Mississippi State Traditions
Mississippi State University athletic teams are called Bulldogs, a name earned and maintained over the decades by the tough, tenacious play of student-athletes wearing the Maroon and White. The official school mascot is an American Kennel Club registered English Bulldog, given the inherited title of 'Bully'.
As with most universities, State teams answered to different nicknames through the years. The first squads representing Mississippi A&M College were proud to be called Aggies, and when the school officially became Mississippi State College in 1932 the nickname Maroons, for State's uniform color, gained prominence. Bulldogs became the official title for State teams in 1961, not long after State College was granted university status. Yet references to school teams and athletes as Bulldogs actually go back to early in the century, and this nickname was used almost interchangably with both Aggies and Maroons, since at least 1905.
On November 30 of that year the A&M football team shut out their arch-rivals from the University of Mississippi 11-0 in Jackson, Miss. The campus newspaper, The Reflector, reported: "After the game, filled with that emotion that accompanies every great victory, there was nothing left for the cadets to do but to complete the great victory by showing sympathy for the dead athletic spirit of the University, by having a military funeral parade.
"A coffin was secured, decorated with University colors and a bulldog pup placed on top. It was then placed on the shoulders of a dozen cadets, and the procession started down Capitol Street, preceded by the brass band playing a very pathetic funeral march."
Other newspaper reports of the victory commented on the 'bulldog' style of play by the A&M eleven, and the Bulldog was soon publicly accepted as a school athletic symbol. Accounts of a 1926 pep rally in Meridian, Miss., had another bulldog parading with students.
Use as an official game mascot began in 1935 when coach Major Ralph Sasse, on 'orders' from his team, went to Memphis, Tenn., to select a bulldog. Ptolemy, a gift of the Edgar Webster family, was chosen and the Bulldogs promptly defeated Alabama 20-7.
A litter-mate of Ptolemy became the first mascot called 'Bully' shortly after Sasse's team beat mighty Army 13-7 at West Point that same year, perhaps the greatest victory in MSU football history. But Bully I earned other fame the hard way, in 1939 when a campus bus cut short his career.
Days of campus mourning followed, as Bully lay in state in a glass coffin. A half-mile funeral procession accompanied by the the Famous Maroon Band and three ROTC battalions went to Scott Field where Bully was buried under the bench at the 50-yard line. Even LIFE Magazine covered to the event. Other Bullys have since been buried by campus dorms, fraternity houses, and also at the football stadium.
For years Bully was a target for kidnappers, the last incident occuring prior to the 1974 State-Ole Miss game. The Bulldog team won anyway, 31-13. While early Bullys once roamed campus freely or lived in fraternities, today the official university mascot is housed at the College of Veterinary Medicine when not on duty at State home football games. For all their fierce appearance and reputation, today's mascot bulldogs are good-natured, friendly animals and favorites with children.
A student wearing a Bulldog suit, also answering to Bully, is part of the MSU cheerleading team and assists in stiring up State spirit at games and pep rallies.
The most unique and certainly the most resounding symbol of Mississippi State University tradition is the cowbell. Despite decades of attempts by opponents and authorities to banish it from scenes of competition, diehard State fans still celebrate Bulldog victories loudly and proudly with the distinctive sound of ringing cowbells.
The precise origin of the cowbell as a fixture of Mississippi State sports tradition remains unclear to this day. The best records have cowbells gradually introduced to the MSU sports scene in the late 1930s and early 1940s, coinciding with the 'golden age' of Mississippi State football success
prior to World War II.
The most popular legend is that during a home football game between State and arch-rival Mississippi, a jersey cow wandered onto the playing field. Mississippi State soundly whipped the Rebels that Saturday, and State College students immediately adopted the cow as a good luck charm. Students are said to have continued bringing a cow to football games for a while, until the practice was eventually discontinued in favor of bringing just the cow's bell.
Whatever the origin, it is certain that by the 1950s cowbells were common at Mississippi State games, and by the 1960s were established as the special symbol of Mississippi State. Ironically, the cowbell's popularity grew most rapidly during the long years when State football teams were rarely successful. Flaunting this anachronism from the 'aggie' days was a proud response by students and alumni to outsider scorn of the university's 'cow college' history.
In the 1960s two MSU professors, Earl W. Terrell and Ralph L. Reeves obliged some students by welding handles on the bells to they could be rung with much more convenience and authority. By 1963 the demand for these long-handled cowbells could not be filled by home workshops alone, so at the suggestion of Reeves the Student Association bought bells in bulk and the Industrial Education Club agreed to weld on handles. In 1964 the MSU Bookstore began marketing these cowbells with a portion of the profits returning to these student organizations.
Today many styles of cowbells are available on campus and around Starkville, with the top-of-the-line a heavy chrome-plated model with a full Bulldog figurine handle. But experts insist the best and loudest results are produced by a classic long-handled, bicycle-grip bell made of thinner and tightly-welded shells.
Cowbells decorate offices and homes of Mississippi State alumni, and are passed down through generations of Bulldog fans.
That spring, the 12 schools of the SEC agreed to a compromise on artificial noisemakers, acknowledging the role cowbells play in the history of Mississippi State University by amending the conference by-law. In the fall of 2010, on a one-year trial with specified restrictions, cowbells were permitted in Davis Wade Stadium for the first time in 36 years. And due to MSU fans' notable adherance to the rules outlined by the league, cowbells have been allowed at MSU home football games since with similar restrictions in place.
Maroon and White are the distinctive colors of Mississippi State University athletic teams, dating back over a century to the very first football game ever played by the school's student-athletes.
On November 15, 1895, the first Mississippi A&M football team was preparing for a road trip to Jackson, Tenn., to play Southern Baptist University (now called Union University) the following day. Since every college was supposed to have its own uniform colors, the A&M student body requested that the school's team select a suitable combination.
Considering making this choice an honor, the innaugural State team gave the privilege to team captain W.M. Matthews. Accounts report that without hesitation Matthews chose Maroon and White.
Hail State (Fight Song)
Hail dear ol' State!
Fight for that victory today.
Hit that line and tote that ball,
Cross the goal before you fall!
And then we'll yell, yell, yell, yell!
For dear ol' State we'll yell like H-E-L-L!
Fight for Mis-sis-sip-pi State,
Win that game today!
Listen to the fight song
Words & music by Joseph Burleson Peavey, 1939
In the heart of Mississippi
Made by none but God's own hands
Stately in her nat'ral splendor
Our Alma Mater proudly stands.
State College of Mississippi,
Fondest mem'ries cling to thee.
Life shall hoard thy spirit ever,
Loyal sons we'll always be.
Maroon and White! Maroon and White!
Of thee with joy we sing.
Thy colors bright, our souls delight,
With praise our voices ring.
Tho' our life some pow'r may vanquish,
Loyalty can't be o'er run;
Honors true on thee we lavish
Until the setting of the sun;
Live Maroon and White for ever,
Ne'er can evil mar thy fame,
Nothing us from thee can sever,
Alma Mater we acclaim.
Listen to the alma mater
Words by T. Paul Haney Jr.
Music by Henry E. Wamsley