SHREVEPORT, La. – Nearly 17 years later, Jake Pfeil still remembers the way the snow piled up on the bill of his hat.
It was Dec. 31, 2000, and Pfeil, now the head athletic trainer for football at Florida State, was working as a graduate assistant for Mississippi State in perhaps the most infamous Independence Bowl of all time – “The Snow Bowl” between MSU and Texas A&M.
A New Year’s Eve blizzard brought more than six inches of snow to the Shreveport area, all while Mississippi State and Texas A&M played in whiteout conditions. Mississippi State won, 43-41, in overtime.
“It was non-stop,” said Pfeil, a Madison, Fla., native who will return to the Independence Bowl when Florida State meets Southern Mississippi on Wednesday afternoon (1:30 p.m., ESPN).
“That was the first time I had ever seen snow. I was wearing khaki pants and a rain coat.”
Pfeil had heard reports that there might be snow in the forecast, but, given that he was still in the southeast, he quickly dismissed them.
When the Bulldogs got off their bus at Independence Stadium a few hours before kickoff, there were some light flakes in the air, but Pfeil figured that would be the worst of it.
“I said, ‘There it is, boys,’” Pfeil said with a laugh. “‘There’s your snow. You were right.’”
Pfeil and the MSU training staff then ducked into the locker room, where they spent the next 90 minutes getting the players prepared for the game.
When they finally made their way to the field, they saw a lot more than just a few snowflakes.
“It was just sideways. It was a full-on blizzard,” Pfeil said. “It hit you in the face and hurt you. And it did not stop.”
Not until well after the game had finished.
As the snow mounted on the field, yard lines and boundaries were impossible to distinguish.
At one point, officials brought out a lawnmower in hopes of clearing the field a bit, but the motor quickly died.
So they spotted the ball as they best they could and used the chain markers to measure downs and distance.
“We were kicking off one time and the ball kept coming off the tee,” Pfeil said. “And the ref told the guy, ‘Just go kick it. Don’t worry about it.’
“The ball was just lying there sideways. The kicker runs up to kick it and he still misses it and whiffs it and the ball barely rolls. It was just nuts.”
Making matters worse – or better, for Mississippi State – was that, with MSU and Texas A&M sharing a similar color scheme, Bulldogs coach Jackie Sherrill had decided that his team would wear all-white uniforms for the first time in school history.
White helmets, white jerseys and white pants.
It was hard to see in the stadium, and nearly impossible for home viewers watching on their pre-HDTV sets.
“All you saw was maroon numbers and black cleats running around,” Pfeil said.
Maybe it’s only appropriate that game took more than 60 minutes to decide. Mississippi State swung the tide in its favor by blocking Texas A&M’s extra-point attempt in overtime and returning it for a two-point conversion. The Bulldogs then won the game on the ensuing possession.
And more importantly, with the win in hand, Pfeil, an FSU graduate, survived a slew of flight delays and cancellations and got out of town in time to make it to Miami, where his alma mater was due to take on Oklahoma for the national championship.