Remember when Arkansas State tied Mississippi State? You don’t?

It’s okay if you (like the majority of the human race) have forgotten the A-State Indians football season of 1993. The team, abandoned by one-and-done pioneer Ray Perkins and replaced by first-time head coach John Bobo, opened the year with a punishing 44-6 loss to #8 Florida, and then proceeded to lose 5 of the next six games. The lone victory came courtesy of Division II stalwart Southern Illinois.

However, 1993 did provide two bursts of magic that bubble to the surface. One was the season’s finale, a riveting 23-21 victory over Big West also-ran Nevada, who saw their chances at a bowl invitation and share of the conference title evaporate on last second heroics from the Indians.

The second moment of note occurred in Starkville, sixty minutes of football that is all but lost in the vapor of time.

Arkansas State wasn’t very good at playing the football in 1993

We were Indians in them days
We were Indians in them days

October 23, 1993 the 1-6 Indians rolled into Starkville without much hope of beating even a woeful SEC team in the shape of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who were 2-4 with wins over Tulane and South Carolina. The Bulldogs had, in fact, whipped the Gamecocks just the week before, 23-0, so one could imagine that the Mississippi State faithful were contemplating a breathtaking season turnaround.

A-State’s passing attack was led by the immortal Johnny Covington, who would finish the season with three touchdown passes against 5 interceptions. Those are some pretty amazing numbers. Covington’s entire 1993 season was an average game for Tony Romo. (It’s only fair to note that Covington would later become one of A-State’s all-time record holders at the quarterback position, setting school marks for pass attempts and completions.)

The passing game aside, A-State wasn’t totally reliant on the Sophomore quarterback. For example, the Indians did have a 1,000-yd rusher in Marquis Williams, who found the end zone 6 times that year. The defense managed to grab 15 INTs.  Arkansas State was not without some skill.

33,878 people attended the game in Starkville but nobody is talking

There are few readily available accounts of the game. Google provides a sheepish shrug, and YouTube just grins and laughs. Was it raining that day? How was the crowd? Who, if any, attended from A-State? What was the Vegas line? Was it broadcast? It’s a mystery lost to history.

But it happened. Against a Jackie Sherrill squad that started the year ranked in the Top 25 but finished with only 4 wins. The Bulldogs would bounce back in 1994 with an 8-win season and a trip to the Peach Bowl. What did Jackie think of A-State? Was it just a tune-up for the Kentucky game next week? Did he even know where Jonesboro was? For Coach Sherrill, 1993 is the year he’s remembered for accusing Auburn of filling footballs with helium. Like the Internet, Jackie Sherrill has probably forgotten all about the 1993 Indians.

Many of the A-State faithful have forgotten it, too. After Perkins bailed in the winter of 1992, the mood among fans was uncertain. Maybe we didn’t belong in D1 football. Perhaps we made the leap prematurely. Times were better in 1-AA with Larry Lacewell leading us to titles. Losing sucks.

And it did suck. Take it from a guy who sat in the east side cheap seats nearly every home game. It was no fun watching ULL win 3-19. Physically, A-State looked smaller than every team it faced (except for maybe Southern Illinois). Each game was like fist fighting Bane. If there was any hope for the A-State football program, the 1993 team was on the farthest planet from it.

Arkansas State entered FBS play in 1992 and many people immediately regretted it

If this was a “big check” game for A-State, there isn’t any record of the amount. Maybe we just played Mississippi State for the competition? Though both teams struggled in 1993, the Bulldogs got 11 TD passes from Todd Jordan and had two serviceable running backs in Michael Davis and Kevin Bouie. The team would go on to win the most important game in Mississippi, the Egg Bowl. Mississippi State wasn’t SEC elite, but it was SEC. That means something. Ask any fan of the SEC.

Meanwhile, A-State had just joined the Big West, a motley crew of second tier misfits, many who would one day evolve into significant programs: Northern Illinois (L, 7-23), Louisiana Tech (L, 3-17), UL-Lafayette (L, 3-19), New Mexico State (L 19-22). The Big West would eventually include teams like Boise State, San Diego State, Fresno State, and Utah State (essentially, any school that was a State). The conference gave up on football in 2000. A-State celebrated the Big West’s final year with a 1-10 showing under Joe Hollis.

That 2000 A-State team might have trumped the 1993 team for futility. However, both teams earned conference victories on the last game of the year, and before a home crowd. The 2000 team also played in Mississippi that year, losing to Ole Miss 10-35.

If a photograph from this game exists, I have yet to find it

Was it a chilly day? Had the leaves turned? Halloween was only a week away. The Indians crept into town like spirits, and the result would haunt the Bulldogs for the rest of the year. In theory, at least. I can’t seem to unearth much reaction. It happened more than 20 years ago, after all, and during seasons both fan bases would rather forget.

But it happened, y’all.

When it was over, the Associated Press called Arkansas State a “huge underdog” which is only fair considering that A-State had only managed 3 wins in its last 18 attempts, and two of those were gained from Southern Illinois. It also didn’t help that A-State had come up empty in 14 previous meetings with the Bulldogs. The AP reminded us that Mississippi State was favored to win by 3 TDs. But that didn’t stop A-State from taking an early 6-0 lead.

But you know what? Business is business, and the SEC beating teams like A-State is business in its most basic form. In the fourth quarter, Michael Davis took it to the house from 29 yards to take a 15-12 lead. And that was okay. This was the best three quarters played by A-State since joining Division I. The Indians should have been happy just keeping it close.

Except, the Indians weren’t knowing their role.

After Ray Perkins quit, A-State promoted offensive line coach John Bobo, gave him a $70,000 salary and said “Good luck!”

In 1993, A-State defensive lineman Carlos White recorded exactly one interception – and returned it 24 yards before a stunned (?) crowd in Starkville. What happened after that is a little sketchy because I can’t really find out what happened except that with 9 seconds remaining in the game, the Indians found themselves on the 5 yard line of Mississippi State.

Who really understands the mind of Coach John Bobo? In four years with A-State (his first and only head coaching job), Bobo amassed a 13-30-1 record, with his best season being the magic 6-5 year of 1995. In 1997, he would be ingloriously replaced by the inglorious Joe Hollis. Bobo’s suicide mission was to develop a Division II school into a Division I program. He found himself opposite field of #8 Florida to open the season. That’s damn near criminal. If John Bobo wasn’t at least a little shell shocked by the time his team arrived to Davis Wade Stadium, it’s a miracle of psychology.

With nine seconds left in the ball game, and with the pigskin sitting on the 5 yard line, John Bobo had a choice: try to punch it in past an SEC defensive line, or escape the state of Mississippi with a bragging point A-State had never had.

He elected to go with the bragging point.

Jeff Caldwell finished the 1993 season 14-17 on field goal attempts, a 82.4% field goal percentage. One of those attempts tied the score in Starkville, and the 15th meeting of A-State and Mississippi State ended in a 15-15 tie. The crowd could have only met this development dimly.  We’re the SEC! How could this happen?

If you own a video of this game, please post it to YouTube immediately

Only the people who were there know for sure if this game was actually played. What we know for certain was that there was no lingering afterglow for the Indians, who returned home the next week to absorb an upset loss of their own against the Division II Warhawks of UL-Monroe. A week after that, in-state nemesis Arkansas Razorbacks tied Mississippi State in Little Rock, 13-13.

The Bulldogs managed to tie two teams from Arkansas in a single year, which sounds like an answer for bar trivia. Fittingly, the Tie Unheard Around the World became trivial indeed. The next season, Mississippi State righted the doghouse by smashing A-State 3-49. Business as usual.

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