Ole Miss and Mississippi State will play football for the 118th time Thursday in Starkville. The weather forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, a slight chance of rain and a football-friendly 50 degrees at kickoff.
And here’s what you should know about that: 116 years ago, on a miserable Thanksgiving Day, Ole Miss and Mississippi State players could only have dreamed of such balmy weather.
Every State and Ole Miss fan has a favorite Egg Bowl. Mine has to be the 1907 rendition played at the State Fairgrounds, just down the hill from the Old Capitol. Despite what many believe, I am too young to remember much of it. Thankfully, the Clarion-Ledger dispatched a reporter to cover the event for the next day’s newspaper and for future generations. The reporter didn’t get a byline, but he got one hell of a story, as we shall see.
The biggest headline read: “UNIVERSITY WENT DOWN BEFORE THE FARMER BOYS.”
The subhead read: “A Great Game of Football Was Played in Mud and Water, But Great Crowd of Wet Spectators Enjoyed the Fun.”
The reporter’s lead paragraph was short and to the point: “A&M 16, University 0.” That’s it. The writer not only got the score in the first paragraph, the score WAS the first paragraph.
But one hundred and sixteen years later, I am here to tell you: The writer buried the lede. You will see.
The unnamed reporter did do a splendid job of setting the scene: “Rain began to fall Wednesday evening, continued in a drizzling kind of way till midnight, when the upper regions were thrown wide open and the rain came down in torrents until late on the day of the big game. The grounds are naturally low, with no drainage whatever, but in dry weather are well-suited for the business of playing football. During the past three days, the Fair management has been busy, filling up low places, leveling off and improving the grounds as much as possible, but all to no avail as far as the conditions were concerned yesterday afternoon.”
The conditions were apparently no better for the estimated 2,500 fans who braved the elements, as our intrepid reporter wrote: “The road and walks from State Street to the ball grounds were about as bad and disagreeable as it is possible for roads to be, and those so fortunate to have conveyances, public or private, were just about able to get along and that is all. The foot passengers waded through mud and water over their shoe tops, and were a bedraggled sight when they reached the grandstand or the wire netting that surrounds the ball grounds.”
Just as the reader is considering the term “foot passengers,” the reporter gets to the game: “The players lined up for the first half at about 2:30, all eager apparently for the fray, and both sides confident of victory. The betting, if any was indulged in, was at odds, the A&M boys being very decided favorites with those who had little cash to risk on the battle that was played under such difficulties.”
Now then, here’s one of my favorite parts: “But the spectators seemed more interested in the conditions of the grounds and the brand of weather provided by an unkind clerk than were the sturdy youngsters who were to provide the brawn and muscle and take all the risks of broken bones and black eyes and death by strangulation in the pools of unknown and uncertain depths that were scattered over the gridiron.”
We just don’t get sports writing like that any more, or like this that followed:
“The first half lasted 35 minutes (no TV timeouts) and was fast and furious from start to finish. It was apparent that the A&M eleven was the better trained of the two, that it was heavier and speedier and stood the best chance of winning, but they were no fuller of grit than their University opponents, who fought across and beyond, back and forth over every yard of the field…”
Such flowery prose continues until we learn the halftime score was 0-0, and then, “The contestants had been soused in water up to their ears time and again and were wet and fighting muddy. They threw discretion to the winds in the second half and took their cold baths as if it made them feel better.”
We can presume those cold baths did feel better for A&M, as the “Farmer Boys” scored all 16 points “earned only after the hardest and roughest kind of scrambles and close attention to the business of the game.”
And then there was this: “The feature of the afternoon was the 70-yard run and goal made by Dent (no first name), though Grant made two or three runs that would have done credit to any ball player in the land and proved him worthy to wear the honors he earned last week at Memphis when he was declared the most phenomenal 130 pounds of football material ever seen in that city.”
Apparently, the post-game trek back up the hill to the business district was every bit as harrowing as the game itself. Wagons bogged down in the mud. “Conveyances were abandoned,” as the writer put it. “A great float filled with college boys headed to town, but the team gave out, the harness broke, and the occupants were forced to disembark in the muddiest, wettest section of the road.”
Nobody died, but somebody did get fired. Ole Miss finished the season 0-6 and was outscored 195 to 6.
Here’s the last paragraph and where the reporter buried his lede: “There was no rowdyism at any stage of the game or afterwards, but some of the players and backers of the University team were sore over the defeat, and very much inclined to lay the blame on their coach, a Harvard man. On the other hand, the coach was ‘beefing’ about the team, declaring it ‘the hardest set’ he had ever tackled.” Asked if the team was going to leave town that night, the coach said, “Yes, the team is going North at 11 o’clock; I’m going another direction and hope I will never see them again.”
That coach, Frank Mason, probably never did see his players again. It later came to light that he had tried to keep his players warm that wet, chilly day with an urn of hot coffee on the team’s bench. To make sure they were good and warm, Mason spiked the coffee with whiskey. From his post-game comments, I am guessing he partook.
Not surprisingly, Mason was subsequently dismissed, by no means the last coach ever fired after an Egg Bowl defeat. And, as likely as not, Mason never did see his team again.
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