Eleven years ago today, the Ole Miss Rebels beat then-No. 4 Florida in the Swamp, 31-30. The upset victory was the biggest story up to that point of the 2008-09 college football season, and would produce Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s now famous promise to, more-or-less, win the BCS title that year. When he and his Gators made good on that promise, it was said that the upset loss to Ole Miss was the tipping point that led to that championship. To say very little, it was a big game, one whose significance would weigh very heavily on the college football landscape that year and would re-emerge as a talking point in determining the worthiness of an SEC team having the audacity to play Ohio State or Oklahoma for a championship.
And for all of the discussion the college football media had regarding Tim Tebow’s performance and resolve for the rest of the season, not enough was said about what the Ole Miss quarterback, a tall, blonde gunslinger from Stephenville, Texas, meant to that game, let alone that college football moment, and to the Ole Miss program in that time.
Snead’s numbers that day weren’t anything anyone other than Houston Nutt could love (9-for-20 passing for 185 yards, two scores and a pick, plus -2 yards rushing and a score), but his ability to make a big play when it mattered is what propelled the Ole Miss team to victory.
His rushing touchdown was a one yard scamper into the endzone on the goal line. His two passing touchdowns were back-breakers, the first being a third down screen pass to Cordera Eason who barely pirouetted into the endzone at the pylon, and another third down heave from his team’s own 6 yard line into broken coverage for an 86 yard Shay Hodge score.
And where Jevan Snead went, the defense and special teams followed, forcing rare Florida turnovers, blocking a crucial PAT, and stopping Tim Tebow on a late 4th-and-1 lunge to seal the game. Snead’s gutsy, fun Ole Miss team would go on to finish the rest of the regular season 5-2 before pummeling a top-10 Texas Tech team in the Cotton Bowl. In all, the game was a major moment in Ole Miss football history and a defining one in the now-celebrated 2008-09 season which, at the time, was hailed as a major program turnaround.
Earlier this week, Jevan Snead, 32, was found dead in his Texas apartment. His death is not deemed suspicious, and while the results of the investigation are pending, rumors are swirling about social media as to the cause. We don’t know what happened, but that does not particularly matter right now. What matters is that we truly, sincerely miss him, and are deeply saddened for him, his family, and his friends. In his tragic passing, we can only hope that we, and thousands upon thousands of other Ole Miss fans remember him as the Texas Longhorn transfer who took a shot on transferring to Ed Orgeron’s Ole Miss, only to have his head coach replaced by Houston Nutt. We remember him as jump starting the then-dormant-but-now-thriving tradition of Ole Miss quarterbacks being beautifully, boldly, stupidly courageous (without Jevan Snead, there is no Bo Wallace, nor Chad Kelly, nor Matt Corral). We remember his offense dragging Mississippi State around Vaught-Hemingway Stadium during the 45-0 Egg Bowl, and remember him slinging bombs to Mike Wallace in a Cotton Bowl game nobody thought we were going to win. And, for me personally, he delivered to me the single most-enjoyable Ole Miss football game I’ve ever watched, the 31-13 trouncing of LSU in Death Valley.
My oh my. Just the absolute poise and moxie to be completely unaffected by Death Valley, to stand up tall in the pocket and drop a pass right over Mike Wallace’s shoulder into the back corner of the endzone. The LSU disrespectin’ levels were high within Jevan Snead that night, and the absolute bliss we Ole Miss fans felt upon the end of that game can not be exaggerated.
Snead came to Ole Miss when the program needed something—anything—good. Ole Miss had seen four straight losing seasons up until that point, and dealt with close heartbreak after close heartbreak under the Ed Orgeron era. Ole Miss being what it is, the losses begat an identity crisis which begat infighting which begat misery which begat “nEvEr LoSiNg A pArTy!!1” Simply put, it wasn’t fun to be an Ole Miss fan for quite some time up until that 2008 season. Jevan Snead was a huge part of that, and he gave so many of us our most cherished Ole Miss football memories. To this day, Ole Miss fans still speak of the experience of the 2009 Cotton Bowl—the last one in the old Cotton Bowl stadium—as something of an Arthurian legend, despite it happening in most of our lifetimes.
Some would make much of the following 2009-10 season not living up to expectations, with Ole Miss being a darkhorse favorite to win the SEC West and (surprise!) disappointing, and with a second trip to the Cotton Bowl being much less exciting than the first. And some still would make much of Snead’s decision to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft, only to sign as an undrafted free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being released.
And that’s all true stuff that happened, but that’s not fun stuff that happened, and we ain’t ones for historical revision here, but we do know that the good times shouldn’t be forgotten. Jevan Snead gave us a lot of good times in Oxford. He was what the Ole Miss program needed right at the moment he arrived. Remember that. Remember the joy he gave to us. Remember the fun we had in Gainesville, Baton Rouge, and Dallas. Remember him throwing touchdowns into double coverage at the Cotton Bowl:
Remember him for making Ole Miss football fun again.
RIP Jevan Snead. We miss you.