Gridiron Memories: Why I hate Mississippi State
This is the fifth of a multi-part series where former Texas A&M Defensive Lineman Jay Arnold talks about some of his favorite (and least favorite) memories from his playing days for the Aggies.
After the emotional piece that was my last edition of Gridiron Memories, I decided it was time for a little more of a lighthearted memory. I don’t actually hate Mississippi State in the way that I hate the Yankees, Ohio State, or Philadelphia sports fans. The fans seem nice enough and I’ve never had a bad interaction with a Mississippi State alum. I also love the way Mississippi State is actually a huge part of why the Ole Miss scandal blew up the way it did. I’m just not interested in ever returning to Starkville. Allow me to spin you the story on why.
We were off to a hell of a start in 2014. We kicked off the year by going into Williams-Brice Stadium and dismantling a South Carolina team that was ranked 9th in the country at the time. There are few things better than going on the road and shutting up a crowd and doing it at Willy B while taking over Sandstorm was a hell of a time. The next three games were all easy contests at home that we dominated and then we followed up that with an overtime win against Arkansas in the soulless chasm that is Jerry World because for some reason we can’t ever make the contest against the Hogs simple. We were flying high headed into Starkville.
When we touched down in Mississippi for the contest against the Bulldogs we were the sixth-ranked team in the nation. Mississippi State was 11th after a huge win over LSU in Baton Rouge the previous week. I remember rolling into the hotel in Columbus, Mississippi being excited about the chance to prove ourselves even further. That excitement went away with the team dinner that night.
The food at the hotel on road games doesn’t tend to be the best food in the world but this hotel took it to the next level of awful. Strike one against Mississippi State. The food was completely lacking seasoning and by the time we got to it, it was actually cold. I never expected a lot as a player when it came to food on the road but you’d think they could at least warm the stuff up. I actually slid some money to one of the graduate assistants to run to the Waffle House down the road and get some food because the stuff at the hotel was damn near inedible. I should’ve known the trip was going to go poorly from there.
Even with the contest being a matchup between two teams in the Top 25, the game ended up getting an 11 AM kickoff. Morning kicks are easily the worst time for a college football game and I remember how miserable it was to go through walkthroughs and mental check first thing in the morning on Saturday. Basically, strike two on a terrible experience in Starkville.
When we arrived at the stadium, we did get the surprise of alternate uniforms against the Bulldogs. Unfortunately, those alternates were probably my least favorite of the alternates A&M has worn in the SEC. It did help energize the locker room, however. Even after the awful food and the early morning kick, we had a good feeling going into the contest.
I’d love to go into detail on what went wrong but if I’m being honest, I don’t really remember a lot of it. Most of what I know about the game itself is from going back and watching on film or on TV because early on in the contest I made the mistake of diving to make a tackle on a 6’3 240-pound quarterback by the name of Dak Prescott. I didn’t really have much of a shot to make the play but I guess I thought that maybe if I made contact I could slow him down for someone else. My effort was rewarded with a knee to the helmet.
Now, while I don’t remember much of the contest, I do remember one thing, ringing bells is not a fun sound when you get your proverbial bell rung. As a Texas A&M grad, I know I’m supposed to have a healthy respect for tradition, especially when A&M has some of the goofiest traditions from the outside looking in. I despise the sound of cowbells. I hated cowbells when they were used by overzealous high schools fans before I even knew that Mississippi State used them. After getting what was likely a concussion (I’m just assuming from the fuzziness around the game because at that point in time there was no way I was leaving the game) and being subjected to the droning of the cowbells in a stadium of over 50,000 fans, I’d like to melt down every cowbell ever made and sink them to the bottom of the Atlantic.
If any Mississippi State fan ends up reading this, they’ll probably take pride in the fact that they have a tradition that gets so deeply under the skin of an opposing player but I don’t care. The cowbells combined with the concussion were absolutely the third strike. Add to that the fact that that loss was the start of a three-game losing streak that culminated in a massive blowout defeat to Bama and I’m never going back to Starkville if I have any say in it. I still have to mute any game at Davis Wade Stadium to this day because the sound of cowbells brings back one of the worst memories (or lack thereof) during my playing career.
With that being said, I love all the friends I have who are Mississippi State fans and MSU alum Jonathan Papelbon provided me with one of my favorite baseball moments of all time when he choked Bryce Harper in the Nationals dugout. Big shout out to Papelbon for that.