It was a warm Sunday in mid-October.
I was in the passenger's seat of my dad's car, as the vehicle made a 90 degree turn on to Hayne Road in Memphis. There stood a house aged fifty years, lined with azaleas and magnolia trees.
We turned into the driveway, hopped out of the car, and made our way inside the house.
We entered through the kitchen, the living room visible, with two large leather chairs sitting side-by-side, only a coffee table separating them. My grandmother sat in the far chair, while my grandfather sat in the chair closest to us.
We exchanged greetings and hugs — we had to bend down to embrace my grandfather, due to his trouble standing — and sat down.
Granddad looked me straight in the eye. Before any conversation commenced, he gleefully asked me a question. "Who's number one?" I pointed at the logo on my jacket and exclaimed, "we are!"
It was October 12, 2014. Mississippi State had just taken down the previously 2nd-ranked Auburn Tigers the day prior, propelling the Bulldogs to number one in the country for the first time in program history.
My granddad was 88. He had been a State fan his entire life. He grew up attending games coached by Ralph Sasse and Allyn McKeen. He was 15 when the Maroons won the SEC for the first time, and so far, only time. He graduated from MSU in 1950, a date that was postponed two years due to his service in World War Two. He had attended countless State games since, having a son that graduated in 1970 and two grandsons that are State alumni.
However, he had never seen his beloved Bulldogs be number one in the country. He had never seen their quarterback as a Heisman frontrunner. This was new to him, and he loved it.
Dan Mullen became the 32nd head football coach at Mississippi State on December 10, 2008. I was eight-years-old. I was a State fan then, my only memory of the football program was the last few years of Jackie Sherrill and Sylvester Croom's tenure; my life comprised of two bowls in nine seasons — one of which came when I was eight-months-old.
I bragged to my friends at school. "We got Tim Tebow's coach!" The program was in the gutter, but we all believed that we could win.
I remember sitting in Davis Wade Stadium when Florida, his former school, came to town. The number one team in the country, defending national champions, heralding the program's third Heisman winner entered the stadium.
It was as loud as it had ever been. It was a game that I expected to be a blowout, but instead, it was a defeat of only ten points — 29-19. We lost to the mighty Gators, but something resonated with me that night that remained with me. At that moment, I knew we were becoming something new.
The 2009 Egg Bowl was special. A year after losing 45-0 at their place, the Dawgs took the 25th-ranked Rebels of "That School Up North" to town, in a 41-27 victory. I watched Dan Mullen parade the Golden Egg with pride and address the crowd, saying something that will be a part of the Mississippi State football program for the reminder of its existence.
I remember beating Georgia in Starkville, the first powerhouse program Mullen toppled at State. I don't think I have ever seen him more fired up in his life, before or since.
We traveled to The Swamp and knocked off Urban Meyer's Gators. It was a trademark win; one that Mullen still considers among his favorites.
We beat "TSUN" in Oxford for the first time since 1998, and we topped off an eight-win regular season with a shellacking of the winningest program in the history of college football, a 52-14 win over Michigan.
Just in his second season, we had a glimpse of things to come. A 9-4 year in which we finished 15th in the nation, the Bulldogs' first ranked season since the inception of the millennium.
We faced our trials. We took a step back with seven wins in 2011, faltered from a 7-0 start in 2012 to an 8-5 finish, and had our backs against the wall with a 4-6 record in 2013, as the Bulldogs were in the homestretch of the season. However, State was resilient, taking an overtime contest over Arkansas in Little Rock, followed up by one of the most memorable Egg Bowls in Mississippi State history, a 17-10 overtime triumph over Hugh Freeze's Rebels.
Just like that, Mullen had taken State to four straight bowl games — the longest such streak in program history — the fourth being a 44-7 feast of Rice in the Liberty Bowl.
That set the stage for a season like no other. A season that made Bulldog fans cry and rejoice. It started with a 34-29 victory over 8th-ranked LSU in Death Valley, the first victory over the Tigers since 1999, followed up by a 48-31 win over the 6th-ranked Aggies of Texas A&M.
The next weekend, the eyes of the college football world were fixed on Starkville, as MSU was scheduled to battle with Auburn on the CBS, 2:30 game of the week — called by Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. College GameDay decided to make its first ever stop in the Golden Triangle, resulting in Lee Corso's donning of the Bully head.
Mississippi State defeated Auburn that day, 38-23. The once downtrodden, subjugated Bulldog program was now one of college football's elites, and it was because of Dan Mullen.
This past year, Mullen surpassed College Football Hall of Fame member Allyn McKeen as the second-winningest coach in Mississippi State football history. He clinched the program's eight-straight bowl appearance, which continues to shatter the previous record of three from 1998-2000.
He is also now the head coach at the University of Florida.
Dan Mullen's legacy at State will be discussed for years to come. His chapter in the annals of Bulldog football has been written.
This era had its downs. We never beat Alabama, never won a championship, and we fell to Ole Miss in his final game. However, there were many more positives than negatives.
My grandfather passed away on January 10, 2015 — ten days after Mississippi State's appearance in the Orange Bowl. State's previous appearance in said game was 1940, when Granddad was fourteen-years-old. Our most recent appearance, 2014, occurred when I — his youngest grandchild — was fourteen-years-old.
I, and my family, got to witness the culmination of one of the greatest eras in Mississippi State football history. Dan Mullen will no longer be pacing the sidelines of Scott Field, but when he did, it was magical.
Thank you, Dan Mullen.