‘Nothing short of a miracle’

Published: November 16, 2006 | 5056th good news item since 2003

The bus cut through familiar territory on an oft-traveled highway, through Gordo, past Reform, winding through pine forests. Sylvester Croom knew the area as a youngster, from accompanying his father on church business.

Arriving in town, the Mississippi State charter rolled past sacred ground, refurbished Central High School, where Croom blazed a trail decades before he made history in the Southeastern Conference.

Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Croom was still blazing. Saturday’s 24-16 upset victory of Alabama, a two-touchdown favorite, had national reverberations. But for State, the shock waves to come may be of great import.

“There’s a lot of blue-chip prospects from Mississippi over in that (Alabama) locker room,” Croom said. “They came over here because they didn’t think the schools in Mississippi were good enough, OK?

“The thing I’ve been trying to get across – and to get our prospects to understand – is this is a great program. Take pride in your own state, because we can build the same thing in Mississippi.”

Despite key injuries, despite insufficient numbers due to NCAA sanctions and Croom’s housecleaning, Mississippi State’s victory was statement stuff.

The Bulldogs set the tone on their first offensive series, calling Alabama’s opening-set field goal and raising the ante with a touchdown.

With halftime approaching, State had seized Alabama by the throat, taking a 24-10 lead. After three seasons of letdowns under Croom, the lead would hold.

“We’ve had a lot of tough times the last few years,” said State offensive guard Brian Anderson, a native of Butler. “I can promise you this game, if there was any game we could have won for Coach Croom, this was it.”

For Croom, the Tuscaloosa native, the ex-Tide star, the man who didn’t get the head coach job at Alabama, the sweetness couldn’t be measured in words alone.

“There’s a lot of blue-chip prospects from Mississippi over in that (Alabama) locker room,” Croom said. “They came over here because they didn’t think the schools in Mississippi were good enough, OK?

“The thing I’ve been trying to get across – and to get our prospects to understand – is this is a great program. Take pride in your own state, because we can build the same thing in Mississippi.”

Despite key injuries, despite insufficient numbers due to NCAA sanctions and Croom’s housecleaning, Mississippi State’s victory was statement stuff.

The Bulldogs set the tone on their first offensive series, calling Alabama’s opening-set field goal and raising the ante with a touchdown.

With halftime approaching, State had seized Alabama by the throat, taking a 24-10 lead. After three seasons of letdowns under Croom, the lead would hold.

“We’ve had a lot of tough times the last few years,” said State offensive guard Brian Anderson, a native of Butler. “I can promise you this game, if there was any game we could have won for Coach Croom, this was it.”

For Croom, the Tuscaloosa native, the ex-Tide star, the man who didn’t get the head coach job at Alabama, the sweetness couldn’t be measured in words alone.

“As I was riding over here today,” said Croom, “I was thinking what a blessed person I am to have grown up in this town, to have gone to school across those tracks and have a chance to play at the University of Alabama and to coach at Mississippi State. And then to have a chance to win. It was nothing short of a miracle.”

Croom delivered the win after channeling Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. He read a New York Times article on the blustery coach earlier in the week, then spent an hour on the phone talking to Parcells on Friday about the message.

“He talked about game winners and game quitters,” Croom explained. “It’s the most profound thing I’ve ever read.”

“As I was riding over here today,” said Croom, “I was thinking what a blessed person I am to have grown up in this town, to have gone to school across those tracks and have a chance to play at the University of Alabama and to coach at Mississippi State. And then to have a chance to win. It was nothing short of a miracle.”

Croom delivered the win after channeling Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. He read a New York Times article on the blustery coach earlier in the week, then spent an hour on the phone talking to Parcells on Friday about the message.

“He talked about game winners and game quitters,” Croom explained. “It’s the most profound thing I’ve ever read.”

That was the message to his team Saturday, and it resonated.

Mississippi State, which always imploded when given the chance, which shied away when facing a challenge, instead stared Alabama down without a blink.

Makes you wonder what the late Sylvester Croom Sr., the longtime Tuscaloosa preacher, would have said in the aftermath.

“He’d have had that big ol’ smile,” the younger Croom said, his eyes glistening. “He wouldn’t have had to say anything.”

That was the message to his team Saturday, and it resonated.

Mississippi State, which always imploded when given the chance, which shied away when facing a challenge, instead stared Alabama down without a blink.

Makes you wonder what the late Sylvester Croom Sr., the longtime Tuscaloosa preacher, would have said in the aftermath.

“He’d have had that big ol’ smile,” the younger Croom said, his eyes glistening. “He wouldn’t have had to say anything.”

Published in Miracles
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