The current college football world owes a debt of gratitude to Jerry Rice’s Mississippi Valley State teams of the early 1980s. MVSU’s Satellite Express offense helped give rise to the air-raid scheme prevalent around the game today.
1984 became a pivotal year in the evolution of offense. LaVell Edwards’ celebrated, aerial assault carried BYU to the national championship in Div. I-A, while Archie Cooley introduced the Satellite Express, a 59-point per game Goliath that helped revolutionize the game.
You read that right: 59 points per game. That’s a touchdown, two-point conversion and field goal more than 2015 national leader Baylor put up.
While the Delta Devils’ system took its nickname from quarterback Willie “Satellite” Totten, Jerry Rice functioned as the explosive offense’s engine. That watershed 1984 season, his last at MVSU, Rice caught 112 passes for 1,845 yards and 27 touchdowns. That capped an epic, Hall of Fame career at 301 receptions (an NCAA record for 22 years), 4,693 yards and 50 touchdowns.
Jerry Rice is objectively the greatest wide receiver in college football history. I understand such a definitive declaration invites argument — what about Tim Brown, the only wide receiver ever to win the Heisman? Or Larry Fitzgerald, who should have won the Heisman?
Plenty of greats came since, but Rice’s tenure at MVSU truly helped change the complexion of the game.
MVSU’s offense was the brainchild of Cooley, an unsung hero of the revolution. Edwards, Steve Spurrier, Hal Mumme — all typically get credit for influencing the shift to a more open, passing-predicated style of football. But Cooley’s 4-stack scheme, implementation of a hurry-up, no-huddle predicated on the two-minute drill and use of five receivers on most snaps helped change college football.
Rice’s place in the Delta Devil receiving corps proved vital to bringing the “Gunslinger” Cooley’s vision to life.
MVSU players didn’t realize at the time they were starting a revolution — revolutions rarely start with such intention. Totten explained to Sam Gardner in a 2014 FoxSports.com feature:
“We were just having fun, playing ball. We weren’t trying to set records or get the national attention. We were just playing the game, and it just so happened that what we were doing brought a lot of notoriety and attention to us. But we weren’t trying to get that. We were just trying to do what this crazy coach came up with, execute it and make it work.”
In the same piece, Rice said the Delta Devils’ plan was simply to “put on the best performance possible.” They did that, and people took notice, including piling more than 63,000 in for MVSU’s SWAC showdown with Alcorn State that season.
Jerry Rice’s college career has started to get its due in recent years. The Sports Network introduced the Jerry Rice Award a few years ago, given to the best freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision. Archie Cooley’s innovative offense deserves more praise, but will come in due time. Ditto “Satellite,” the quarterback who facilitated the otherworldly play of “World.”