For Mississippi State fans, no darker day may have ever existed than November 28, 2008. On that day, all hope seemed completely lost. The gold of the previous season's trophies felt like nothing more than pyrite. On that day in Oxford, the Bulldogs not only lost the Egg Bowl, it felt as if they had lost the war. It felt as if Ole Miss had seemingly snuck a crew of marauders into Starkville and salted the grass of Scott Field ensuring that nothing would ever spring to life from those grounds again. On that day, it felt the soul of the program had been crushed.
There have been crime scenes reports read kinder and gentler than the recap and box score of that game. In the first quarter, Ole Miss scored 24 points. For the game, Mississippi State gained a total of 37 yards, crossing midfield just twice. Yes, in that game, Ole Miss had more points than Mississippi State had yards. The Rebels held the Bulldogs to -51 rushing yards and eight first downs. That's right, the Rebels almost had as many touchdowns as the Bulldogs did first downs.
If you jump into the individual stats, the picture gets worse. Tyson Lee, Wes Carrol and Chris Relf all saw action. If you add up their QB Ratings for the game, it comes to 11.4. Anthony Dixon gained 17 yards on eight carries, and 14 of those yards came on one run. Jevan Sneed looked like a Heisman contender going 14/19 for 213 yards and a touchdown.
"Total domination," said Houston Nutt after the game. "It's so huge," he added. "Our name gets mentioned for the next 30 days or so, recruiting goes to another level, and in this league, there are no ‘bad' bowls." (They just love that crootin' talk, don't they?)
"I didn't see that one coming," said Sylvester Croom after the game.
When the dust cleared, Mississippi State had finished yet another losing season, at that point, something avoided only once since 2000. A few hours later, Sly resigned as head coach of the Bulldogs.
All seemed lost at the time. Mississippi State had not been that low in quite some time, and Ole Miss seemed to be on the precipice of their glory days of Johnny Vaught.
Into that darkness walked Dan Mullen.
Immediately, Mullen injected new life into the Mississippi State program. He put a countdown clock up showing the time remaining until the next matchup with Ole Miss. Except, maybe saying Ole Miss is wrong, as Mullen started to refer to his school's in-state rival as "That School up North."
After defeating Ole Miss for the second time in as many tries, the infamous "We're never losing to that team again," video surfaced.
While Dan Mullen grew in popularity with Mississippi State fans, Ole Miss fans began to view him in as the man in the black hat. Just the mention of his name made their fans spew venom. They called him a Scientologist, a damn Yankee, arrogant, and who knows what else, and that is what the Egg Bowl needed.
After the demolition suffered by the Bulldogs in 2008, one could have easily imagined a time that Ole Miss would have won the next bajillion Egg Bowls. It would not have been surprising at all. One could have hardly complained if Ole Miss fans completely discounted Mississippi State as an opponent. Ole Miss fans needed someone to hate, and since beating Mississippi State on the field was similar to kicking a puppy, the Bulldogs' coach made a fine substitute. Bulldog fans needed a hero, and Mullen filled the void.
In 2009, Mullen nearly took the woebegone Bulldogs to a bowl game, and even though Huston Nutt bragged about the Cotton Bowl, the Bulldogs took down the mighty Rebels that year in Starkville. In 2010, the Bulldogs surged to eight wins, including the Egg Bowl, and Ole Miss went under .500. The 2011 season was even worse for Ole Miss. The Rebels captured two wins, and with a chance to keep Mississippi State out of a bowl, they only scored three points at Davis Wade Stadium, losing to Mississippi State 31-3 as Nutt walked out the door in Oxford.
By bringing showmanship to the position, and that important thing called winning, Dan Mullen reenergized this rivalry. Ole Miss did not just want to take down Mississippi State, they wanted to take down the jerk running the show in Starkville. Don't believe me?
By turning Mississippi State into a team that wins, Dan Mullen saved the Egg Bowl. Sure the game would have meant something, but it would not be as intense as it is today. By understanding the importance of showmanship, Mullen rekindled the fires of the rivalry. By being willing to be the bad guy, Mullen made sure that Mississippi State would be a thorn in the side of Ole Miss fans.
The combination has worked. The Egg Bowl will be played on CBS for the first time in the game's history. In fact, in many ways, the Egg Bowl has upstaged the Iron Bowl on the national stage this week. Whether you are at the game or watching with friends, just remember, this game feels as big as it does because of Dan Mullen.