It won’t last.
The hate and nastiness will return at some point. But right now I’m enjoying this lovefest between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
OK, lovefest is a bit of a stretch.
But when have you heard a Mississippi State head football coach say — in public — that he actually likes the Ole Miss head coach?
And when have you read “welcome to the state” from the Ole Miss coach to the State coach?
Yes, the schools’ new football chiefs — Ole Miss’ Lane Kiffin and MSU’s Mike Leach — have a different mindset when it comes to the Egg Bowl rivalry. By their gauges, it’s important but not life or death. (Of course, they haven’t attended one yet.)
I’ve even heard fans from both schools say positive things about the other team’s new coach.
Who knows? Maybe this Kumbaya moment will last long enough to enjoy at least one game in the rivalry for what it should be: Good-natured ribbing among fans, and a rough, tough, hard-nosed, clean football game.
Yes, it can happen. I’ve covered two Army-Navy games. As much as the Egg Bowl means to Mississippians, it isn’t in the same galaxy as Army-Navy. The military showdown has a worldwide audience. Winning that last regular-season game means almost everything to the two teams and their fans.
I spent the evening before the 2015 Army-Navy game at the Navy team hotel, visiting with players and their families. What was about to unfold at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia the next afternoon was serious business.
But not serious enough to disrespect the other side — and themselves —before, during or after the game.
The State-Ole Miss rivalry has been bitter for decades. But it went to a new level in 2009 when a chap named Dan Mullen from New Hampshire was hired as State’s coach.
He made the game bigger than the other 11 combined, refusing to say the words “Ole Miss” and weeks before the game taping Rebel jerseys to the dressing room floor for players to walk on — and worse. He saw it as the quickest way to Bulldog fans’ hearts — and their pocketbooks.
Mullen’s first MSU team upset Cotton Bowl-bound Ole Miss and its coach, Houston Nutt, who never understood the significance of the game.
Then came Hugh Freeze and Dak Prescott and the magical 2014 season, when both schools were among the top four in the first ever college football playoff ranking.
That was followed by an NCAA investigation of Ole Miss, with the star witness a member of State’s team.
The Rebels were handed a brutal probation.
That ramped up the rivalry to a level even Mullen couldn’t imagine.
State has taken home the Egg Bowl trophy three of the past four seasons. Mullen is at Florida, already having defeated his old team. State fans may dislike him more than Ole Miss fans do.
Coach Matt Luke did the best he could with a depleted Rebel roster due to scholarship losses and transfers. He won 15 games in three seasons and was fired Dec. 1. But the performance of freshmen and sophomores this past season was encouraging.
Fans at both schools will have a renewed interest in spring workouts. New coaches always bring along a fresh bucket of hope.
Kiffin and Leach have enjoyed success. Both are known for creative offenses. Both do things their way. Both carry a bit of mystery about them.
One thing is for sure: Whatever you think is going to happen in 2020 and beyond at State and Ole Miss … think again.
Just four years ago did anyone see Freeze the head coach at Liberty University? And since when does a State coach go 2-0 in the Egg Bowl, make it to two bowl games and get fired? It happened Jan. 3 to Joe Moorhead, apparently a nice enough guy but a fish out of Southern water. His teams’ lack of consistency on the field and lack of discipline off it did him in.
On Dec. 1, who had the Lane Train pulling into Oxford and eye patches becoming the newest craze in Starkville? (Leach is a fan of pirates.)
And who on God’s earth predicted even a hint of peace between the schools’ fans to start the new year? Read the message boards. It’s live and let live, for the most part.
So those of you who care to join me, let’s soak up this pause from the silly and constant hate.
Enjoy it while we can.
It won’t last.