Now 11 years ago, we re-live the last time Ole Miss beat Alabama in this week’s Rivalry Rewind.
My father was raised in Alabama, and in my middle school days our family moved to Alabama, just north of Tuscaloosa. He is a die hard Alabama fan due to growing up in the Alabama region, and I became an Ole Miss fan by growing up in the North Delta of Mississippi, just two hours west of Oxford.
My childhood consisted of my grandfather taking me to the Grove and Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for Ole Miss football games. One of my favorite games was in 1992, when Ole Miss hosted Alabama. We lost that year, but for me it was a berth of a inner-rivalry to come.
My dad and I have a ritual every football season. We either go to the Ole Miss and Alabama game, or we watch it at home. We grill out at his house on the deck and watch the game from there. It is a day of intense rival arguing, and for over a decade he has had the upper hand.
In the 2003 season, that was not the case. As an Ole Miss fan, if you are not familiar with an Alabama fan’s reaction to a loss, I am here to tell you it is a classic moment. If you thought the excuses came flooding in from a State or LSU fan, you have not seen nothing compared to that of an Alabama Crimson Tide fan.Elisha Nelson Manning was in his final year at Ole Miss. He was the biggest weapon the Rebels had had in years, and was in a Heisman Trophy run. Manning would carry the team to a 10-3 record and a victory in the Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma State. The team finished tied for first in the SEC West, and just missed heading to the SEC Championship game. It was arguably the best season of Ole Miss football in the last decade.
Manning had some weapons with him on offense that helped contribute to his success at Ole Miss. Taye Biddle was an exceptional wide receiver who would have one of the best games of his career in the ’03 game against Alabama. Kerry Johnson was also another receiver Manning would depend on down field, and of course Mike Espy. Tremaine Turner and Ronald McClendon were also great backs behind Manning.
David Cutcliffe was in his 5th full tenure year as the head coach of Ole Miss. He was well on his way to winning the SEC Coach of the Year award. Prior to 2003, Cutcliffe had sent the Rebels to three Independence Bowl victories, with a 30-19 overall win-loss record, and finishing as high as third in the SEC West.
As far as Alabama, the team was led by Head Coach Mike Shula. Shula was in his first year at Alabama. He came into a turmoil program, despite the team having a 10-3 record the previous year. In those years prior to Shula, the Tide had been hit by NCAA sanctions and put on probation. The program lost Dennis Franchione to Texas A&M and fired Franchione’s successor Mike Price due to off-the-field actions. This opened the door for Mike Shula to become Alabama’s third head coach in less than a year.
Alabama’s offense was led by quarterback Brodie Croyle and star running back Shaud Williams. Croyle was a concern for Ole Miss leading into the game, but it was Williams who was feared the most. In 2003, Williams was in his first full season at Alabama, and was well on his way to having a thousand-plus yards in the season.
The 2003 game between Alabama and Ole Miss took place in Oxford at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, on October 18th. The game was an afternoon game, and was the SEC 11:30 a.m. slot matchup.
Eli Manning and his highly powered offense took the game nearly out of reach in just the first quarter of regulation. Manning caught fire early in the game, going 7-9 for 121 passing yards in the first quarter. He would throw two touchdown passes to Taye Biddle, one for 23 yards and the other for 55 yards. At the end of the first quarter, the Rebels led Alabama 24-0.
I assure you that my dad (who had been talking smack all day) was speechless at this point. He leaned far back in his Alabama tailgating chair, with his hands crossed over his head, and was in sure disbelief of what he had witnessed on the television.
Alabama would make a small run before halftime, by posting ten points before the end of the 2nd quarter. Those ten points even cut the Rebels’ led to two possessions, 24-10, at one point. But, Manning would make his highlight play of the game. The senior quarterback avoided pressure up the middle, rolled to his right, and while on the move launched a 41-yard touchdown pass to Kerry Johnson. This extended the Rebels’ lead to 31-10, and would result as the halftime score.
Not long after the start of the 2nd half, Manning would show once again why he was the SEC’s top-rated passer. He would cap a long scoring drive, by scrambling through defenders to complete a 3-yard touchdown pass, making the score 38-10 in favor of the Rebels.
Even though the Tide outscored the Rebels 18-12 in the 2nd half, it was not enough to comeback from the 1st quarter deficit. Ole Miss won the game 43-28. It was the first time in a decade that Ole Miss beat Alabama.
Manning finished as player-of-the-game, by completing three touchdown passes on the Tide’s defense. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 230 yards and had no turnovers.
Ole Miss finished the game with 216 total yards in rushing. Tremaine Turner ran for 81 yards on 17 carries and Ronald McClendon ran for 79 on 12 carries. The team’s defense also played a big role in the win over Alabama. They forced three turnovers, held Alabama to 116 yards rushing and finished the scoring in the game with a safety.
Eli Manning would finish his career at Ole Miss at the end of the 2003 season, leading the Rebels to one last bowl win in his years, with a Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State. Manning would also finish his years at Ole Miss by achieving many awards, such as the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best all-around player, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame Scholar-Athlete Award, the Sporting News Radio Socrates Award, and the SEC Most Valuable Player Award. He also finished in third in his Heisman Trophy race, behind Pittsburgh’s wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the winner, Oklahoma’s quarterback Jason White.David Cutcliffe was fired by Ole Miss Athletic Director Pete Boone in December 2004 after his only losing season at Ole Miss. Boone had asked Cutcliffe to fire some assistant coaches and provide a detailed plan for improving the program, specifically the defense and recruiting. Cutcliffe refused to fire any staff members, and was subsequently fired along with his assistants.
The 2003 win over Alabama was one of my favorite games in Ole Miss football. This was mainly due to the intense rivalry my father and I share with both teams. If I left anything unmentioned about the game or you would like to discuss anything relating to the article, please leave your comments in the comment section below.