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Cleveland: Red-Letter Days Help Programs Thrive

Bo Wallace is having a great  senior season / Photo courtesy of Andy Knef
Bo Wallace is having a great senior season. / Photo by Andy Knef

In history, we call them red-letter days. In college football, we call them program makers. They are the most especial of special days and games. They are the most meaningful of victories.
They require daunting circumstances, remarkable efforts. They happen all too rarely.
Such as this one last Saturday night: Mississippi State 34, No. 8 LSU 29, at Tiger Stadium. How was it meaningful? Let us count the ways: First victory for State at LSU since 1991. First victory over LSU since 2001. First victory by Dan Mullen over a Top 10 team. First State victory over a Top 10 opponent on the road since 1986. That’s a program maker. That’s a red letter day.
It sounds a lot closer than it was, a lot closer than it should have been. State mauled LSU at the line of scrimmage. This was no fluke.
Today’s exercise: Pick the top five red-letter days in the histories of State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss football. We’ll start with State because we’ve already got the fifth. The first four: 11573179-standard-e1410790562970State 6, Ole Miss 0, 1941: This was the only time the two Mississippi teams ever played for the SEC Championship. State 6, Bama 3, 1980: Unless the Bulldogs win a national championship, there will never be one more meaningful. No. 1 ranked Bama, coached by Bear Bryant, had won 26 straight SEC games, 22 straight over State. State 27, Tennessee 23, 1986: The Vols were undefeated and State was playing its second game under Rockey Felker. Don Smith ran wild. State 22, Arkansas 21, 1998: This victory over 8-1 Arkansas, ranked No. 9, propelled Jackie Sherrill’s Bulldogs into the SEC Championship Game.
Ole Miss
Ole Miss 21, Maryland 14, 1953 — Jimmy Lear led the Rebels over No. 3 Maryland in what has been long hailed as the game that put Ole Miss football on the national map. Ole Miss 21, LSU 0 (1960 Sugar Bowl) — The great rematch was a mismatch. LSU, the defending national champ, was held to minus 15 yards rushing. Ole Miss 17, Arkansas 13 (1963 Sugar Bowl) — This one capped the only undefeated, untied season in Ole Miss history for a team that finished No. 3 in the AP poll. Ole Miss 38, Tennessee 0, 1969 — Undefeated and No. 3 Tennessee was ambushed in Jackson by Archie “Who” Manning and a team Vol linebacker Steve Kiner had called “mules.” Ole Miss 31, Florida 30, 2008 — Gator quarterback Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy and Florida won the national championship, but Ole Miss found a way to win at Gainesville.
Southern Mississippi
USM 25, Alabama 19, 1953: Bama was Grantland Rice’s preseason pick to win the national championship and was quarterbacked by Bart Starr. USM 30, Ole Miss 14, 1970: Ole Miss, undefeated and ranked No. 4, was a prohibitive favorite, having beaten USM 69-7 a season earlier. Wee Willie Heidelburg carried the ball three times, scored twice. USM 58, Florida State 14, 1981: With Reggie Collier and Sammy Winder running wild, USM scored on its first seven possessions en route to its highest-ever national ranking, No. 8. USM 38, Alabama 29, 1982: Alabama and Bear Bryant had won 57 straight home games before Collier ripped holes in Bama’s defense. USM 49, Houston 28, 2011: Houston, 12-0 beforehand, was ranked No. 6 and playing at home, but Austin Davis and USM claimed the Conference USA championship.

images-1Rick Cleveland rcleveland@msfame.com is executive director of your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

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