Southern Miss-MSU rivalry rekindles memories

Published 10:32 am Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Like a loose fumble deep in your own territory, history will be picked up this Saturday in a grand albeit awkward fashion. For the first time in 24 years, Southern Miss and Mississippi State will face each other on the gridiron, reigniting a rivalry that was much more intense than most today would believe when it first began inside a small stadium in Hattiesburg 79 years ago.

Southern Miss is coming off its worst two-year stretch in school history, punctuated by two different head coaches and one win in two seasons. Mississippi State is fresh off a 7-6 campaign highlighted by a dominant Liberty Bowl victory over Conference USA champion Rice. Most sane Southern Miss fans aren’t exactly leaping like Sammy Winder for joy, and most reasonable Bulldog supporters aren’t too concerned over a team that couldn’t beat FIU. But there is still a building excitement that has tinged the air this week as the two in-state foes get set to square off Saturday night.

The first time these two played, USM was known as State Teachers College, and 4,300 people came out to watch the then-Yellow Jackets get stomped 27-0 by Mississippi State on Homecoming night. Fast forward to the last game before the 24-year hiatus, and the Bulldogs were narrowly escaping a victory at The Rock with a guy named Brett Favre guiding the Golden Eagles under center. Sandwiched between those matchups are a bevy of great games and memorable names that line both the walls of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and the minds of those who were witnesses.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

There’s the 10-10 tie in 1973, the only tie in series history, when Mississippi State drove down the length of the field with under a minute to go, only to get picked off by USM safety Don Law — preserving the score at 10 apiece for eternity. Bulldog fans remember the 23-20 win in 1984 that snapped Southern Miss’ nine-game win streak in the rivalry and the eight MSU wins in 10 tries that preceded it.

And who could forget the 1981 matchup, one of the biggest in Mississippi history, that turned the state capital into a maroon and gold Norman Rockwell painting splashed with whiskey and barbecue sauce.

Before a state record 64,112 spectators and a national TV audience, No. 20 Southern Miss and No. 17 Mississippi State duked it out at Veterans Memorial Stadium. After jumping ahead 6-0, Mississippi State fumbled a punt that Southern Miss recovered at the MSU 14-yard line. It took just three plays for Sammy Winder to punch in the gift, and the Golden Eagles secured a one-point lead at halftime they never relinquished.

The fact that Southern Miss leads the all-time series 14-12-1 but trails 1-2 against Mississippi State’s freshman team just goes to show how deep this rivalry goes.

We don’t talk about these things any more. They’re lost in the dusty college football books that line the shelves of public libraries and in the memories of sports enthusiasts across Mississippi. A whole generation of fans has been deprived of these moments, ones that divided households, caused fistfights, broke marriages, and sometimes all three at the same time. This was once a game that meant something to people.

The Bulldogs and Eagles will jog onto the field Saturday to play in the first Saturday night game of the new SEC Network. Southern Miss is a 30-point underdog right now and the line could move even further in the coming days. But crazier things have happened in this rivalry, and Dan Mullen’s squad won’t (and shouldn’t) take USM lightly. The ghosts of those past games still haunt the air between Hattiesburg and Starkville.

Southern Miss fans will argue that they’ve been caught at the worst time, that their teams of old would have kicked a hole in those struggling MSU squads. Y’all are lucky, they’ll say. Mississippi State fans will argue that Southern Miss has always been their “little brother,” and that their boys would win if USM were 1-11 or 11-1. It isn’t the 1980s any more.

The fights will play out on Twitter and at Thanksgiving dinner, screams rising up over the sound of the NFL game on TV and the smell of mama’s turkey in the oven. These two fan bases won’t be able to agree on much other than the final score come Sunday morning.

But at least they’re arguing again.

Cory Gunkel is a reporter. He can be reached by email at, or by phone at 601-636-4545.