Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A Team For All Seasons

By Curtis Wilkie

Ten hours before the Texas Longhorns began dismantling the Rebels’ 2012 model at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium last Saturday night, members of the 1962 team that went undefeated and untied 50 years ago provided a morning full of laughter and reflection in an Overby Center program across the campus that served as a healthy antidote to the outcome of the game that evening.

Four of the former players, who looked as though they could still take the field if absolutely necessary, shared tales with moderator Wright Thompson of ESPN about their perfect season and their experiences with Coach Johnny Vaught and his feared assistant, Wobble Davidson, who presided over the athletic dormitory. While quarterback Glynn Griffing, running backs Chuck Morris and Louis Guy, and lineman Sam Owen were the ones on stage, others in the audience offered their own accounts. “Some of them were actually true,” said one of the Rebel alums afterwards. Most of them were very funny.

Owen, who missed his calling as a stand-up comedian but did quite well as a businessman in the health care field after graduation, related several stories of the hazing he endured as a freshman football player. One involved a trip to the West Memphis nightclub, the Plantation Inn, when he was required to chauffeur senior players while dressed in his ROTC uniform and wearing white gloves. Another freshman player was stuck in the car’s open trunk with a load of ice and beer, forced to act as a bartender for the group. Owen also recalled how he and a roommate were caught by Coach Davidson eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches after hours and made to jog up and down the stadium’s steps while trying to stuff down a sack full of the illicit sandwiches brought by the coach.

The program began with a short clip of highlights from the season, prepared by Micah Ginn, who works with media for the UMAA. It included the sight of Guy, streaking more than 100 yards down the field at Knoxville to take an interception for a touchdown that preserved Ole Miss’ 19-7 victory over Tennessee. Guy was untouched. He told the crowd his biggest fear, while making the SEC record-breaking dash, was that he might fall down.

The film also showed Jim Weatherly’s amazing run for a touchdown against Mississippi State. It was the result of a busted play, and Weatherly’s ad hoc bootleg race down the sideline baffled everyone in the stadium. No one realized he had the ball until he reached the end zone. Weatherly, who attended the program, was teased about his musical talents, which went unrecognized in 1962. He went on to become a leading songwriter.

Another touchdown sprint — this one by Morris — was humorously recalled. He was said to have shouted to a teammate as he ran, unmolested by any would-be tacklers, “How do I look?”

Griffing testified that a special bond existed among the players. He attributed it, in part, to Vaught’s leadership. Vaught not only wanted athletes with strong character; he wanted to win — and he wanted to beat the point spread, Once, Griffing said, after he threw an interception as an underclassman that brought a sizable Ole Miss lead under the point spread, the head coach benched him as punishment.

During the program, an ESPN film crew circulated through the Overby Center Auditorium. The giant sports network plans a to show a special program in late October about the 1962 Rebels and how the team became champions in the midst of the chaos of an epic riot and the presence of thousands of troops on campus in connection with the registration of the school’s first black student.

Ironically, for the seniors on the 1962 team, the last loss they suffered had been at the hands of Texas in the Cotton Bowl following the 1961 season. As a unit during the three seasons of ’60, ’61, and ’62, those players had only one other loss and two ties.

After the program last Saturday, Larry Leo Johnson, a wingback on the ’62 team who organized their reunion this past weekend, said, “I have always thought that the main thing that set this team apart was that everyone was included — even the managers — as part of the team. There really is a special bond among all of us.”

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