the field during a rivalry game against Ole Miss. Mississippi State went on to win the game, and inspired by the power of the cowbell, fans began bringing their own ringers to games and welding handles onto them for better performance. The tradition survived even after the SEC banned the bells in 1974, as fans continued to sneak them in. In 2010, that ban was finally lifted, recognized by the SEC as a unique tradition, and today Bulldog fans are free to “ring responsibly” during time-outs and after MSU scores. They are kindly reminded of their cowbell responsibilities by a handful of jumbotron reminders, along with a pre game announcement by head coach Dan Mullen.
The clanging cacophony of cowbells in Davis Wade must be experienced first hand to fully grasp the magnitude of this racket. During critical breaks, there may be as many as 40,000 fists thrust into the air rattling away, cowbells echoing throughout the stadium in unison. It creates a thunderous, head splitting din that makes it nearly impossible to focus, never mind communicate in any fashion.
Unfortunately, all that clatter wasn’t enough on this night, as the Bulldogs fell short to LSU 19-6. In typical Tiger fashion, the LSU defense was absolutely stifling, punishing the MSU quarterback and giving their punter an exhausting hip flexor workout. Mississippi State was fortunate to even manage the two meager field goals they were able to chip in. Regardless of the outcome, there are worse ways to spend a pleasant Thursday night amidst the bedlam of SEC football with your father in the seat next to you.
Special thanks to my father for joining me on a fantastic weekend in Mississippi and Alabama. Always great to share any ballgame with Dad, and look forward to more future journeys together! We’ll see what’s in store next year for us…
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