Watching some of the college football bowl games the past couple of weeks has been fun. Yeah, there are too many of them now, but it’s still usually good ball, and ,in most cases, there is a special spirit and effort from the players as they play the last games of the year as a reward for their work during the regular season.
Both of our Mississippi teams playing were victorious: Ole Miss beat #11 Indiana 26-20 in the Outback Bowl, and Mississippi State beat Tulsa 28-26 in the Armed Services Bowl. Plus, the Sugar and Rose Bowls served as semi-final games for the national championship, which will be (or was, depending on when you read this) decided between Alabama and Ohio State on January11. All in all, a lot of good pigskin viewing lately.
Naturally, for a sentimentalist like me, this run of bowl games brought back warm memories for me of my history over the years of enjoying these holiday season spectacles. Like most, I’ve done my share of New Year’s Day (and the surrounding days) TV binge watching, but I’ve also been to five bowl games in person. Herewith are capsules about my experience with the pageantry.
1963 SUGAR BOWL: OLE MISS 17, ARKANSAS 13
Ole Miss was ranked #3 in the nation and Arkansas (then members of the Southwest Conference) #6. I was 14 years old and already a big football fan. My parents took me, my brother Bobby, and my cousin Johnny Wilburn to New Orleans. We spent New Year’s Eve at the Fountainbleau hotel on Carondolet Street. Even at that age, I remember thinking, hey, all these people at the hotel seem to be having a real good time.
The game, before 82,000 fans, was excellent. We sat on the front row of the upper deck at grand old Tulane Stadium, and I was mesmerized. Ole Miss, led by All-American quarterback Glynn Griffing, completed an undefeated season by whipping the tough Razorbacks. If I wasn’t already hooked on the excitement of college football, I now was.
1968 LIBERTY BOWL: OLE MISS 34, VIRGINIA TECH, 17
I was a junior at Ole Miss, and a bunch of us, including my late dear friend Larry Smith, headed up from Oxford to Memphis for the game in late December. At kickoff—which was 1:00 in the afternoon—the temperature was 24 degrees. We went equipped with sweaters, shirts and ties, sport coats, overcoats, and pocket flasks. Coldest ball game I’ve ever been to, to his day.
Kind of a crazy game. Virginia Tech (including star defensive back Frank Beamer, who recently retired as the Hokies’ legendary coach) jumped out to a 17-0 first quarter lead. Then a sophomore quarterback named Archie Manning led the Rebels to a 34 unanswered points comeback for the victory.
1970 SUGAR BOWL: OLE MISS 27, ARKANSAS, 22
One of the most decorated games in Sugar Bowl history—Arkansas was #3 in the nation, Ole Miss #13. Both teams were loaded with stars, including Archie for OM and Moss Point’s Bruce James for Arkansas, both All-Americans.
Larry and I, now seniors and home for the holidays, drove over to N.O. from Pascagoula. Beautiful, crisp day, another crowd of over 80,00, and exciting win, with Archie being named only the second unanimous Sugar Bowl MVP at the time (Pascagoula’s Raymond Brown had been the other in 1958).
After the game, we couldn’t stick around and celebrate, because Larry and I had to travel the next day to Atlanta to be in our friend Dick Ingwersen’s wedding. Yeah, think about that four day stretch: New Year’s Eve, Sugar Bowl, massive rehearsal dinner/party, wedding with never-ending reception. Ah, to be young again. We got back to Oxford and slept for two days.
1991 GATOR BOWL: MICHIGAN 35, OLE MISS 3
This one was special, as I took my nine-year old son Cooper with me to Jacksonville. Also along for the ride was all-time Rebel loyalist Len Rushing. The three of us had a blast.
When Michigan trotted out on the field, we knew we might be in trouble. To this day, biggest team I’ve ever seen. The Wolverines weren’t just big, either—Desmond Howard won the Heisman Trophy, and their oddly named QB, Elvis Grbac, went on to an excellent NFL career. So the game itself was sketchy but being there with Cooper is something that neither of us will ever forget.
2016 SUGAR BOWL: OLE MISS 48, OKLAHOMA STATE 20
Speaking of the father-son thing, I attended this one with my other son Wesley, who lives in New Orleans. Buddy Martin Hegwood and I drove over from Pascagoula to New Orleans, and met Wes at his house in Mid-City. After a good meal at one of those cool N.O. neighborhood restaurants, we headed to the Superdome, where the sellout crowd was about 75/25 Ole Miss fans.
That was an exceptional Ole Miss team hitting its peak. The Cowboys, even with Coach Mike Gundy’s mullet, could do little to stop Chad Kelly, Laquan Treadwell, Evan Ingram, Mike Hilton, and the rest of the Rebels. OM finished 10-3 and #9 in the nation. A great New Year’s night with Wesley in the Dome.
Now these recounts don’t take into consideration all the Senior Bowls my dad took me to when I was a kid, but that’s a story for another day. Looks like I have a 4-1 record for in-person bowl games, which ain’t bad. I’m sure most of you who are football fans have bowl memories of your own, and I’d love to hear them—email me if you’re so inclined.
For all the blather we hear about the College Football Playoffs, bowl games still count for a lot—they always have and always will. Just ask the players and coaches who have participated, and all the folks who have been able to attend the festivities with families and friends, and sons and daughters.
Richard Lucas may be contacted at [email protected].