March 9, 2016
The postgame show continued.
Neil Price, in his first year as the radio “Voice of the Bulldogs”, reminded listeners that coach Dan Mullen would appear on the program in a matter of moments. Although he had been calling Bulldog football for just two months, Price witnessed one of the most heartbreaking games in Mississippi State history.
A game against the best team in the United States. A game against a team that State had not beaten in a decade. A game that State won for three quarters. A game in which State had a touchdown lead in the final stanza. A game that State lost in the final 30 seconds.
A 31-24 loss to Alabama.
Mullen showed up to be interviewed. He has been in plenty of these situations before, having to be asked questions about a loss that grabs hold of your heart, rips it out of you, and throws it into a garbage can.
He sounded defeated. Dejected. Desolate. It was the saddest he had ever sounded in his nine years as head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
However, in his depressing tones and quips about drinking “a product made in Lynchburg, Tennessee”, there was a sense of optimism.
He elaborated on the game. He talked about the program. He reminisced to when he arrived in Starkville in December of 2008, inhering a losing program. He mentioned his desire to win a championship at Mississippi State and his dedication to winning a second one, right after winning the first. He admitted we haven’t gotten there yet, but that we were close, and he was convinced that we’ll get there.
Neil Price thanked Mullen for his time. Mullen responded with an emphatic “Hail State”.
Winning a championship at Mississippi State has always been extremely unlikely. Only twice has it happened, winning the SEC in 1941 and the SEC West in 1998. Other than those instances, State hasn’t come close or have finished within a hair.
In present day, it has been especially difficult with the presence of one of college football’s greatest dynasties, Nick Saban’s Alabama. From 2008-2016, State had averaged 7.7 points per game against the Tide, had scored in double digits only twice, and scored multiple touchdowns once, in 2014. It seemed impossible to conquer that mountain.
That is no longer the case.
Mississippi State entered Davis Wade Stadium this past Saturday with a true belief that they can take down Alabama. They battled in a heavyweight championship boxing match, throwing punches and answering every swing the Tide sent flying. State scored three offensive touchdowns for the first time since the inception of this millennium. They controlled the line of scrimmage and moved the ball at will; an occurrence that had not been witnessed in years. The Bulldog defense was able to wreak havoc on the mighty Crimson Tide. Even Nick Saban, college football’s version of the Terminator who is seemingly infuriated by any sluggish performance his team fields, was “proud as hell” of his guys.
We had them beat.
Mississippi State lost on Saturday. You can blame it on bad play calling, the officials, or whatever you want. It was heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, demoralizing.
However, for the first time in a decade, the Bulldogs matched toe-to-toe with Alabama. It is the one hurdle State has to overcome in order top finally bring a championship back to Starkville.
Dan Mullen has repeatedly and painstakingly promised a championship to Mississippi State fans. It seemed impossible.
However, Saturday proved that it isn’t.