SEC Game of the Week

The Sound of Silence
LSU at Mississippi State

By Bob Epling

August 27, 2007

Starkville is a pretty quiet Southern town most of the time.

Main Street right out of an Andy Griffith episode. The Drill Field at Mississippi State smack in the middle of campus with pretty girls walking past and frat boys flinging frisbees and footballs.

Quaint and quiet.

Til you get to the Junction.

The Junction serves as the tailgating center for Mississippi State football games. A flat spread near Scott Field (or Davis Wade Stadium), the Junction is filled on game days with rows of tents, the smoky aroma of grilling meat, and the clang of football fans.

That’s right … clang.

The Junction might be the only place in college football where the dominant sound comes from fans greeting each other by clanging their cowbells. (Keep that under your hat because these artificial noisemakers are prohibited by the SEC!).

The cowbell tradition dates back to the 1930s. Legend has it that a jersey cow wandered onto the playing field during a game in which State thoroughly trounced rival Ole Miss. Students immediately adopted the cow as a good luck charm. Eventually, bringing a cow to the games gave way to the simpler (and louder) practice of bringing (and ringing) cowbells. By the 1960s, cowbell clanging was a recognized feature of football games in Starkville.

You can hide a cowbell in weird places.

The SEC officially banned the cowbells in 1974, but a stroll through the Junction on game day quickly shows the ruling to have little effect. Fans smuggle them in under shirts and in trousers, hiding them in places unlikely to be patted down by security. A cool cowbell on a hot day can have a soothing effect!

What the league could not do (the silencing of the cowbells), the last six Bulldogs football teams accomplished.

The Junction has been quiet as Starkville on a Wednesday night since the turn of the century. The Bulldogs’ record from 2000 to 2006 stands at an ugly 25-56. Toss out the 8-4 mark in 2000, and the Bullies are 17-52. Ouch.

Sylvester Croom arrived as coach after the 2003 season.

Rightly lauded for breaking the coaching color barrier, State hired Croom to clean up a mess that included probation and the loss of eight scholarships over four years. Croom’s first two years brought consecutive records of 3-8, with a win over Florida and an Egg Bowl victory over Ole Miss the brightest days.

At his hiring, Croom claimed it would take three to four years to bring the Bulldogs back, so last year’s 3-9 mark was a fairly significant disappointment even though the team lost several close games. For the first time, Croom caught heat from Bulldog backers.

The Junction and Scott Field now often reflect that old Simon and Garfunkel song … The Sound of Silence.

A few thousand clanging cowbells could change that noise level when LSU comes to town Thursday night.

LSU resides at the other end of the expectations spectrum.

The Tigers are a consensus #2 pick in national polls, and rated a serious contender to reach the BCS title game. Coach Les Miles enters his third season on the Bayou after inheriting a roster stocked with talent when Nick Saban departed for the NFL.

Miles’ first two years brought matching 11-2 records, a BCS bowl thrashing of Notre Dame, and the bonding process forged by the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

All has not been smooth sailing for Miles however.

At times, his first two squads displayed a certain lackadaisical quality, most notably in losses at Auburn and Florida. The Tigers also blew a big lead against Tennessee in the first game after Katrina, a game written off at the time to the cumulative fatigue of the ordeal.

Miles himself occasionally exhibits some personal sloppiness with words.

Perhaps tired of hearing about Saban’s return to the college ranks at division rival Alabama, perhaps caught up in the emotion of a recruiting rally, in February Miles used an expletive when commenting on Alabama in front of an audience that included youngsters. He later apologized.

Over the summer, he made news by challenging the supposedly difficult schedule faced by USC in getting to the BCS championship game (his comments rankled some but most SEC followers agree with him). No need to apologize for that one, but still a bit out of character.

All that talk will go the way of the fading cowbell clangs on Thursday.

The game, as always, will be decided on the field.

State fans … expect the Sound of Silence.

Game Ball: LSU

Note: The original print version of Bob Epling’s SEC Game of the Week appears as a regular feature of Game Day Weekly on Monday of each week during the college football season. The articles are posted at The Campus Game by Friday of each week. Enjoy!

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