Winning Isn’t Everything, but…

People_SidSalterStory Sid Salter

DECEMBER, 2014 — Like a lot of Mississippi State University football fans, I’ve lived through some years in which my devotion to the Bulldogs was sorely tested. Not shaken, mind you, but tested.

I remember as a 10-year-old boy the implosion that was the 74-0 loss to the University of Houston in the Astrodome as Coach Bill Yeoman’s Cougars ran the Veer offense to near perfection. In 1970, State lost to Auburn in Birmingham by a score of 56-0 behind the passing of eventual Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan.

My dad and I listened to the game at the kitchen table as Jack Cristil called the debacle. Years later, when I was interviewing him for his biography at his own kitchen table, Jack called it “the most humiliating” MSU game of his 58-year broadcasting career.

MSU alum Leo Salter, my late father, said: “It takes character to be a Mississippi State fan, and let me tell you, boy, character is something of which I’ve got enough to last a lifetime.”

Five of the worst 15 defeats in MSU history came at the hands of the LSU Tigers. And in the lean years — and let’s face it, most of them were lean years — it wasn’t the margin of the losses that was so hard to take, it was the number of them.

The 2014 MSU Bulldogs posted a 10-2 record, 6-2 in the SEC West, and earned an Orange Bowl bid against Georgia Tech in Miami on New Year’s Eve. They won 10 regular season games for the first time in school history.

They went from being unranked in the polls when they dominated LSU in Death Valley at night on Sept. 20 to the No. 1 team in the country on Oct. 12 the day after they beat Auburn 38-23 to turn in their third win over a Top 10 team in as many weeks. Quarterback Dak Prescott became a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.

MSU’s Bulldogs held on to that No. 1 ranking until Nov. 16, the day after they lost by five points in Tuscaloosa to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

It’s hard to explain to the current generation of Bulldog fans how much the 2014 season meant to those of us who loved MSU just as much during those decades of frustration. Suffice to say most of us never thought we’d live to see the day that our Bulldogs would attain the No. 1 spot in the college football heap, not even for a day.

Consider, from my childhood and adolescence, some of the Bulldog gridiron carnage. Ten wins in a season? For the 1965 through 1969 football seasons, MSU won a total of 10 games while losing 38 and ending two in draws. It took from the 1964 season through the 1973 season for MSU to amass 10 SEC wins.

So pardon us — the older fans — if we strut a bit this year. Winning isn’t everything, but it beats those years wandering in the SEC wilderness. Funny thing, our current crop of students think this kind of thing — winning — is the way things are supposed to be.

History be damned, some of the old guys like me — the lifers, the gray hairs, the no-hairs, the ones who remember who Charlie Shira was — are starting to believe the same thing.

And why not? We’re spending New Year’s Eve in Miami. I just wish my daddy, my friend Jack and a lot of old Bulldogs gone on ahead could have joined us. They sure paid their dues to share this magic moment.