By Steve Vassallo
Visiting Friday night with Hoppy Langley and his 1977 teammates who were in Oxford to honor their great coach, Jack Mason Carlisle, was déjà vu all over again.
This group of determined Ole Miss Rebels accomplished the impossible in 1977 by defeating the eventual national champion, Notre Dame, in Jackson 20-13. Hoppy was one of the heroes that afternoon by kicking for 8 points in the major upset.
This game got me thinking about the most significant victories in Ole Miss history of which this win should be on anyone’s list. Here’s my list, which I was fortunate to have attended three of these:
1. November 15, 1969, Ole Miss 38, Tennessee 0
What some refer to as the Vols’ worst 20th century defeat, this Ole Miss team led by Archie was without a doubt one of the biggest wins on Coach Vaught’s résumé. Tennessee was ranked third in the nation with the Orange Bowl just about locked up. On the other hand, the Rebels with three losses were just looking for respect, which they certainly achieved on that afternoon in Jackson. As a result of the blowout, Tennessee limped into the Gator Bowl while the victors made plans for another trip to New Orleans and a Sugar Bowl pairing with Arkansas.
2. Oxford 1952, Ole Miss 21, Maryland 14
Although before my time, I have read about this contest on numerous occasions. Ranked seventh nationally, Maryland rolled into Oxford expecting a big win. It didn’t happen as Ole Miss quarterback Jimmy Lear directed his team to a stunning upset, which propelled the Rebels into their first Sugar Bowl. This victory established Ole Miss as a national power.
3. Sugar Bowl 2016, Ole Miss 48, Oklahoma State 20
What a great day to be in New Orleans as a Rebel! After a 46-year absence, I never thought I would live long enough to experience another Sugar Bowl championship. Thanks to Chad Kelly and company, I did. Coach Freeze pushed all the right buttons as the Rebels dominated this game in every aspect.
4. Sugar Bowl 1960, Ole Miss 21, LSU 0
The famous “rematch” of the 1959 season featured the second ranked Rebs versus the third ranked Tigers. Ole Miss’ defense controlled the outing from start to finish with quarterbacks Jake Gibbs and Bobby Franklin steering the offense to three TDs. The victory catapulted the Rebs into a national championship as the shutout eased the pains of Billy Cannon’s Halloween heroics in Baton Rouge.
5. September 19, 2015, Ole Miss 43, Alabama 37
Played in front of 101,821 football fans in Tuscaloosa, 15th ranked Ole Miss shell-shocked the Crimson Tide led by Chad Kelly’s superb play at QB. Bama came into the game second nationally, expecting a Ho Hum SEC victory over the upstart Rebs. However, on that evening, Ole Miss was anything but another Tide washout victim. No greater birthday celebration have I ever experienced thanks to Hugh Freeze’s HUGE win!
6. Sugar Bowl 1970, Ole Miss 27, Arkansas 22
This “shocking” upset delivered a Top Ten national ranking to the Rebels in one of the most exciting Sugar Bowls in history. A freezing day as the game was played outdoors, Archie Manning starring on offense and Glen Cannon starring on defense were too much for the favored Hogs to handle. It came down to the final play before we knew we had the trophy secured.
7. Jackson 1977, Ole Miss 20, Notre Dame 13
In explaining the Irish loss, some sportswriters blamed it on the humidity and the 91-degree heat that September afternoon. Ole Miss quarterback Tim Ellis threw the winning TD to James Storey, although Rebel TE L.Q. Smith set the TD pass up with a 48-yard reception, the ONLY pass he ever caught! A day when David defeated Goliath, who was wearing a white jersey and sporting a gold helmet. Even with the loss, Notre Dame would go on to win the national title, trying to forget about the Jackson ambush.
I ran my list by close friend and confidant, Jim “The General” Stephens, who trumped mine by several decades. The General’s grandfather was a Guard on the 1894 team (8-1 record) that defeated Alabama (for the first time) 6-0 in Jackson. That same year, Ole Miss won over LSU 26-6 for, also, the first win ever against the Tigers, this victory coming in Baton Rouge. Hubert D. Stephens was certainly a factor in both wins. The General concurred with my assessment above in numbers 1, 4, 5 and 7. The General also added the 17-14 defeat of Florida (in Oxford, October 5, 2002) that witnessed the goal post coming down. The Gators were ranked 6th coming into the contest.
Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. Currently, Steve is a highly successful leader in the real estate business who lives in Oxford with his wife Rosie. You can contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 985-852-7745.