By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Happy Thanksgiving, Hail State and Hotty Toddy, y’all.
Our annual feast of gratitude falls on the same day as the collegiate clash known as the Egg Bowl, when the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the University of Mississippi Rebels meet on the gridiron to settle things for another season.
During this time of togetherness, the conflict on the football field will go to the heart of families in Northeast Mississippi who live in divided houses.
Consider the college quarterback who married the homecoming queen. It’s a great story with a tiny snag that comes into play on this very day: Matt Wyatt, 36, was recruited by Mississippi State and Annabeth Freeman Wyatt, 35, went to Ole Miss.
“I didn’t know him then,” Annabeth said, “but I know I was pulling against him when he played Ole Miss.”
Matt said his wife’s family is “an Ole Miss family for generations and everybody knows she married a State quarterback.”
More than that, Matt is the radio color commentator for the Bulldogs’ broadcasts. He’s professionally invested in his team, but tries to keep things in perspective.
“There’s some trash talking back and forth,” he said. “The thing is neither of us gets extremely emotional about the game.”
“What? What?” Annabeth said.
“Which is good,” Matt added.
The Tupelo residents have a 2-year-old daughter. She’s named Mary Liddy Wyatt after Annabeth’s grandmother, who was Miss Ole Miss in 1948.
“I’ve taught her to ring a cowbell and she says, ‘Hotty Toddy,’ when she does it,” Annabeth said. “Some people would be offended by that, but here it’s normal.”
Count Holly Rogers, 55, of Tupelo among those who probably cringed after reading that comment about cowbells and Hotty Toddy.
“I do not like cowbells,” she said.
Her husband, Chris Rogers, 58, broke with his parents’ Southern Mississippi allegiance and followed a favorite uncle to Starkville.
Holly said her earliest memories were of pulling into The Grove for a day of tailgating. Her dad, Jim Ingram, played for Ole Miss in the 1950s, and he remained true to his school.
“Her dad was a serious Ole Miss fan,” Chris said.
“He liked Chris, so it was OK. He accepted him,” Holly said. “Chris even went to Ole Miss games with us.”
“I love sports,” he explained. “I can sit there and root for a good game.”
Chris added that he’s able to pull for Ole Miss, but that only applies to certain situations, and today isn’t one of them.
As Holly said, “We’ve never watched an Ole Miss/State game together and we never will.”
“We’re too combustible,” Chris said, shaking his head.
C.W. Jackson, 81, and his wife, Alice, 80, don’t enjoy going to games any more, but it has nothing to do with his preference for State or hers for the Rebels.
“The crowds kind of get to us,” he said.
In the past, the Tupelo residents have sat on the MSU side when the game was in Starkville and on the Ole Miss side when it was in Oxford.
He was a farmer from Corinth and studied dairy husbandry in the days when Jackie “Crazy Legs” Parker quarterbacked the Bulldogs.
“I graduated Ole Miss,” Alice said. “I went to high school in Illinois and grew up in Oklahoma, but I knew which way to go when I got down here.”
They met at Northeast Mississippi Junior College, then went to their separate schools, but the pair kept in touch.
“I used to ride a motorcycle,” C.W. said. “On my way back to Corinth, I’d make a loop and go by Ole Miss to see her.”
But this is rivalry week. Words have been exchanged and there are more to come.
“I get into it as much as I can at this age,” Alice said. “I’m nice about it.”
“You are?” C.W. said.
“I’m always nice,” she said.
“I’ve got to be nice because I like to eat,” he said.
Saltillo residents Howard Tindall, 39, and Robin Tindall, 37, each have help when cheering their teams. Howard’s stepdaughter, Kylee Stewart, 11, pulls for the Rebels with him, and the Tindalls’ son, Hayden Tindall, 7, is with Robin’s Bulldogs.
“I love State because my mom loves it and I’m a mama’s boy and I just love Bulldog stuff,” Hayden said.
Kylee explained her allegiance this way: “My dad and his parents go for Ole Miss. I’ve never been to a State game before. I’ve always been to Ole Miss games.”
“When we go to State games, she never goes,” Robin said. “She stays with her father.”
The rest have been to both State and Ole Miss games together, but Howard and Robin haven’t been to an Egg Bowl since they got married.
“He likes to aggravate me,” she said. “He aggravates me during games.”
“I like watching Mississippi State lose,” Howard said.
Last year was tough on the MSU contingent, and it was Kylee who dished out the most abuse after her Rebels ended the Bulldogs’ three-year winning streak.
“I trash talk,” Kylee said.
“I’ve got video of her getting in my face and trash talking,” Robin said. “She was all in my face.”
The Tindalls weren’t sure how they were going to handle today’s game. Thanksgiving usually involves a trip to Memphis and a trip to Batesville. They could probably see the game on television, but there’s a new wrinkle this year.
“Walmart messed us up,” Howard said.
“It’s been a dilemma because Black Friday starts at 6 p.m. (today),” Robin said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. It depends if we want deals or not.”
C.W. and Alice Jackson will visit their daughter, an MSU grad, and her husband, an Auburn alumnus, at their home in Madison.
“We’ll watch the game,” C.W. said.
“If they don’t have the game, we’ll come home to watch it,” Alice said.
The Rogers clan will be moving in different directions on this fine day.
“I’m going to be in Starkville, Mississippi, for that little football game they’re going to have,” Chris said. “My wife will watch the game somewhere with family or friends or the kids. My son and daughter are Ole Miss grads, so I’m all alone.”
Matt Wyatt has gameday duties in Starkville, so he’ll start work early and stay late, but he’ll probably get to see Annabeth and Mary Liddy as they tailgate at State.
“Mary Liddy and I have had fun tailgating at the Junction,” Annabeth said, but it went without saying that the experience wouldn’t compare to Thanksgiving at The Grove.
Matt had his own opinion. “Doesn’t that sound just lovely? Turkey at The Grove?” he said, then made a raspberry sound.
It’s all in good fun for their divided house during Egg Bowl time. Annabeth likes to say families like hers get “the best of both.”
“I stole Jack Cristil’s quote,” she said, referring to MSU’s longtime radio play-by-play announcer. “He said, ‘Wrap it up in maroon and white.’ We’re wrapped up in red and blue and maroon and white, and we couldn’t be happier.”