Posted: 7:12 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013
Lou Holtz's Gamecocks were 2-0 on the young season. We had easily handled Dan Hawkins' Boise State Broncos 32-13 at Williams-Brice Stadium, and then had handed brand new UGA head coach Mark Richt a loss in his first SEC game Between the Hedges 14-9. Ranked # 21 in the AP poll, we were supposed to face a good Bowling Green team from the MAC, but college football was suspended the Saturday after the attack.
How we would play on the road following an unscheduled "bye" and dealing with all the swirling emotions was an open question.. Coached by the immortal Jackie Sherill - then in his 11th season at Starkville - the Bulldogs were ranked # 17 and favored to beat us. The MSU "D" was coached by one of the SEC's top defensive coordinators Jo Lee Dunn (an ex USC assistant). Our "D" coordinator was no slouch either - Charlie Strong.
The Cocks prevailed 16-14. Our defense dominated the first half (holding MSU to 41 yards) and was stout through the second - surrendering the second TD with just :36 left in the game. The real story of the game was how Corey Jenkins took over several drives in the 2nd half in relief of Phil Petty, chewing up time and yards, and completely flummoxing Dunn.
The game was pivotal for both teams. MSU, coming off three straight 8+ game winning seasons, would finish a disappointing 3-8. You could make an argument that this loss was the first that ultimately led to Jackie Sherrill's "retirement" mid-season in 2003, and marked the end of the Bulldogs as an upper echelon SEC power.
The Cocks would go on to finish 9-3 - beating Clemson and winning our second Outback Bowl in a row over Ohio State - finishing # 13 in the AP poll. Of course, as we know, Holtz would never be able to sustain success of those two magical seasons (2000-2001) - and the Cocks would also soon sink back into mediocrity before Holtz's own retirement at the end of the 2004 campaign.
More important than the score or the fate of both teams, however, was what took place in the pre-game. Keep in mind that not only had college football been suspended, but the whole NFL slate. USC-MSU was not just the first football game since the attacks, but the first major game in any sport in those ten days. True, MLB resumed play on the 17th, but the New York Mets would not host the first game in the Big Apple until the 21st. The eyes of the whole nation were on Starkville.
Did Mississippi State and South Carolina deliver. For a nation in pain, the Cocks and Bulldogs would provide a chance both to show our patriotism and to escape the psychological wounds - for at least a few hours - that were still so incredibly raw. The MSU folks came out decked in Red, White and Blue instead of their Maroon and White, and chanting USA-USA instead of ringing their beloved bells. It was amazing.
I am not ashamed to say I was teary-eyed when the Cocks and Dogs solemnly marched onto Scott Field, holding up together a huge flag, or when Jackie Sherrill's daughter delivered the National Anthem, or the when the whole stadium sang God Bless America.
Watch the first 5 minutes of the video. And remember.