November 28, 2013 12:26:26 AM
William Browning - [email protected]
This evening, when Martin Charles Billingsley takes his seat in Davis Wade Stadium, he will watch Ole Miss and Mississippi State play a football game for the 76th time.
"I saw my first one in 1937," Billingsley said.
He was 10 years old then and hasn't missed an Egg Bowl since.
The teams from Oxford and Starkville have been meeting on the gridiron since 1901. Billingsley has been witness to more than three-fourths of the matchups. It's an impressive streak.
But talking to Billingsley -- a gentleman retired from the grocery business who goes by "Chut" and lives in Winona -- you get the impression that attending so many consecutive Egg Bowls is not something he set out to do.
"I just enjoy that ballgame," the 86-year-old said.
Also, it's something of a family tradition for the Mississippi State alum.
Billingsley studied business at Mississippi State. He didn't play football for the team, but he lettered in track and field. He has four sons who each graduated from Mississippi State. One of them, Ralph, is Lowndes County administrator.
Billingsley's uncle, DeWitt Billingsley, was captain of Mississippi State's football team in 1909. His father, M.C. Billingsley, was captain of the 1920 team.
Billingsley still remembers his father taking him to his first Egg Bowl in 1937. It was in Oxford.
"Mississippi State won that ballgame, 9-to-7" Billingsley recalled.
If he compares that game to the one last year, the biggest difference he sees is the size of the student-athletes. The year Billingsley graduated from Mississippi State -- 1950 --the heaviest player for the Bulldogs weighed about 225 pounds, he said.
"Of course, now every lineman is more than 300," he said.
Asked about the most memorable Egg Bowl, Billingsley thought for a moment before mentioning the 2007 contest. That game was played in Starkville. Ole Miss had a 14-0 lead halfway through the fourth quarter when the Rebels went for it on fourth down, didn't make a first down and lost to the Bulldogs, 17-14. That game helped get Ed Orgeron, the Rebels head coach, fired and stands as one of Billingsley's favorite Egg Bowl memories.
But he doesn't let a Bulldog win get him too high, or a Rebel win get him too low. It's an approach his son, Ralph, inherited.
"It's a lot of fun when we win, not so much fun when we don't," Ralph Billingsley said. "But, you know, the sun's going to come up the next day either way."
This year the family will eat Thanksgiving dinner in Columbus and then head to Starkville for the game. Which teams does Martin Charles Billingsley think will lift The Golden Egg?
"I have no idea," he said. "I hope State wins, but we won't be favored."
What he is certain about is that as long they keep playing Egg Bowls he'll keep attending.
"As long as I'm able," he said, "I'll be there."
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.