Mississippi has a secret weapon on the gridironBy BY MARK H. STOWERS COLUMNIST,
Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’!
The Delta Heat has been oppressive taking the steam out of folks’ giddy up lately.
But back in 1977 that heat and humidity helped pull off a memorable win in Mississippi Memorial Stadium. A month after the “King had left the building” football was in full swing and the Rebels were in the middle of a decade that hadn’t produced many wins. The 1950s and 60s put Ole Miss on the football map with Coach Vaught, a National Championship and Archie Manning, the 70s saw the Rebels glory crash hard. But one Saturday in September during the 1977 campaign, the glory shined once again.
A muggy, southern afternoon at Mississippi Memorial set the stage for the first ever meeting of the Notre Dame Irish and the Ole Miss Rebels. The Irish were riding high expectations of their annual national glory and ranked number three at the time with an opening win over Pitt. The Rebs had been put down mercifully by Alabama in the previous week. It looked like another slaughter on paper.
But that’s why they play the game.
Standing on the sidelines that day were several Sunflower County boys who knew about oppressive Mississippi heat and welcomed the South Bend lads to Mississippi.
“I didn’t get to dress for that game, but I was on the dummy squad for practice,” Inverness native and former Indianola Academy standout Mike “Bama” Anderson of Indianola recalled. “I was Ross Browner and Willie Frye, two All-American defensive ends for Notre Dame.”
Other Delta natives included Jarrett Price of Inverness, Wade Dowell of Moorhead and Jim Lear of Indianola. Dowell is now Dr. Dowell in Indianola and Lear lives in Oxford working in the banking industry.
“We beat them because of the heat,” Anderson said. “Jarrett Price ran the ball in that game. Wade Dowell played. And Tim Ellis, Bobby Garner and Jim Lear all rotated at quarterback. One reason we beat ’em was because we were rotating fresh men in all the time. Our guys were fresh and those guys were sluggish in that 100-degree weather and it was killing ’em.”
Game stats show the actual temperature that day was 86 with only 65 percent humidity but it was enough along with a hungry Rebel team to put down the perennial power South Bend gang.
Ole Miss led after one quarter 3-0 and took a 10-7 lead into halftime. Two fourth quarter field goals put the Irish on top 13-10 but then a forgotten Tim Ellis found his inner Joe Montana come back and brought the Rebs down the field (who was sitting on the Irish bench buried in the depth chart.) Fullback James Storey took an Ellis pass into the end zone for a 20-13 shocker. But the Rebels season crescendoed that afternoon. The Irish would go on to win another of their National Championships as Montana would come off the bench later in the season. And the Rebels stumbled to a 6-5 record and a coach firing. But for one Saturday in 1977, they were number one across the south, 42 years ago – with a little help from some Sunflower County boys.