As I noted in my last column, the best thing about going to a bowl game is the reward it gives to the players. It gives them a taste of what winning is all about and it helps your younger players. For the fans, it gives them a sense of going somewhere to a party and our fans enjoy that trip regardless of what bowl game it is.
This game is really a big game because it’s the SEC versus the Big 10. This is the first time we’ve faced Michigan so it means an awful lot to our players, coaches and fans.
When you look at this game, objectively, it’s a big deal to Dan Mullen because it will be his first bowl game at Mississippi State. It’s also a New Year’s Day bowl game and that is a big plus. As a coach and for the fans, games on New Year’s Day is always the big one. We all grew up knowing the importance of playing on New Year’s Day.
During my time at Mississippi State, we had some big bowl games and obviously some were my favorites. Even though we didn’t win, the biggest one was having the ability to go to the Cotton Bowl. If you are in the Western Division, if you don’t go to the BCS title game or the Sugar Bowl, the next pick is the Cotton Bowl. Because of the history of the Cotton Bowl, this was a bowl game that used to be as big as any BCS bowl game.
Now that the Cotton Bowl is in the new Texas Stadium, I expect the Cotton Bowl to be the next pick in the group of BCS games.
Certainly beating Clemson in the Peach Bowl was very, very big as was beating Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl. If you ask folks across the country that year which bowl game they remember the most, most would say it was that game in the snow. Fans across the country flipped that game on and didn’t turn it off because of all the snow and also because of the number of points being scored. It is still one of the highest-rated ESPN bowl games and probably is the highest-rated Independence Bowl game ever.
As I looked at this year’s Independence Bowl, I saw a lot of empty seats and it was not very full. With all the snow we had that year, I was proud our fans stayed for the entire game and they showed great support.
In that game, we faught for 60 minutes and never gave up. I remember near the end of the first half, we scored and then had to kick off to Texas A&M. I told our kicker to lay the ball down and squib kick it. Well, our kicker did that but he slipped down and nearly missed the entire ball. I remember Joe Lee Dunn
looking at me as if to say “why in the hell are you onsides kicking it?”. After that, A&M scored right before the half but our kids never quit fighting in the second half.
We came back and forced overtime. We blocked the extra point and got those two points, which was very critical. Then we all remember Wayne Madkin scoring the game-winning touchdown and I am still not sure if he knew he crossed the goal line because of all the snow.
And the snow never bothered our players and they had a lot of fun playing in it. But getting back to Starkville was a nightmare. The next day, we made it 20 miles outside of Shreveport and I saw a lot of cars in the median because of the icy roads. So I turned around and went back to stay in Shreveport for another night. Even two days after that game, I still saw a lot of cars in the ditches between Shreveport and Vicksburg.
When we played in the Peach Bowl, Clemson had a great team that year and a great offensive team. Meanwhile, we had a lot of young players that really stepped up. Guys like Josh Morgan, Pig Prather and Dicenzo Miller really played well and they ended up making a lot of big plays. Madkin was also a young player then and winning the MVP of that game was a big deal to him and his confidence.
In preparing for any bowl game, especially Dan as a first-year coach, the biggest thing to watch for is the bowl people want you to go many functions. If you don’t understand or be careful, then you can wear your players out. The key is getting all your work done before you leave town and arrive at the bowl site.
That way, you can enjoy the times that the bowl people have set aside for the different functions. But at the same time you are still working on the gameplan and keeping a routine. But you also give your players their down time, whether it’s the players just sitting in their room or going to the movies or being with family and friends.
But saying that, it is important to monitor what they do at night and control where they go. What I usually did was meet with the bowl people but I also met with the local authorities to find out what places were safe and which places were not safe to go to. We would put some places off limits and made sure we had the ability to monitor that. I learned that a long time ago and I sent many kids home over the years for not doing the right things at a bowl game.
On one hand, you want your guys to have fun but you also must have control of the situation.
In our first bowl game at Mississippi State – the 1991 Libert Bowl – I was always concerned about our players not understanding the importance of being smart. And it showed up on game day and that’s the thing.
Players that take care of themselves, mentally and physically, are ready to play. Some teams are very excited to be in a bowl game and it shows on game day. Some teams feel they should be at a better bowl game and are not as excited and that also shows up on game day.
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