There is never snow in Mississippi. Well, not never, never, but almost never.
That’s partly why the famed “Snow Bowl,” more accurately recorded in the history books as the 2000 Sanford Independence Bowl, stands out in Bulldog lore, and to me personally.
I was just an nine-year-old schoolboy who grew up in a Mississippi State family. I had been to a game during the regular season, but it wasn’t exactly an ideal introduction to Bulldog football. I don’t remember who we played, or who won. I just remember the heat and humidity. And that delicious funnel cake I shared with my maroon t-shirt in the oven that was the metal bleachers of Davis Wade. Did I mention it was hot?
Flash forward to that New Year’s Eve night in 2000. As the snow began to fall here in Jackson, MS, it also fell in Shreveport, LA, where the Independence Bowl was being held. And fall it did; by halftime the white jerseys MSU wore blended seamlessly with the snow mounding up along the field. I won’t regale you with the play-by-play, but suffice it to say the Bulldogs battled injury, Mother Nature and a talented Texas A&M club to ultimately win a thrilling overtime victory on the back of QB Wayne Madkin. And as a young boy, now chock full of sugar and new emotions, ran through the neighborhood streets screaming “Bulldogs win!” a new fan was born.
Ten years later I enrolled at Louisiana State University. Shocker, right? That’s what my parents thought as well. I had graduated near the top of my class at Jackson Prep, fielding academic scholarship offers from the best schools in the South, from Texas to South Carolina. I had been unofficially committed to go to Baylor my entire Junior year of high school. Until I received a package from LSU. They had accepted me based on my records and wanted to extend to me a full ride to come down to the Bayou. I had never considered myself a Cajun sympathizer, but it was intriguing. My best friend was headed to LSU. It was where his whole family went. So I decided, what the hell, let’s do it. Geaux Tigers!
I enrolled as a freshman at LSU in the fall of 2010. I was greeted with jambalaya, Greek life and a passion for football I had never experienced in my many trips to Starkville growing up. It was different in the Bayou. The food was richer, the music sweeter, the beer — well there was a lot of beer. I mean they have drive-thru daiquiri barns. But I digress. That year, LSU was good. Really good. But Cam Newton was better, and despite a two-loss season, the Bengal Tigers did not make the SEC title game and faced Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, where they were victorious. Side note: do you see how A&M keeps popping up? And always as the bad guy. Shocker.
The rest of the year was a blur of parties and sports, and very little class. And that in and of itself was enough to make me realize LSU wasn’t really where I should be. But I already knew that deep down. You see, whether it was football, basketball or baseball, I always had this nagging feeling in the back of my brain. And it wasn’t always the alcohol causing it. When the Bulldogs and Tigers got together, I yelled “Geaux Tigers!” But I felt “Hailstate.” And that’s not always an easy thing to admit, when you think you know it all.
I left LSU and graduated from Holmes Community College with a General Studies degree before heading to Starkville. I spent two years there, and I wish it could have been ten. I graduated with a Broadcasting degree (Hey, I wasn’t really trying to study anyway) in December of 2015. During my time at MSU, I worked for Hailstate Productions, the incredibly talented video department that brings you shows like “Relentless” and drops blood-chilling highlight videos that get you so pumped up you want to run through a brick wall, as well as writing for the football programs. I got to interview stars like Dak Prescott, Nick Fitzgerald and even filmed Bob Carskadon’s interview with Ben Howland the day he was officially hired to be the head basketball coach. I wrote about the future of Nick Fitzgerald (BTW I called that. Absolutely knew he was a stud. Go check out the game programs during that season and you’ll find my feature article on him.) and what Dak Prescott meant to the University. I loved it. And I lived it.
But this story is not about me. It’s about Mississippi State, and what it does to a person. I told you my story to highlight the journey I made to finding my “True Maroon.” Everyone has a different journey. For some, you take an odyssey like I did, a roundabout journey that teaches you more than one life-lesson. For others, you enroll as a freshman and you never look back. I envy you that opportunity. Regardless of how you get there, once you are there one thing is certain. It will change you. It will infect you. And ultimately, it will drive you. Drive you to be better, drive you to succeed. The academics are important, and they will help you be that successful engineer or meteorologist you want to be. But the athletics. The athletics are what keep you coming back.
Twenty years ago, Jackie Sherrill was taking the MSU football team to new heights, including an SEC title appearance in 1998. But traditionally, the sports world looks at MSU as a “doormat” school. We haven’t won a team national title, although we have a few individual champions in Track and Field. We perennially finished at the bottom of the SEC West for much of my life as a football fan, which was hard going to a school dominated by Ole Miss fans. But that has changed. MSU has changed.
In just the last five years, we have seen the football team ranked first nationally and the baseball team and women’s basketball team play for a national title. We have seen a Heisman-caliber quarterback go from SEC star to NFL Rookie of the Year and the first SEC Baseball Player of the Year to wear Maroon and White win the Triple Crown, something that hasn’t been done in 40 years. There has been unprecedented growth within the University and Starkville as a whole.
My point is this: You have to decide for yourself if you are “True Maroon.” Gone are the days of lackadaisical fandom in Starkville. The train is rolling, and the Bulldogs have no time for naysayers standing on the tracks. It took me a long time to find my way back home. But I made it. And you better believe I’m stoking the fire to keep that train rolling.
That snowy night in December, as I ran through the halls of my parent’s home and out into the street, I didn’t know why I felt what I felt. I had no way to know the passion and unconditional love I would develop for the school I call my alma mater. But I felt it, at nine years old I felt that surge of adrenaline, that tingle rushing down my back and to the tips of my fingers, and I wanted it. I needed it. I needed Mississippi State. And almost twenty years later, I get that same rush watching our women beat UCONN to end the streak, or Dak scoring a winning touchdown in overtime to beat Ole Miss just weeks after his mother passed. I get that rush writing this article. There’s no more nagging feeling. And that, my friends, is how I know this is where I belong.
That’s how I know I’m “True Maroon.”