Cleveland: On Tyrone Keys

Tyrone Keys  Photo courtesy of wikipedia .org
Tyrone Keys
Photo courtesy of wikipedia .org

In baseball and horse racing, there’s the Triple Crown. In hockey, three goals are a hat trick. In basketball, we have the triple double. In bowling, three strikes in a row is a turkey.

So what do we call the series of anniversaries Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Tyrone Keys is about to experience in the next few weeks?

“I call it a three-layer cake and I can’t wait to eat all three layers,” Keys answered.

On Sunday, Sept. 20, in Chicago, Keys and the Bears will celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the 1985 Chicago Bears, who shuffled to an 18-1 record and a 36-point victory over the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Keys will be in Jackson at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame for the 35th anniversary of Mississippi State’s landmark, 6-3 victory over Alabama and one of Bear Bryant’s greatest teams.

Later in the fall, Keys and the 1975 Callaway High Chargers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of a 12-0 state championship team.

“I’m the guy with a big smile on my face this fall,” Keys said. “How fortunate can one person be to have been part of three such incredible seasons at three different levels over a 10-year period? To celebrate all three all these years later with my teammates is just an unbelievable feeling.”

Keys played a key role on all three teams:

  • He was a high school All American and defensive MVP for those Callaway Chargers who won 22 straight games over two seasons.
  • He forced quarterback Don Jacob’s fumble on the game-saving play of State’s 6-3 victory over No. 1 ranked Alabama and helped the Bulldogs win nine games after they had won only three the year before.
  • Keys not only played defensive end for Buddy Ryan’s fabled Bears’ defense but he also played keyboards on the “Super Bowl Shuffle” recording that sold more than a million copies and also featured Walter Payton.

Keys said it is impossible to choose a favorite from among the three remarkable teams, although the fumble-causing tackle of Jacobs would surely be the most memorable play. Alabama, trailing 6-3, faced first and goal at the State 3-yard line with 22 seconds left, Keys shot past an Alabama blocker and hit Jacobs in the Bama backfield. Billy Jackson, the other defensive end, recovered the resulting fumble, causing the legendary Jack Cristil to shout over and over: “THE BULLDOGS RECOVER! THE BULLDOGS RECOVER! THE BULLDOGS RECOVER!”

In retrospect, Keys does see several similarities between the three teams.

“Number one, all three came back from adversity,” Keys said. “Our Callaway team had a bad loss to Greenwood before we started that 22-game winning streak. Southern (Miss) beat us badly (42-14) just three weeks before the Alabama game. The Miami Dolphins ruined the Bears’ perfect season in early December, but we never lost again.”

That’s not all.

“I’ve always said that great football teams have to be great at quarterback and middle linebacker,” Keys said. “All three of those teams had that in common. At Callaway we had Roy Coleman at quarterback and Clump Taylor at middle linebacker. At State, we had John Bond and Johnny Cooks. At Chicago, we had Jimmy (McMahon) and Mike Singleterry. All three teams had lots of great players, but you have to be great at those positions.”

Keys, a gentle giant who lives in Tampa but still spends a great deal of time in Jackson, has made working with challenged youth his life’s calling. He says he uses lessons learned from all three of those remarkable seasons to get his teaching points across.

Says Keys, “Anything’s possible if you work for it.”

And sometimes, the rewards keep coming 40, 35 and 30 years later …

Mississippi State’s landmark, 6-3 victory over Alabama will be celebrated Sept. 23 at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Find details at msfame.com or call 601 982-8264.


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

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