Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Rebel Great, Mississippi Legend Jimmy Lear Passes Away

Ole Miss has lost another football legend with the passing of Jimmy Lear, 83, Monday afternoon at Baptist Memorial Hospital – North Mississippi in Oxford following a brief illness.

Jimmy Lear Photo courtesy Ole Miss Athletics
Jimmy Lear
Photo courtesy Ole Miss Athletics

A memorial service will be held 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, 205 E. Gresham, Indianola. Visitation will follow in the parish house at the church. Memorials in Lear’s honor may be made to St. Stephens or Indianola Academy, 549 Dorestt Drive, Indianola.

He is survived by his wife, the former Joanne Lucas of Greenwood, Mississippi; one son, James H. Lear III; two daughters, Annette and Elizabeth; one sister, Stig Baird; and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

While Lear is among the list of All-American quarterbacks to play for Ole Miss, he may well be best remembered for directing the No. 11 Rebels to their 21-14 come-from-behind upset victory over then-No. 3 and unbeaten (7-0) Maryland in 1952. That game is often referred to as the one which put Ole Miss football on the national map, while Lear also helped lead the 1952 Rebels to their first undefeated (8-0-2) regular season.

The undefeated regular season record earned Ole Miss its first Sugar Bowl appearance in school history, but a 24-7 loss to Georgia Tech dropped the Rebels from the unbeaten ranks. However, the 8-1-2 finish was rewarded with a No. 7 final national ranking, the highest ever at that time for an Ole Miss team.

Coming into that game on the Oxford campus at Hemingway Stadium, Maryland had won 22-consecutive games, not having lost a contest since it fell to North Carolina in 1950.

Pictured, from left, Joanne Lear, Jordan Lear, James Lear and Jimmy Lear at the SEC Legends Banquet in Atlanta in 2009.
Pictured, from left, Joanne Lear, Jordan Lear, James Lear and Jimmy Lear at the SEC Legends Banquet in Atlanta in 2009.
Photo courtesy of Lear family

While also handling both the punting and kicking duties, Lear earned National Back of the Week honors for his efforts as he completed 11 of 16 passes for 231 yards and one TD, while also rushing for 44 yards on 15 carries, giving him 275 total offensive yards in the game. Going against the nation’s No. 1 defense, which was allowing only 156.4 yards per game, Lear led the Ole Miss offense to 461 yards.

A 5-foot-11, 172-pound signal-caller from Greenwood, Lear lettered three years at quarterback for Coach John Vaught’s Rebels, from 1950-1952. He was recognized as an All-American in 1952 and earned also All-SEC recognition in 1951 and 1952.

Although considered one of the best running quarterbacks in Ole Miss history, Lear made his mark as an outstanding passer, helping the Rebels lead the SEC in passing in 1951 and 1952. Over 60 years later, he still ranks 25th on the Ole Miss all-time passing yardage list with 1,773 career yards.

Lear was inducted into the Ole Miss Athletics Hall of Fame 1988 and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. He also received the Distinguished American Award from the Ole Miss Chapter of the National Football Foundation in 2005 and was named to the SEC Legend Class of 2009.

While Lear was the key member of that magical 1952 team, he was always quick to point out that he didn’t achieve success on his own.

“We had a great group of players – not just one or two – but the whole group,” Lear said in a release announcing his SEC Legend selection. “We were all great friends as well, which was so great to be a part of. The camaraderie of the team was what made it special.”

As a student at Ole Miss, Lear also participated in track and field, baseball and golf. He was elected Colonel Reb by the student body, one of the highest honors for any male student at the University of Mississippi.

After his collegiate career, Lear was selected by the Chicago Cardinals in the 16th round of the 1953 NFL Draft, but chose not seek a career in professional football. Following military service, he returned to the Mississippi Delta., where he later became headmaster at Indianola Academy and an owner/partner of the Maxwell Cotton Company, a successful local business.

Courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics