By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Before he even reached Davis Wade Stadium, Mike Slive could tell there was a difference.
The SEC commissioner came over from Birmingham to take in Mississippi State’s home opener versus LSU on Thursday night and was duly impressed by the atmosphere not only inside the stadium, but outside.
“The enthusiasm tonight is terrific – you can feel it when you drive in, and the excitement and tailgating,” Slive said prior to kickoff.
A crowd of 56,924 filled the stadium. It was the third-largest crowd in Davis Wade history and marked the 11th consecutive sellout for MSU.
That’s indicative of the jolt third-year coach Dan Mullen has brought to the program – plus, it was a meeting of two top-25 teams on a Thursday night ESPN game. Several observers in the press box said the crowd was the loudest they’ve ever heard at Scott Field – and that was just in the pregame.
MSU might have lost, 19-6, but the program has made great strides under Mullen. That’s good not just for MSU, but for the league, according to Slive.
“It’s great for the league when we can have teams from the top to bottom being very, very good and competitive, both inside the league and outside the league,” he said. “Obviously, with Dr. (Mark) Keenum and Scott (Stricklin) and coach Mullen on the football side, they’ve done a terrific job over the last couple of years.”
It was a big day all around for MSU, which broke ground on its $23.2 million football complex and honored former radio announcer Jack Cristil at halftime. New ribbon video boards on the east and west sides of the stadium debuted as a complement to the giant video board.
Thursday also marked the first game in which the cowbell rule took effect for 2011. In the summer, the league’s school presidents approved a one-year extension of the policy that allows MSU fans to bring cowbells into the stadium during SEC home games but regulates when they may be rung.
MSU was fined $30,000 for failing to comply in two games last season.
About 20 minutes prior to kickoff, Mullen spoke from the field and exhorted fans to ring responsibly, asking them to cheer loudly and “make this the toughest road environment in the country.”
As last year, fans were given cues on the video board when to ring and when not to ring.
“Let’s hope that everybody gets used to it and incorporates it into the tradition, so that this can continue long into the future,” Slive said.
Slive did not say whether full compliance this season would result in the current cowbell policy becoming permanent.