Review: Alabama Crimson Tide vs Mississippi St. Bulldogs, 11/14/15, 2:30pm
Final Score: #2 Crimson Tide 31 – #17 Bulldogs 6, Attendance: 62,435
Weather: Warm and clear, 70’s; Ticket Price: $40 Scalper; Parking: Free
“I need more cowbell” by Tree
The Bulldogs play at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State has some great traditions and even greater fans. The hospitality showered on me by these folks was unparalleled. I think that even if I showed up in a burka and beard saying “Death to America”, they’d still be giving me chili and beer and trying to hug the hate right of me. These are good people. Along with all the smiles and hellos, the sheer number of folks tailgating around the stadium and campus is impressive. There were tons of tents and elaborate set ups. To get a spot to tailgate at Mississippi State you just have to show up for the Friday, 4pm free-for-all. At that point you can just grab your spot and set up. No pricey fees, just good ol’ fashioned sharing of the campus with the community. In reality, I am told it is not exactly every man/woman for them self. There are many established tailgates and newcomers respect those that have been there for years. Of course, college athletics are big business and Mississippi State is not immune to that. There is a section where you can purchase a prepaid tailgate tent and accompanying furniture. It wasn’t bad, but I found the free area to be much more fun. I bounced from tailgate to tailgate, getting free beer, frozen margaritas, chili, burgers, fajitas, etc. These folks were generous to fault and more than happy to tell me about their great university and all their traditions.
At Mississippi State, it is all about the cowbell. Every self-respecting Bulldog has a cowbell and they are eager to show them off. First off, the tradition is that someone has to give you your cowbell. Going out and buying one is generally not acceptable. The bells are usually in the schools colors of maroon and white, but are otherwise un-decorated. However, once the bell is received, the owner is expected to make the bell their own and decorate as he/she sees fit. Some have dates on them, nicknames, or stickers from memorable games. Folks are proud of the cowbells and they are prominently displayed at the tailgates. These bells aren’t just for looks though, come game time they go to work. To maintain their tradition of cowbell ringing, but not gain too much of a competitive advantage, Mississippi State petitioned the SEC to allow the bells to be rung up until the opposing quarterback gets under center. The Bulldogs monitor the games and even go as so far as to remind the fans via the scoreboard when it is time to “Rest your Bell and just Yell!” Even so, it gets loud, so loud that experienced fans bring ear plugs. Babies at the game are usually wearing headphones to protect their ears. Other traditions include the Dawg Walk before the game, cross stadium cheers of Hail State, and singing “Don’t stop believing” while waving your lit cell phone at the start of the 4th quarter. State also has an actual bulldog as a mascot, Bully. The first Bully was buried at the 50 yard line after being run over by a campus bus. Others have been buried at the stadium as well, but also at other locales on campus.
The stadium itself is nice. There are two jumbo screens, so you can see the plays you missed from just about anywhere, including in the SRO section (more on that later). The video boards also show live look-in’s from other games being telecasted at the same time. In fact, they were showing Auburn game on the big screen for fans to watch before the Mississippi State game started. I don’t remember the bathrooms being bad but my notes said something about a snafu there so go cautiously. With all the food I ate prior to the game, I didn’t sample the concessions, but they looked reasonable.
I came into Starkvegas (Starkville) from the east after spending a couple of days in Atlanta. Starkville isn’t really near anything, but the drive was not bad. It is a small college town, and I was pretty early so I just drove past the stadium into town thinking I might find a place to park for free and just walk to the stadium. I passed by a lot that said “Visitor Parking $500” and found an empty lot where I parked for free. I then got out and just followed the crowd to the stadium. Again, I was early so I am sure it gets backed up, but with the friendly tailgating, I don’t know why you wouldn’t plan on coming in early.
Mississippi State was having a decent year (#17) and they did have Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott at QB. ‘Bama (#2), on the other hand, came in hotter than $50 I-Phone, and were steamrolling their way toward a National Championship. Nonetheless, I was hoping the Bulldogs would rise to the occasion and at least keep it close, if not upset the Crimson Tide. It has happened before in the rough and tumble SEC, but not on this day. ‘Bama started slow, but then ripped off a punt return for a touchdown and followed up with two more quick scores including a 60 yard pass and followed up by a 74 yard touchdown run by the ultimate 2015 Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry. Mississippi State looked up and all of a sudden, they were down 21-3. Mississippi State actually out-gained Alabama 393 – 397 in total yards. Turnovers weren’t much of a factor. The real difference was that the Tide scored touchdowns and the Bulldogs kicked field goals. Mississippi State was competitive everywhere but on the scoreboard. And, winning on the scoreboard is what counts.
In the week prior to the game, the tickets were at the typically over-priced SEC rates. There was also some internet chatter about counterfeit tickets floating around. Mississippi State was saying you should only buy tickets from their authorized reseller, Vivid Seats. I, however, had been burned by Vivid Seats at the Houston game earlier that year so that was the last company I was going to buy from. Since I was attending the game solo, I knew I would have no problem getting a ticket. Walking to the stadium, I was approached by a young man selling tickets. He only wanted $40 which seemed entirely reasonable and I could then enjoy the rest of the afternoon tailgating. I glanced at the ticket to make sure it had a bar code and was card stock. It seemed legitimate so I made the purchase and went on my happy way.
I spent the rest of the afternoon blissfully enjoying the spoils of Bulldog tailgating denizens. I was offered free drinks and food at every turn. Folks were also very eager to show me their cowbells and explain the history about them. Obviously, the older and more worn the cowbell was, the better it was. I met generations of fans, all proud of their Mississippi State heritage. I even had a rare brush with fame when someone recognized my SoManyStadiums gear and mentioned they had heard me on the radio. I am sure that speaks volumes about the fan base of Sports Junkies in DC and very little to do with me. Nonetheless, I had to admit the recognition was nice. Little did I know that my day was going to get even better, then suddenly do a 180 turn into near spectating disaster.
After touring the tents around the campus, I started my walk to the stadium. I was tapped on the back by a charming southern lady who cheerfully asked how did I like my Mississippi State experience. I explained to her, along with her daughter and granddaughter (when I say generations, I mean it), that I was having a fantastic time. She then asked me where my cowbell was. I told her that I had seen many wonderful cowbells that day, but as I was a visitor I had no bell myself. To which she said, “Well come with me to the bookstore, I will take care of that”. She took me by the arm and then escorted me to campus store which was luckily very close by. We approached the cowbell section and she was disappointed that the only the small bells were left. She wanted to give me a big bell, but alas our options were limited. She than graciously reminded me that your cowbell should really be a gift from someone else and insisted on buying me the cowbell. After some very weak protesting on my part, I happily participated on the time tested honor of receiving my Mississippi State cowbell. At this point, Mississippi had skyrocketed to the top of my list of college football experiences. As we approached the gate, I thanked my patron and we made our separate ways to the Davis Wade stadium.
The lines were very heavy to enter the gate as we were nearly at kickoff. At this point, I pulled out my ticket and started glancing at other tickets. I immediately noticed that my ticket was different looking than others. That, by itself, was not a complete red flag. Often times the tickets have different designs, varying by those for season ticket holders, for game day sales, for 3rd party sellers like Ticketmaster. However, my stomach was starting to churn, especially when I noticed they were having problems scanning some of the tickets at the gate. I start running through scenarios in my head if my ticket fails. I can’t complain to the school since I scalped the ticket. Nor am I going to find the kid who sold me the ticket. And worse yet, I probably can’t find anybody selling tickets at this late hour. (I’ll let you figure out which was the fake ticket.) I get to the front and my worst fear is confirmed. My ticket won’t scan. However, with the sun shining gloriously, I am not the only one whose ticket won’t scan. The poor folks working the gate are just overwhelmed. Eventually the young woman gives up trying to get my ticket to scan and just lets me through. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I can hang out on the stadium stairway at the worst case. Getting in, after all, is the hardest part. I do take a walk to my seat which is naturally occupied by someone who has tickets bought from an internet ticket reseller. At this point, I realize that contesting this could result in me being thrown out of the stadium so I resign myself to SRO. In retrospect, given all the southern hospitality I received, I probably would have been given a seat by the fine folks of Mississippi State. But even then, it would have taken a fair bit of time and effort. It was a beautiful afternoon and watching the game from the stairs was not bad at all. Still, I felt a little cheated.
And with that, Mississippi State’s chance to be number one on my stadium list disappeared like my cash in that scalper’s hand. He probably wasn’t even a pro scalper – I have never had a problem with them. Regardless, the experience was still one of the best I have had. So put it your list. The Starkville experience should not be missed. Just remember, as 70’s super suburban dad Mike Brady reminded his son Greg, “Caveat Emptor.” – and the fake one is on the right.