Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We're headed into November, all tied

You've heard of a blind spot? If not, I'll give you a sample. Orley Hood has a blind spot. They are called the New Orleans Saints. I can't tell you the last time Orley forecast a Saints game correctly. His heart gets in the way of his head. 
That blind spot is all that keeps Big O from running away with this picks competition the way Bama keeps running away from everybody the Crimson Tide plays. If Orley could pick the Saints right, he'd be six or seven games ahead, coasting into November.
Instead, Orley and Rick are tied with 61-26 records on the season. It's closer than the Presidential election, although nearly not as contentious.
 So, without further adieu . . .

Orley's picks

Ole Miss at Georgia: Big win for the Rebels last week in Little Rock, even bigger for those Hairy Dawgs, who jumped the Gators in Jacksonville. Ole Miss gave Arkansas a lesson in the two-minute drill … twice. Georgia played terribly but forced Florida to play even worse. No turnovers or dumb penalties in Athens makes me think the Rebs have a realistic shot. But … Georgia 24, Ole Miss 21. No, no, no! Turn it around! Ole Miss 24, Georgia 21. Whew. I’m worn out all ready, and haven’t even gotten to ...
Texas A&M at Mississippi State: Two questions: Can State wake up from the Tuscaloosa nightmare? Can State deal with Johnny Football, who laid 63 on Auburn on the Plains last Saturday? It is a monster test for Dan Mullen’s team. Tyler Russell has to fill the skies with touchdown passes. Dogs 45, A&M 42.
Alabama at LSU: Monster on monster, again. Trade quarterbacks, and maybe LSU’s monsters would have a shot. Tide 31, LSU 14.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Who's laughing now?

As most folks know, I graduated from Southern Miss, so, in a way, I am telling this on myself.
As my friends, from all schools know, I appreciate a good joke, especially a clean one.

So, a really good Ole Miss friend of mine asked me today did I know the perfect solution for what Mississippi State fans can do with their "I believe, 8-0!" signs and posters from last week.

I said, no, but I figured he did.

I was right.

Said he, "All they have to do is give them to their USM friends and tell them to turn them upside down."

Ba-da, ba-da bing! 

Now then, to all my Ole Miss friends, I would point out that Hugh Freeze is a 1992 graduate of Southern Miss, so he must have learned something at the school down south. I would also point out that USM owed Ole Miss for producing College Football Hall of Famer Thad "Pie" Vann, the great USM coach, and Roland Dale, the highly successful USM athletic director and Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Freeze's Rebels are coached sky-high

 Back in August a certain guy who has made a living watching football for more than four decades wrote this:

If Hugh Freeze were to win five games, he ought to be Coach of the Year. If the Rebels win six, they should go ahead and commission a statue. Unfortunately, I think the Rebels are destined for 3-9. Freeze inherits a mess. This is going to take some time.

I stand corrected, but only about the record.

Freeze's Ole Miss Rebels defeated Arkansas 30-27 at Little Rock Saturday to advance to 5-3 on the season. Coach of the Year is certainly not out of the question, because Freeze surely did inherit a mess.

What's really amazing is that the Rebels could just as easily be 6-2 and already bowl eligible had they closed the deal against Texas A & M. By any measure, Freeze and his staff have done a masterful job of coaching up a ballclub that bears little resemblance to last year.

Freeze beat a team that had superior athletes Saturday. That's coaching. The Rebels play hard all the time. That's coaching. They play disciplined and efficiently. That's coaching. They do the little things right. That's coaching. They get the ball in the hands of their playmakers. That's coaching.

What impressed me most about Saturday's effort was the blocking of the Ole Miss wide receivers. They were knocking down Razorbacks like bowling pins. That's coaching and effort. Yes, Jeff Scott sure is fast, but his wide receivers gave him plenty of room to show off that speed. Grant Heard, the Ole Miss wide receivers coach, has coached his guys up.

The Rebels are 5-3 with four games remaining: at Georgia, at home against Vanderbilt, at LSU and at home against Mississippi State. They should get six and they may get more.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Notes, quotes and you know what. . .

Notes, quotes and an opinion or two. . .

Peyton Manning and David Cutcliffe fans — and there are many of both in Mississippi — will enjoy this piece by Jeff Duncan of The Times Picayune in New Orleans. It gives you some idea of the Manning family's high regard for Cutcliffe and an even better idea of Peyton Manning's dedication to detail. Love this quote from Archie Manning: "Cut is so humble and down to earth. He's just good people.”
Duke's 33-30 victory over North Carolina and Larry Fedora last Saturday lifted the Blue Devils to 6-2 and 3-1 in the ACC.

The Clarion-Ledger this week listed it's 10 most anticipated Mississippi football games in the last 30 years. Here's my list of the five most memorable football games since 1980:
  1. State 6, Bama 3 (1980).
  2. USM 7, State 6, (1981).
  3. Ole Miss 24, State 23 (1984).
  4. Alcorn State 42, Mississippi Valley State 28 (1983).
  5. Arkansas 58, Ole Miss 56 seven overtimes (2001). (Toughest deadline I ever had to make.)
The first annual Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Roast, featuring Coach Jack Carlisle, was a huge success. Master of Ceremonies Skipper Jernigan and six different roasters all had approximately 200 attendees laughing and reminiscing. The Roast raised badly needed money to help in various refurbishing projects and new exhibits for the museum.
The Roast will be aired in the Jackson metropolitan area on Comcast (Channel 17) and AT&T U-Verse (channel 51) this coming Monday and Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. It will be a 1 hour, 45-minute broadcast.
Also professionally recorded DVDs of the Roast, produced by Anderson Productions, are available from the museum for $40. . . .

Traffic for this website has steadily grown over the past two months, and we appreciate each and every reader. Our website has been a work in progress and we are nearing completion in the next couple weeks. The completed and expanded website will include detailed information on all Mississippi Sports Hall of Famers, museum news and updates, as well as blogs and columns from me, Orley Hood and occasional guests. If you like what you see, bookmark us and tell your friends. Advertising space will be available on the various website pages. Call 601 982-8264 for more information or email me at rcleveland@msfame.com.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is Bama that much better?

Alabama opened as as a 24 point favorite over Mississippi State. The betting line has moved to 22.

There's a lot of misconception about what all that means.

The first misconception is that Las Vegas oddsmakers believe Alabama is 24 points better than MSU.

Not true. Oddsmakers believe that the betting public perceives Alabama is 24 points better than State. Oddsmakers are hoping to set the betting line to where there will be equal money bet on both teams. That way, the house (the bookie or casino) can't lose because of the 10 percent house advantage. The bettor has to bet risk 11 dollars to win 10 or a 110 to win 100.

When the line goes down, as this one has, it means that considerably more money is being bet on Mississippi State than on Alabama. The line is moved in hopes of enticing more bets on Bama.

You should know than 24-point underdogs win almost every week of the season. State was a 20-point underdog when it beat Alabama in 1980.

The formula for that magnitude of upset usually includes several turnovers by the favorites and some big plays in the kicking game by the underdog. It happens, not all that often, but it happens.

I happen to think Bama would win nine times if they played 10, but this might be the one. It helps State that Bama plays LSU next Saturday. There's no doubt about that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My man, Strib. . . a Mississippi treasure

Lafayette Stribling and me at the MHSAA State Tournament in 2010.

This is a Clarion-Ledger column I wrote on Lafayette Stribling back in February, 2004, when he was coaching at Mississippi Valley State. Strib retired from Tougaloo Tuesday after a truly remarkable 55-year career in coaching. Strib is a Mississippi treasure.

ITTA BENA − Fifty−one years ago, Lafayette Stribling, the son of poor Leake County sharecroppers, graduated from Harmony Vocational High School in Carthage. He had to borrow a friend's suit for the ceremony.

 He has never forgotten.

 "I promised myself, 'One day I'm gonna have me a suit of my own, and I'm not going to have to wear somebody else's clothes,' " Stribling said Monday afternoon in the living room of his Greenwood home.

 Boy, did Lafayette Stribling − Mississippi Valley State's basketball coach and Strib to his friends − ever keep that promise.

 No visit to Stribling's Greenwood home is complete without a visit to his "closet." The closet is actually a converted bedroom containing approximately 200 mostly tailored suits of all cuts and colors, 12 tuxedos, nearly 200 pairs of shoes, about 50 top hats and one mink coat that cost more than Stribling used to make in a year.

Orley cain't figure out his Saints

My pal Orley can't seem to get his Saints right. He picks 'em to win, they lose. He picks 'em to lose, they win. Me? Man, I been watching those guys since I was 13. I got 'em figured out. Yeah, right. . . . The Saints' not-so-convincing win over Tampa Bay Sunday gave me a one-game lead in a two-man picks race. I was 9-2 last week, compared to O's 7-4. For the season, I am 52-20. Orley is 51-21.

So here we go again. . .

Rick's picks

Mississippi State at Alabama: I covered this one — State 6, Bama 3 — in 1980 when the Tide was a 20-point favorite. This time, Bama is a 24-point pick. If anything, Nick Saban's bunch seems even more invincible than Bear Bryant's 32 years ago. (Come on, has it really been 32?) State can win but will have to have help from Bama, and the Tide doesn't seem to want to help anybody. In fact, Saban's guys seem like well-trained assassins. Bama, 34-13.
Ole Miss at Arkansas: Huge game for Ole Miss, which needs two more victories to get to six. This one is a possibility, although Arkansas is starting to look more like we thought Arkansas was going to be. Hogs, 31- 24.

USM at Rice: How much worse can get this get? Winless and down to their fourth quarterback, the Golden Eagles are underdogs to Rice. For good reason. Rice 27, USM 17.

Tennessee at South Carolina: After LSU and Florida, Gamecocks need a break and a home game. They get both. South Carolina, 31-17.
Florida-Georgia at Jacksonville: Both teams can score but only one can defend. Gators, 38-27.

Ray Glier: The SEC is Goliath

Note from Rick Cleveland: Ray Glier, the hardest working sports journalist I know, will sign his book How the SEC Became Goliath Wednesday afternoon beginning at 5 p.m. at Lemuria. I've read it. SEC football fans will love it. I asked Ray to write a short essay from the book for our website and it follows....

By Ray Glier

Archie Manning knew the right question to ask Hugh Freeze in the interview process for the Ole Miss football coach. It wasn’t just what kind of offense you are going to run. It wasn’t who is going to be the offensive coordinator and how are you are going to keep players inside the state of Mississippi.
Ray Glier

The committee, Manning said, asked Freeze, “Who is going to be you strength and conditioning coach?”

“A Tommy Moffitt guy,” Freeze said.

“Which one,” the committee asked.

“Any of them,” Freeze said.

Freeze hired Paul Jackson, who worked for Moffitt at LSU, as his strength and conditioning coach.

This is all in the book, How The SEC Became Goliath. I am signing it at Lemuria at 5 on Wednesday. The chapter is called “Muscle Matters” and it is important because the SEC has won national championships from the inside out, tackle to tackle. The SEC is a line of scrimmage league. Big people beat up little people.

Moffitt makes $300,000 a year. Scott Cochran, the Alabama strength coach, makes a tick more than that. It’s important. Just look on the field before the game. Look at the personnel groups of Bama and LSU. NFL-ready bodies.

The NFL scouts even marvel at the muscle of the kickers in the SEC.

There are some other interesting chapters in the book, if I do say so myself. Alabama’s theories on recruiting are detailed in a 7,000-word chapter. There is the tale of Lane Kiffin at Tennessee and a chapter on defensive linemen. I get into the rebuilding of LSU by you know you and how one coach begged off on the LSU job in 1999 allowing Saban to be hired.

The book is built around the six national championships, but it also looks at the population quake in the south and culture and money.

I’ll talk about it with anyone on Wednesday at Lemuria.

Monday, October 22, 2012

State's 6-3 victory over Bama still resonates

The following was a column I wrote for The Clarion-Ledger Nov. 2, 2005, 25 years after State's monumental 6-3 victory over Alabama and Bear Bryant at Veterans Memorial Stadium. With undefeated State a 24-point underdog to No. 1 Alabama this Saturday, now seems as good a time as any to remember what can happen. . .

Kent Hull played on teams that won four American Football Conference championship games. He played in four Super Bowls. He played for a Buffalo Bills team that once won a game after trailing 35-3 at halftime.
Tyrone Keys and Johnie Cooks played on teams that won Super Bowls.
But all three will tell you - and so will most of their former Mississippi State teammates - they never played in another game so magical or so meaningful as the one they played in 25 years ago Tuesday.
A quarter of a century later, the most improbable of scores remains:
State 6, Bama 3.
Yes, and if you listen closely on a quiet evening at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, you might still hear the faint echoes of cowbells clanging around the horseshoe. Never in this reporter's memory have so many stayed so long and cheered so loudly after the deed was done.
But then, seldom have fans anywhere had such reason to cheer.
Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide, ranked No. 1 in the national polls, was a 20-point favorite. Mighty Alabama had won 28 consecutive games, 26 straight Southeastern Conference games and had defeated Mississippi State 22 straight times. Not a single Bulldogs player that day had been alive the last time State had beaten Bama.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Saints: after further review

Nothing comes easily for these New Orleans Saints. As the announcers signed off on the Saints' 35-28 victory over Tampa Bay Sunday, one asked the question: "Can the Saints get back in this NFC South race?"

My take: Not unless the defense plays better, much better. They were better in the second half Sunday, but better than abysmal is not saying much.
Before going further: The game ball definitely should have go to safety Malcolm Jenkins. His hustle play to save a Bucs touchdown was the difference in the game. He made up 20 yards in 70 yards on a speedster.

Still, the Saints must improve defensively to make any kind of run. They've got Denver Sunday night at Denver. You think Peyton Manning won't salivate when he watches the lack of pass rush and coverage the Saints have displayed all season?

Drew Brees will get his against Denver's leaky D, but the Saints may have to score 50 to win.

The Saints' other big problem is that they are chasing the undefeated Atlanta Falcons, who do play defense and run the football well enough to keep opponents' offenses off the field for long periods of time.

The Saints have a long, long way to go, but Jenkins' heroic tackle and Brees' impeccable passing have kept them in the discussion for another week.

Sunday morning coffee talk

The Answer Man returns with answers and guesses about what many are asking . . .

Q. Can State hang with Alabama?

A. I would answer that this way: Can anybody hang with Bama? Nick Saban's Crimson Tide now looks to have an offense almost as good as its killer defense and its always excellent special teams. You've got the best talent, with the best coaching, and it is something to watch.

My best guess: State would have to play better than it has to date, and Alabama would have to be flat and put the ball on the ground.

Tyler Russell, with protection, might find some openings in the Alabama defense. But therein lies the problem. Bama just keeps coming — and from all directions.

Q. From 18 straight winning seasons to 0-7 and a 35-point loss at home on homecoming to Marshall? What has happened at USM?

A. The perfect storm. Austin Davis was even better than we knew. His raw QB replacements, all dealing with various injuries, are nowhere near him. They aren't helped by the fact that receivers get zero separation and that protection is spotty. For as long as I can remember, USM has had fantastic linebacker play; not this year. Add to all that: The early schedule was a bear.

And even all that doesn't explain how the Eagles could play so inconsistently, so well one Saturday in a tough, overtime loss to UCF and then so poorly the next Saturday at The Rock against Marshall. Sadly that inconsistency can only be chalked up to a lack of leadership, both among coaches and players. They've got to get some energy from somewhere.

Q. Can Ole Miss, 4-3, get to six wins and become bowl eligible?

A. Maybe, which is far more than I would have said in the pre-season. The Rebels have road games remaining with Arkansas, Georgia and LSU. They have Vandy and Mississippi State at home. They have to get two of the five, which would be a huge accomplishment.

Ole Miss is playing with energy and purpose. I just have a feeling the Rebs will get to six. Vandy, no easy chore (especially for Ole Miss here lately), has to be one of them. LSU would appear far-fetched but none of the others are totally out of the question. Boy, Texas A &M looks more and more like the big fish that got away.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Flip has St. Joe on the go

I see where Madison St. Joe advanced to 10-0 on the season last night, quite an achievement for Coach Flip Godfrey's Bruins.

Godfrey, whom I first covered when he was at Canton Academy, can flat coach, and he has surrounded himself with an outstanding staff.

Years ago, The Clarion-Ledger did a special project called “One Friday in Mississippi.” Writers were dispatched across the state to spend the day and night at high schools of all sizes. I drew Canton Academy.

Flip gave me all-access, from the pep rally to the pre-game meal, to his pre-game talk, to walking the sidelines with him during the game. I will never forget those last two parts.

I can't remember what year it was, but Godfrey was scripting the first series of downs long before it became a common practice in the NFL.

Canton Academy probably didn't have more than 20 players, but Godfrey addressed them in the pre-game meeting and told them: “Tonight, we're only going to over the first two plays because the second one is going to score.”

The first play was a sweep of left end. The second was a reverse back around the right end. Godfrey had seen time and time on film where the night's opponent did not contain on the back side.

Canton took the field, received the opening kickoff . The first play gained about five yards. The second play, as Godfrey predicted, scored. The wide receiver who ran the reverse was not touched.

Does it happen that way every week?” I asked Godfrey.

No,” he answered, “but, damn, it's fun when it does.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

From the Jack Carlisle Roast


                                       George May was hilarious!

                                                       And so was Jamesy Smith.

From left to right, Wallace McMillan, Judge Rhesa Barksdale, Cactus Jack Carlisle and the great Mike Dennis.
Tim Ellis, the quarterback who beat Notre Dame, roasts Jack Carlisle, the coach who put him in the game.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hood takes the lead

Orley Hood, the wily veteran, has taken a one-game lead over relative newcomer Rick Cleveland. Boy, that was fun to write. Only Orley could make this old soul feel like a newcomer. 
Here we go again . . .

Orley's picks

Middle Tennessee State at Mississippi State: The dream, ever since State fans first espied the 2012 schedule, was to get to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 27 7-0. All that stands in the way is MTSU. But as befits unbeaten teams come mid-October, every slope is as slick as a bald man’s head. Letdowns can cause a coach to lose his hair as well as his mind. Bulldogs 31, MTSU 17.
Marshall at USM: The Golden Eagles have played with heart lately, searching desperately for that first win. This is it! Southern gets on the board, 34-14.
LSU at Texas A&M: Johnny Football, indeed. Manziel is a wonder. LSU played great in Death Valley last Saturday night against the Ol’ Ball Coach. How will the Tigers do against Wonder Boy, who might be the most exciting player this side of RGIII? Too much Tiger. LSU 38, A&M 30.
Auburn at Vanderbilt: January 2011 and Auburn was on top of the world. Post-Cam, and the Tigers are mud beneath the SEC’s tires. Everybody’s getting a piece, and Vandy’s no exception. Commodores 20, Auburn 14.
South Carolina at Florida: USC’s fabled lines got bopped in the head by LSU last week. Can they regroup and take it to the vastly overrated Gators. Says here they can. Carolina 35, Florida 30.

Happy 81st, P.W. Underwood

Happy 81st birthday to Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer P.W. "Bear" Underwood of Hattiesburg. What follows is a piece I wrote a while back for a 100th anniversary USM football program. . .

The date was Oct. 17, 1970. It was a muggy day, unseasonably warm. I was an 18-year-old USM freshman writing sports for the Hattiesburg American, and I had just seen a miracle.

Southern Miss, coached by second-year Golden Eagle coach P. W. “Bear” Underwood, had just stunned mighty Ole Miss 30-14 on the new artificial turf at then-Hemingway Stadium. USM fans were flooding onto the field, as I hurried to midfield to be the first to interview Underwood.

Two USM players, obviously tired and sweaty and with help from others, lifted Underwood on their shoulders and headed to midfield for the traditional coaches handshake. The USM players began to wobble and then they dropped the then-rotund Underwood to the ground almost at Ole Miss coach Johnny Vaught's feet.

“Hell Bear,” Vaught drawled, “you couldn't expect two miracles in one day.”

They parted ways and I asked Underwood about the upset.

“This wasn't an upset,” he boomed back. “We took it to their butts and we whipped their butts.”

The Golden Eagles did do that. But it was an upset, the biggest of that season and still the biggest I have ever witnessed. Ole Miss had defeated USM 69-7 the year before. Archie Manning, a senior Ole Miss quarterback, was the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and a recent Sports Illustrated cover boy.

The Rebels had just defeated both Alabama and Georgia on back to back Saturdays. USM had just been pummeled 41-14 by San Diego State. One newspaper ran a dressing room photo of Manning taking off his socks and the caption read: “Archie, is today's game even worth suiting up for?”

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thank-you Billy Watkins, Jack Carlisle

Clarion-Ledger writer Billy Watkins, like Coach Jack Carlisle, is a Mississippi treasure. Can't tell you how many times I have picked up the newspaper, read something Billy wrote and immediately have thought, "Boy, I wish I had written that."
Billy penned the following story on Jack for Sunday's Ledger. Because of space constrictions, some of it hit the cutting room floor. What follows, thanks to Billy and his editors, is the entire version.

-- Rick Cleveland

By Billy Watkins
They trailed 40-0 at halftime, and inside the dressing room the bruised and bloodied players were stretched out on the floor and on benches. A few of them started changing into their street clothes. No way, the players said, were they going back out for the second half.
          Coach Jack Mason Carlisle, in his first season as head coach at Jackson Prep at the time, stood before them and delivered one of the best pep talks of his life.
          “You don’t want to be known as a bunch of quitters,” he told them. “I’m telling you, this next half can be different. You’ve just got to go out and believe. Those guys over in that other dressing room are a bunch of loud-mouthed rinky dinks, and I want y’all to hit ’em in the mouth a few times. If you do that, the final score can be respectable. What do y’all say?”
          A voice came from a far corner. “I ain’t scared of ’em,” said one of the seniors.
           “Me, neither,” said another.
           Before long, the players were yelling and pounding the walls, and they burst from the dressing room toward the field, Carlisle leading the way.
          He eventually peeled off and headed across the field to his own sideline, to his own team that wound up beating the players he had inspired with his halftime sermon 66-0.
          “Our stands were filled, and I couldn’t have them leaving at halftime. But it didn’t work out quite like I thought it would that last half,” says Carlisle, sitting in his Brandon home. “I played every player I had, but I realized later our junior high probably could’ve beaten them.”
        Following that game in 1971, the visiting team boarded its bobtailed school bus and headed back to England, Ark.. “They didn’t shower, didn’t change clothes,” Carlisle says. “The coach got the $3,000 guarantee we’d promised them, and they took off.”
          That is just one of hundreds of stories from Carlisle’s legendary coaching career that spanned 60 years. He retired following the 2011 season after serving as special teams coordinator at Louisiana College in Alexandria.
         Carlisle, 83, will be the subject of a roast Tuesday night at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Jackson. He warns those former players who are scheduled to share stories about him that “I do speak last.”     
         “I assure you,” laughs Tim Ellis, a former Ole Miss quarterback, “I will prepare with that in mind.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The hardest lesson: how to win

You hear coaches all the time use the phrase about “learning how to win.”

They use it because it is a fact of football life. There are about three or four game-turning plays that decide every close game. A team must learn how to make those plays.

You can see it in practice with Mississippi's three Division bowl division football teams this season.

Mississipi State, under Dan Mullen, is a seasoned, well-drilled team that expects to win, as the Bulldogs did for the eighth straight time over two seasons Saturday night. State went through the process of learning how to win in Mullen's first season. There were some painful lessons early you may recall. The Bulldogs had to get over the hump, which they did. The ooze that hard-earned confidence these days.

We are seeing the same process at Ole Miss currently with Hugh Freeze's first team. The Rebels may well have gotten over that hump Saturday with the big victory over Auburn, a team that seemingly has forgotten how to win. Freeze's first club, as Mullen's before, has played hard and with purpose from the get-go and was rewarded for the first time in the SEC Saturday.

As for USM, the deal now is learning to win without Austin Davis. USM lost a four-year starter and star at quarterback, a truly outstanding player and a winner. After a game of musical quarterbacks early in the season, the Eagles apparently have put the ball in the hands of true freshman Anthony Alford. He showed flashes of why he was Mr. Football in Mississippi against UCF when USM, a 17-point road underdog, played UCF into overtime before losing. He is going to be a really, really good player.

But first, he must learn to win at this level.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

You really couldn't make it up. . .

You spend more than half a century watching Mississippi sports, and you think you know about everything there is to know— but, as I learn every day, I don't.

Have been working on updating all the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame bios recently and am nearing the end of the alphabet. It is simply amazing the rich sports heritage we have in this relatively poor state. For instance, here are just two of the gems I learned — or learned I had forgotten —while working on the Ws today:

• Paul Wells, a long-dead Hall of Famer inducted way back in 1970, was the captain of the 1913 Mississippi State football team. And — and here's a big AND — he was also at the time the world record holder in the 220-yard dash. That's right, the world record sprinter was the Mississippi State football captain.

• Willye B. White, from the Delta town of Money, was a 16-year-old 10th grader in 1956 when she won the Olympic Games silver medal in the long jump at Melbourne. Sixteen! Here's the kicker on the late Willye B. White, a marvelously warm and gracious lady: She began running and jumping and winning ribbons for her high school track team when she was a 10-year-old fourth grader.

You know we hear all the time about Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Archie Manning and Brett Favre — as well we should — but Mississippi's rich sports history goes way, way back and includes a lot more than NFL heroes. Witness Paul Wells and Willye B. White.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nobody could write like Grantland . . .

It is the most famous first paragraph, the lede we call it, in the history of sports journalism. Grantland Rice typed it 88 years ago after watching Notre Dame play Army. It follows:

Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.

Two things: 1) Don't know how four football players can be outlined against a sky of any color unless they were being viewed by a worm; and 2) score, please?

Can't answer the former, but Notre Dame beat Army 13-7. I looked it up.

Now, you are probably asking why is he bringing this up 88 years later. Good question. It is because I was going through our archives this morning and came upon the file on Hall of Famer Ike Knox and found a paragraph in which the famous Grantland Rice waxed on about Knox, inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1964. Knox died in 1969.

Reporting on Vanderbilt's victory over Ole Miss in 1908 Grantland Rice called Knox: “a sensation in light hair, broad shoulders and stocky frame that gave both the Commodore offense and defense a shock that will not soon be forgotten.” 

Rice continued:  “Time and again, as a Commodore back would start down the field, the gorilla-like arms of the demon Knox would encircle his frame and said runner wasn’t only checked, but more often still, literally hurled yards towards his own goal line.”

Gorilla arms? The demon Knox?
Kind of makes you wonder what color the sky was that day 104 years ago.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Here we go again. . .

Me ‘n’ Ricky went Tierra del Fuego (that’s waaay south) last week, each going 6-6. But, like Lewis and Clark, we press on …

 Orley's picks

Tennessee at Mississippi State: As goofy as the Vols have been — 44 against Georgia and still lost! — and as 5-0 and ranked as State is, UT most certainly is the best football team the Dogs will have faced so far. Tennessee can throw. State can defend it. Bulldogs 34, Vols 24.
Auburn at Ole Miss: The Rebs let one get away against A&M last week. The Tigers appear to have no “O.” This is the week Ole Miss finishes the job. Rebels 27, Auburn 14.
Southern Miss at Central Florida: Hard to believe USM’s 0-5 no matter how many wonderful players are gone from last season’s dazzling squad. Hate it. Just hate it. UCF 20, USM 10.
Alabama at Missouri: This is the week the Tigers, who have struggled, find out what it’s really like in the SEC. The hammer, baby. Big Bad Bama 40, Mizzou 14.
Florida at Vanderbilt: The Gators a Top 5 team? Ridiculous. But they play better every week. Unless Florida goes to sleep, Vandy goes down. UF 38, VU 20.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Duff Durrough . . .

Just landed in Chicago where we've come to celebrate my 60th birthday this weekend with my lovely daughter who opens in a brand new play.

We got awful news en route. Ruleville's Duff Durrough, one of the most genuinely talented and sweet people I've known, passed away this morning of liver cancer. Duff was 59. Unless you knew him, you can't even imagine how many heart-broken friends and admirers Duff leaves behind.

These last few weeks have been gut-wrenching. We lost Rick Lambert, our high school class president, to cancer. We lost Bobby Myrick, a great athlete and great friend, to a heart attack. Now Duff. All three were either 59 or 60 — in other words far, far too young. This isn't what I had in mind with 60 fast approaching.

Can't tell you how much better Duff Durrough made this world. He could play guitar, he could sing, he could write and he could paint Delta landscapes that take your breath away. He was as friendly as the Delta is flat. He was like opening a birthday present every day you were around him. He had that special knack for making you feel better about yourself.

At my house, we will continue to listen to Duff and Charlie and Fish and the Tangent band and we will continue to admire Duff's ineffable artwork. And we will pass it all along. We already have.

Annie, my daughter, had Duff playing and singing hymns on her I-phone when we got here today. How cool is that?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What will Orley do for an encore?

After years out the football prognosticating business, Orley Hood took less than half a season to regain his regally omniscient form.
Hood went Bo Derek on us last week, a perfect 10 for 10 to pull into a tie on the season.

Don't take long to warm up a Roll Royce,” Hood said when asked his unblemished performance.

Rick Cleveland went 9-1, missing only on Missouri's narrow victory at UCF.

Hat's off to Orley,” Cleveland said. “I'm not sure how he knew that Missouri would get out-gained and still win on the road. You could have fooled me. In fact, you did.”

This week's card, with several toss-ups, promises to fool both prognosticators.

I'm just going to pick them one game at a time,” Hood said.

As if there was any other way,” Cleveland responded.

Both take a 30-9 record into this week's card.

Orley's picks

Texas A&M at Ole Miss: Aggies in The Grove. What’s the world coming to, eh? Big game for the Rebels after an honorable performance in Tuscaloosa. This is winnable and losable. A&M’s kid QB is a nightmare. Lots of things have to go right for Ole Miss. A&M 31, Ole Miss 24.
Mississippi State at Kentucky: Nothing to it, right? Well … Kentucky played much better last week. State, coming off a bye, played lousy in its two previous games against third-rate opposition. This is the vomit zone for the Bulldogs, nationally ranked and on the road against a team they ought to beat. State fans have been here before. MSU 28, UK 24.