7:30 PM ET, November 27, 2003
Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, MS
"I kind of got there late. I was doing an interview, and when I was done everybody was gone," he said.
No problem. Manning grabbed a couple of his trusty receivers and bounded over to the stands, waving his arms and thanking the Ole Miss faithful for sticking it out through the rain.
Manning and the Rebels (No. 19 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) made it worth getting wet.
Manning threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns in Ole Miss' 31-0 victory over Mississippi State on Thursday night in the 100th meeting between the Magnolia State rivals, sending Bulldogs coach Jackie Sherrill into retirement with his worst Egg Bowl loss.
The Rebels (9-3, 7-1) remained in the SEC West title race and reached nine regular-season victories for the first time since 1990. Ole Miss can earn its first trip to the SEC championship game if No. 3 LSU loses to Arkansas on Friday in Baton Rouge.
"We've done everything we could, but we just came up short against LSU," Manning said. "It's still been the best season for Ole Miss in a long time. It's been a career year. Everything has been great."
The Bulldogs (2-10, 1-7) ended the season with six straight lopsided losses. Since 60-year-old Sherrill announced his retirement on Oct. 17, the Bulldogs have been outscored 267-57.
Sherrill received a long, loud standing ovation from the Bulldogs fans when he was introduced before the game.
But by the fourth quarter, most of the rain-soaked fans remaining were rooting for the Rebels.
"It was a very, very good ride," Sherrill said. "I'm sorry we couldn't finish it the last couple of years like we should have."
Sherrill completed 13 seasons at Mississippi State 75-75-2 but was just 8-27 in the final three.
Sherrill won over Bulldogs fans by becoming the first Mississippi State coach in decades to beat Ole Miss consistently, doing it seven times in his first 11 seasons.
In the end, he couldn't even do that.
The Rebels won the Battle for the Golden Egg for the second straight season, a first during the Sherrill era.
And never had the Rebels dismantled Sherrill's Bulldogs so easily.
Ole Miss outgained the Bulldogs 359-192. Kevin Fant, playing his last game for Mississippi State, was 14-for-28 for 91 yards.
"We knew we had to put pressure on them early because we knew that regardless what happened to them this season they'd be ready to play us," Ole Miss defensive tackle Jesse Mitchell said.
The previous largest margin of victory for Ole Miss against Sherrill's teams was 15. The shutout was the Rebels' first against the Bulldogs since 1971.
Manning and his Heisman Trophy candidacy took a beating in a loss to LSU last Saturday. The senior quarterback was often off target against the Tigers, but he was impeccable with his passing in a steady -- at times driving -- rain against the lowly Bulldogs.
"We played under tough circumstances," Manning said. "You just try not to think about it."
He passed for more yards (211) in the first half against Mississippi State than he did in the entire game against LSU (200) as the Rebels built a 24-0 lead.
Only two lost fumbles by Manning in Mississippi State territory kept the game from getting completely out of hand early.
Manning found Tremaine Turner in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown late in the first quarter and got a lot of help from backup tight end Lawrence Lilly on an 11-yard TD pass in the second quarter.
Lilly had to reach behind him for the throw and tipped the ball. The ball then hit off a defender, and Lilly reached into a crowd to cradle it in for a 14-0 lead with 8:40 in the half.
Chris Collins caught Manning's third TD pass late in the third quarter, breaking a tackle and scooting 23 yards to make it 31-0.
Collins caught eight passes for 113 yards and Manning finished 19-for-27, improving to 2-1 in Egg Bowls.
Ole Miss leads the series 57-37-6. Since the rivals started playing for the Golden Egg trophy in 1927, Ole Miss leads 51-20-5.
As the game wound down, some of the Ole Miss fans started doing Arkansas' famed "Pig Sooie" cheer. The Rebels might be doing the same Friday.
"I'm the biggest Hog fan ever," Collins said.