At Auburn, rivalries sort of define the game.
The Iron Bowl. Auburn and Alabama.
The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Auburn and Georgia.
These are the games that mean the most, and for good reason. Win, and the following year is relatively peaceful. Lose, and find yourself the subject of ridicule by fans dressed in some sort of reddish hue.
Aside from those games, ask an Auburn fan about rivalries, and you’ll probably get several different answers. For the younger crowd, Auburn and LSU is probably next, since that game has meant so much this millennium. Then maybe Auburn and Florida, which was a great matchup when those two teams played every season. Even Auburn and Tennessee would be considered a game of note, despite the fact that the Tigers and Vols haven’t met much on the field since the divisional split. If you go even further, the Tigers and Georgia Tech get mentioned, since it’s still Auburn’s second-most-played opponent after Georgia, even though the continuous regular season series ended after 1987.
So where does the rest of the SEC fall into line? To be honest, most people wouldn’t call Auburn/Ole Miss or Auburn/Mississippi State a rivalry, even with the divisional aspect pitting us against those two every year now. But on the surface, these games still hold nearly every necessary qualifier of hatred to be called a true rivalry. Especially Auburn and Mississippi State.
Now, why should Auburn have cared at all about MSU over the past? It’s not like the Bulldogs have been a traditional power to contend with. They’ve got just one SEC Championship (1941 — Sorry, Bama), and one SEC West title (1998). Their all-time record is a losing one (558-575-39), and there are no Heisman winners or many bowl appearances to speak of (just six total before Jackie Sherrill took over).
I’ll tell you why it’s tense.
John Bond, Bill Bell, and Kenny Rogers.
Pat Forde and Mark Schlabach.
Jackie Sherrill and asinine accusations.
Cowbells (these even got Shug Jordan mad).
Maybe we’d better start at the beginning.
Mississippi State was quite honestly an afterthought for Auburn once the modern era of Tiger football began (Shug Jordan’s hiring). After college football reset following the war years, Auburn never really had any trouble with the Bulldogs. Shug and Pat Dye lost just six combined games to MSU over their two tenures, which spanned some thirty-odd years. They were never a contender for the SEC, and only won more than six games a handful of times before the SEC split into divisions. Why should there be any animosty?
Maybe we started it.
During the 1974 game in Starkville, MSU fans were at the height of their cowbell-ness, and the game itself was a bit of a bloodbath, with several brawls breaking out and Shug Jordan appealing to the officials about the clear rule-breaking regarding artificial noisemakers. The pleas led directly to a 36-year ban that was lifted in 2010 (coincidentally the starting point of another bit of trouble between our two schools). Honestly, I’ve never personally been offended by the cowbells. Sure, they’re annoyingly clangy, but if a bunch of opposing fans want to bring early-onset tinnitus upon themselves, I say have at it. The problem is with the enforcement of the law itself. If the dang rule book says no artificial noisemakers, then the cowbells should draw the ordained fines. Yes, there’s a “Ring Responsibly” movement that took effect in Starkville, where they tried to get fans to never ring leading up to a play, but let’s be real.
So, maybe Shug started it. I’ll admit that. Maybe MSU saw him as the cop that shut down the party way too early. Either way, it didn’t end there, and the beef between the two schools only got more ridiculous after that. Let’s jump ahead almost twenty years.
Mississippi State hired Jackie Sherrill to come coach after he’d taken three years time out of the game. He was a good coach, winning a boatload of games at Pittsburgh and Texas A&M. He was also a coach that constantly had the NCAA sniffing around (a true Bear Bryant disciple), and left nearly every stopping point in his career with a stench of violations.
Jackie was also... I’m not sure of the word to use here... a bit of a blowhard? Let’s just say he didn’t fully grasp the physical limitations of certain gases in relation to the game of football.
He accused Auburn punter Terry Daniel of filling a football with helium in 1993. After a 31-17 win over MSU that season, Sherrill snuck around and claimed that Daniel had used helium-filled footballs in the win. The next week against Florida, the ball Daniel used on his first punt got confiscated and sent off for testing. Guess what they didn’t find? You got it.
In summation, Sherrill was a muckraker. Hey, if the authorities are investigating your opponents and wasting their time on idiotic claims like helium-filled footballs, there’s less chance that they’ll find out what you’re up to (although they had plenty on Jackie).
One person who apparently did not like Sherrill was Tommy Tuberville. With obvious disdain for anyone in Maroon after spending a few years in Oxford, Tubs was confident enough to say that Sylvester Croom was doing a good job of bringing back “dignity and character to their football program”, which didn’t make Jackie very happy when he heard the remarks.
Maybe his dislike of Sherrill was the reason that Tubs felt the need to run a fake field goal near the end of a 2002 blowout over Mississippi State in Starkville. Check out this video and listen to Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso discussing the love affair between the two coaches.
Corso says “that’ll come back and haunt you, he’ll come back and get you next year”.
Like this the next season in 2003?
You know Tuberville got Cadillac Williams to set the touchdown record on purpose, and it was a great way to send Sherrill out of town for the last time.
Still though, maybe Mississippi State sat on that hatred and waited for the right time and the opportunity to strike back, even if it meant nearly imploding themselves in the process. That ordeal would come seven years later.
In the middle of Cam Newton’s Heisman run, and Auburn’s run to the national championship, things got askew. After the Tigers’ Halloween weekend win over Ole Miss, and new top-ranking in the BCS poll, a report came out that alleged Cam Newton’s letter of intent had come with strings attached to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
You remember the players. John Bond, former Mississippi State quarterback, Kenny Rogers, former MSU letterman, and Bill Bell, MSU booster. The rabbit hole that this whole thing went into was incredible. For a casual observer, it must’ve been one hell of a ride, but for Auburn fans, it was stressful as can be.
Basically what they say that happened is this: Kenny Rogers knew Cecil Newton (Cam’s dad) and said that it would take money to get Cam to Starkville. Rogers went to Bill Bell with a detailed payment schedule for amounts totaling $180,000 that would get Cam in a maroon jersey. Once John Bond found out about this, he went to Greg Byrne (who is, by the way, currently the AD at Alabama). Then the NCAA got involved and we don’t need to go through all of that again, except to say that they didn’t find anything on Auburn.
There’s just one problem with this. MISSISSIPPI STATE FLAT OUT ADMITTED THAT THEIR BOOSTERS WERE TALKING ABOUT PAYING CAM NEWTON’S DAD TO GET CAM NEWTON TO PLAY THERE. Talk about a kamikaze attack. Now, you may make the fallacious argument that since MSU discussed money, that Auburn must have paid Cam since that’s where he ended up. Let’s forget that the head coach at the time had to be convinced to recruit Cam in the first place, and that if Cam was a hired agent, would he still visit and represent the school years after attending? Nah.
Let’s also remember that their chain of evidence in this whole thing was shoddier than ever. These texts detailing payment were on a cell phone that juuuuuuuust happened to have been damaged by water. Oops. And that there were three-way phone conversations with Bell, Rogers, and Newton where Cecil conveniently did not speak, so there’s no proof. And that the only reason that this came forth was because Bill Bell wanted everyone to know that MSU didn’t break any rules when recruiting Cam. Except that’s exactly what they did.
Maybe Auburn did pay Cam. We’ll never know. If they did, it was the most well-spent money in history. But hey, maybe Cam didn’t get anything. It doesn’t take much for someone to fall in love with the Loveliest Village, and if we’re being truthful...
I rest my case.
Any way you cut it, Auburn and Mississippi State have a history that the casual observer may not notice. By looking at the head-to-head record, it’s heavily slanted Auburn’s way, but that’s no indicator of a sleepy rivalry. The Tigers and Bulldogs have had major beef going back some forty-odd years, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change anytime soon.
Let’s keep antagonizing them by winning this Saturday at 6:30. War Eagle!