Mississippi State began the 2004 season with a new coach, a streak of 6-straight conference losses, a little bit of hope, and a truckload full of "Maroon Is All That Matters" shirts.
By the end of October, the SEC losing streak was at 9 games, and long gone were whatever hope we had and the massive quantity of shirts. State was 1-5, including an embarassing home loss to Division 1-AA Maine, and had been outscored 47-161 during a 5-game losing streak.
The 20th-ranked Florida Gators were next on the schedule, and State entered as 24.5-point underdogs.
Starkville seemed to be kryptonite to the Gators, though, who lost their last 3 games at Scott Field, including upsets in 1992 and 2000. But those 1992 and 2000 State teams went on to winning seasons and bowl games. The 2004 team, well, notsomuch. And just as a reminder of how bad State was at this time - since the 2000 win over #3 Florida, MSU was 5-27 in the SEC. Bulldog fans were yearning for a good win to hold on to, but not many thought it would be this one.
In front of a half-empty Davis Wade Stadium, State came out fighting. It was a tight game the entire way, with the score tied 5 different times (0, 7, 17, 24, and 31). The Bulldogs played their best game of the year (or 5 or 6 years) and never trailed. And the crowd got larger as the game went on.
I don't need to give you a play by play - you know how it ends. You remember Jerious Norwood's 37-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds left, the defining moment of his career as one of the best running backs to wear the Maroon and White.
It was by far the biggest win in Starkville during the 6-year span from 2001 to 2006, and coming from a student in 2004 - we celebrated it. HARD. Fans rushed the field, a goalpost was torn down and dismantled at various fraternity houses, and parties lasted long after the afternoon game ended.
But this game gave us so much more than a defining win. In the days after the game, Florida head coach Ron Zook was fired, giving us the verb "Croomed," and eventually putting Zook into an embarassing category with Mike Shula and Ed Orgeron.
And Zook’s departure opened the door for Urban Meyer to coach Florida, where he won 2 National Titles – including one in 2006 with many of Zook’s players that lost to State in 2004. After the second Gator National Title in 2008, Florida’s offensive coordinator Dan Mullen left Gainesville for Starkville.
After that win in 2004, Croom said, "This is just the beginning. We're building to a championship program." While it surely wasn’t the path Croom wanted to take, that win in 2004 may have been the first in a long string of dominos that put us where we are today - with many fans pondering Championship possibilities as we sit undefeated and ranked #1 in the country.
And I still proudly display my piece of that 2004 goalpost. Thanks, Jerious.