The enduring power of college football comes with the beautiful collision of the unpredictable, unscripted and unhinged.
A 12-car pile-up of the bizarre and unimaginable emerged in Starkville, Mississippi, late Thursday night. A rivalry game known as the Egg Bowl between bitter foils Ole Miss and Mississippi State was decided because a player celebrated the potential game-tying touchdown with a mimic of a dog lifting his leg and pretending to pee. It was the second time in three seasons an Ole Miss player was penalized for such an act in this game. But this time, the stakes were higher.
Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore’s celebration penalty will be remembered for generations as one of the dumbest plays in the history of the sports. It was a combination of selfishness, fatality and viral mockery that’s unprecedented in modern college football.
Moore, the team’s best receiver, channeled his inner Odell Beckham Jr. after scoring a touchdown with four seconds left that should have tied the game. Moore clearly isn’t majoring in self-awareness at Ole Miss, as he left the field after the penalty and began sauntering around the sideline with a WWE-style wrestling belt over his shoulder. As he was being mocked viciously online, he was parading around as a hero in his own mind.
Moore’s exercise in self-absorption ended up costing Ole Miss the game, as it fell 21-20 when kicker Luke Logan missed a 35-yard extra-point attempt that was 15 yards longer because of the penalty. When he missed, the stadium exploded in a din of celebratory cowbells.
So many varying versions of urine-themed puns emerged online that this moment looms as a collegiate legacy that Moore is unlikely to outrace. Was it the Piss Six? Did Ole Miss piss the game away? Will it be remembered as The Leg Bowl? Every imaginable pun was floated. Regardless, one outcome was clear – Urine Trouble, Elijah – as he’s been branded the epitome of in-game stupidity after a generational moment of self-sabotage.
“It was an emotional moment, and I deeply regret it,” Moore said in a statement Friday afternoon. “It does not represent who I am or who we are as a team, and I will grow stronger from this mistake.”
Moore is a very good wide receiver, the best on Ole Miss and the sixth-most productive in the SEC this year with 850 receiving yards. He is a sophomore, which means he’s on a trajectory to be one of the best receivers in the SEC next year. This moment won’t get Moore pulled off NFL draft boards in two years, but it will plant seeds of doubt in the minds of general managers and force at least one awkward conversation with ownership before selecting Moore.
Moore wasn’t available for comment after the game, which can be viewed as a sign of either Moore’s or Ole Miss’ view of accountability. Could Ole Miss suspend Moore for the opener next year? Well, it’s against Baylor, and the moral compass of a have-not SEC school like Ole Miss tends to be directly proportional to the caliber of the upcoming opponent. The game at Baylor means forgiveness won out over accountability.
Ole Miss’ statement about Moore is coded language for head coach Matt Luke saying: “My job is on the hot seat next year, so any punitive punishment would undercut my own flailing tenure.”
In actuality, they used the words “accountability” and “discipline” without an iota of empirical evidence to back it up. The statement ended with the most easily mockable line in the SEC, showing how tone-deaf Ole Miss officials were to being a national laughingstock. “Action will be handled internally.”
So where does Moore’s gaffe rank in the lexicon of infamy for foolishness and selfishness? It’s hard not to put him No. 1. Odell Beckham brought celebratory peeing into the mainstream, as he lifted his leg in a loss to the Eagles in 2017. It was poor form in a loss, but not as directly tied to the defeat.
Leon Lett got stripped of the ball going into the end zone for a touchdown in the Super Bowl in 1993 because he decided to showboat. But all blunders in Super Bowl blowout wins are forgiven. Lett’s other bonehead play was more fatal, when he jumped on a live ball after a blocked kick and the Cowboys lost to the Dolphins on Thanksgiving Day in 1993. Moore’s play trumps Lett, however, because Lett’s blunder was a symptom of him not knowing the rules and lacked any elements of the brazenness of Moore’s leg lift.
Oregon’s Tony Washington got flagged for a penalty in 2014 that led to No. 2 Oregon losing against Arizona and leading to its only regular-season loss. The stakes were higher, but the bow to the sideline he was flagged for was much less offensive and could have easily not been called. Compare that to the Egg Bowl, where there was no ambiguity about how deserving Moore was of a flag.
What also separates the audacity of Moore’s gaffe is the backdrop of this year’s Egg Bowl. Last year’s game was marred by a brawl that dominated headlines in the SEC and Mississippi for a year.
When covering college sports, it’s always more fair to blame coaches, coordinators and administrators than the players themselves. That’s always been the way of the world in this space.
But Luke can shoulder only so much blame here. Luke had to have spent the week preaching discipline to his team, as the 2018 Egg Bowl brawl led to four ejections and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey meeting with the athletic directors in the offseason. The 2017 game featured Ole Miss receiver DK Metcalf doing the same dog-urination celebration and defender Breeland Speaks waving to the hostile crowd after his ejection. If there was any ambiguity about a personal foul penalty, a flag was going to be thrown. Both coaches made that clear this week.
It’s hard to overstate the visceral anger inherent to this game. Mississippi State as an institution was opened in 1880 in part because of scorn for the aristocracy of Ole Miss. The football rivalry has unfolded accordingly. Veteran Mississippi Today columnist Rick Cleveland, who has covered 41 straight Egg Bowls, pointed out that this wasn’t even the craziest moment in the rivalry.
The kickoff of the first game in 1901 was delayed more than an hour over a rules dispute. There was an urn of coffee spiked with whiskey in the 1907 game, and the animosity raged on for well over a century, right to a pre-game brawl in 1997.
“College football brings out in a lot of cases the best of us and the worst of us,” Cleveland said by phone on Friday morning. “Last night was maybe an example of it bringing out the worst.”
A rivalry defined by animosity has a new low. “Something crazy will happen next year, too,” Cleveland said. “It’s inherent.”
For now, we’ll entrench Moore’s gaffe as among the most infamous in the history of sports.
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