I’ll never forget the moment.
3rd down and 6, Ole Miss ball on their own 14 yard line, surprisingly deadlocked at 24 with the mighty Gators in the Swamp. Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead takes the snap, play-fakes to his running back, and drops back to throw. He looks left, where the corner has bit on a fake by a kid named Shay Hodge. It’s a name Gator fans don’t know too well at the time (unless they remember that he caught a far less significant touchdown against Florida the previous year), but one they’ll never forget. Because Snead then lobs a bomb down the left side for Hodge, who makes the catch near the sideline at midfield and makes for the end zone. Safety Major Wright gives chase, but Hodge angles back toward the middle of the field in his route to the end zone, crossing the goal line and running through the blue “R” of “Florida” in the end zone, holding the ball out for all to see and nodding emphatically, as if to confirm what he’d just done, until his teammates catch him and mob him.
That was just the first of three plays that catapulted Ole Miss to a 31-30 upset win in the Swamp (the other two being Kentrell Lockett’s block of the PAT following an ensuing Gator touchdown and Marcus Temple stuffing Tim Tebow on a fourth and one on the ensuing drive), but that upset led to “The Promise” and some four months later, a national championship.
I’ve become friends with Hodge since then; we’ve talked a little bit about that day in Gainesville, but never really to this extent. So for a little TBT, I caught up with Hodge and relived the moment with him in detail. We also talked a little about the upcoming game this weekend.
Neil Shulman: What was it like to catch that 86 yard touchdown pass in the Swamp against the mighty Florida Gators?
Shay Hodge: It was magical. I’d been waiting to have a career-defining moment, and for my touchdown to be the deciding factor in the game… a game in which we beat Tim Tebow, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play college football… it was just magical.
NS: You weren’t on the field for the blocked PAT. But what was it like to watch it happen?
SH: To be frank, that blocked extra point by Kentrell Lockett was merely a testament that this was our day (as if nothing that had happened before that moment was).
NS: Same question, what was it like for you to watch Tebow get stuffed on fourth and one?
SH: That was just the icing on the cake! That moment just… it did it all. That sealed the victory for us, and we all went into a frenzy on the sideline. I will forever remember how we came together and became a good team after that, because before that game we’d really struggled (Ole Miss came into that game 2-2, having lost two winnable games). Honestly, we just didn’t know how to win. But that victory showed us how good of a team we really were.
NS: What was it like to play a game in the Swamp?
SH: It was awesome. That was the loudest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. Yes, louder than Alabama, and LSU, and Mississippi State with their cowbells. You couldn’t hear a thing.
NS: As the season progressed and Florida started to chase a national championship, did you pay more attention to them, or even root for them?
SH: Oh yes. We kind of followed them as you do any team in the SEC that’s any good, and then when they got to the national championship game we all pulled really hard for them. We were the only team to beat them that year, and we wanted that distinction to become something that everybody around the country knew about as opposed to just folks who follow the SEC. And them winning the national championship was the best way to do that. It also solidified to us how good of a team we were.
NS: Let’s turn our attention to this week. What’s going to make the difference in this year’s game?
SH: I think the difference will be pretty much what it was in the 2008 game: self inflicted wounds, i.e. taking care of the ball, limiting turnovers and penalties. And who makes less of them.
SH: Honestly, I just don’t think there is a team that’s as talented as Ole Miss is this year. Coach Freeze has stockpiled talent in Oxford. If we do the things we’re supposed to do, we should come out victorious in the Swamp for the third straight time. I’ll go with Ole Miss 31, Florida 14