Back in April, I had the privilege of meeting with Hoppy Langley and his 1977 Ole Miss football teammates, who were in Oxford to honor their great coach, Jack Mason Carlisle. It was déjà vu all over again.
This group of determined 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, kicking for 8 points in the major upset.
This game got me thinking about the most significant victories in Ole Miss history. Here’s my list, and I should add that I was fortunate enough to have attended three of them!
1. 1969: Ole Miss 38, Tennessee 0
Some refer to this game as the Vols’ worst 20th-century defeat, while it was one of the biggest wins on Coach John Vaught’s resume. Tennessee was ranked No. 3 in the nation with the Orange Bowl just about locked up. On the other hand, the Rebels, led by Archie Manning, had three losses and were just looking for respect, which they certainly earned that memorable 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. 1952: Ole Miss 21, Maryland 14
Although this game was before my time, I have read about it on numerous occasions. Ranked No. 7 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 No. 2-ranked Rebs versus the No. 3 Tigers. Ole Miss’ defense controlled the game 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 contest – and the shutout eased the pains of Billy Cannon’s Halloween heroics in Baton Rouge.
5. 2015: Ole Miss 43, Alabama 37
Played in front of 101,821 football fans in Tuscaloosa, No. 15 Ole Miss shell-shocked the Crimson Tide, thanks in part to Chad Kelly’s superb play at QB. Bama came into the game ranked No. 2, 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 the Rebels’ HUGE win!
6. Sugar Bowl 1970: Ole Miss 27, Arkansas 22
This “shocking” upset delivered a Top 10 national ranking to the Rebels in one of the most exciting Sugar Bowls in history. On a freezing-cold winter’s day – the game was played outdoors – Archie Manning starred on offense and Glen Cannon starred on defense. And they 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. 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 pass to James Storey after tight end L.Q. Smith set the Rebels up with a 48-yard reception, the ONLY pass he ever caught! This was one of those days 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, Miss. ambush.
I ran my list by close friend and confidant Jim “The General” Stephens, who trumped mine by several decades. The General’s grandfather played guard on the 1894 team (8-1 record) that defeated Alabama (for the first time) 6-0 in Jackson. That same year, Ole Miss also knocked off LSU 26-6 for their 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 No. 6 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.