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TGS CONFERENCE USA RETROSPECTIVE...A CLASSIC UPSET FOR THE AGES!
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


Relatively speaking, there isn’t a lot of football history in Conference USA, which began to formally compete on the gridiron in the 1996 season. But many of the programs that comprise the league have football storylines that date from decades earlier. Including Southern Miss, which has fielded football teams since 1912 (interrupted only when not fielding squads during World War I between 1917-19, and World War II between 1943-45).

And since Southern is the only C-USA member that remains from its original collection of schools almost 20 years ago, the Hattiesburg institution is a proper subject for any retrospective involving the league. Especially since USM was party to what ranks as one of the most shocking results during our publishing history at TGS, which dates to 1957.

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Unfortunately, you won’t find mention of Southern Miss’ stunning 1970 win by a 30-14 count over Ole Miss on a list of any all-time pointspread upsets, simply because there were no spreads posted on games involving USM at that time. But on the “significance scale” entering our 58th season of publishing, we’re hard-pressed to recall an upset with as many implications. Indeed, reverberations could still be felt decades later...perhaps all of the way until today, if some longtime Rebel and Golden Eagle supporters are to be believed.

USM was not a complete unknown in 1970, although at the time it was a relative newcomer to the highest echelon of college football (in those days known as the ”University Division” prior to the “Division I” designation adopted in 1973). Southern Miss had ascended to the top flight in 1963 after a dominant run as a “College Division” powerhouse, winning national titles in 1958 & 1962 under legendary HC Thad “Pie" Vann (right), a defensive wizard who would eventually be elected to the College Hall of Fame. Vann’s teams would often step up to face major opposition, and had a history of engineering noteworthy upsets, including a 25-19 stunner over a fifth-ranked Alabama team in the opener of the 1953 season behind future Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher and RB Hugh Pepper, who was the star that night with 115 yards rushing, including a 66-yard TD jaunt. At the time, some rated the shocker alongside Centre College's 6-0 win over Harvard in 1921 as perhaps the greatest upset in college football history.

We learned after that game that the school, known as Mississippi Southern in those days, had applied for membership in the newly-formed ACC, but was not accepted into the loop and continued to campaign as an independent entry all of the way until 1995, when becoming one of the charters members of C-USA, which, as mentioned, would conduct its first football season in 1996.

Vann had another major surprise up his sleeve in '53, beating a Georgia team led by future longtime NFL QB Zeke Bratkowski, 14-0. Not too bad a season's work for Pie's team, scoring wins against a couple of high-profile SEC entries. Vann would stay on the job through 1968 and would shepherd the program in its transition to the University Division after the 1962 season.

In those days the team was also known as the Southerners, after being labeled as the Normalities (yes, the Normalities, in the early days when the school was known as Mississippi Normal College...Normalites, that’s quite a name!), Yellow Jackets, and Confederates. The modern “Golden Eagles” nickname wasn’t officially affixed until early 1972. The school name would change to “University of Southern Mississippi” on February 27, 1962, after a bill was signed by Governor Ross Barnett, who was referenced on these pages in an earlier two-part, 2011 editorial piece entitled “And A Story You Ought To Know,” available in the archives portion of our website.

(The “Southerners” nickname, and the Confederate soldier mascot named “General Nat” shown at left were not destined to last long after the school finally integrated in 1965. By that point, sister schools Ole Miss and Mississippi State had integrated, forcibly and with considerable unrest in the case of Ole Miss and James Meredith in 1962, peacefully at MSU three years later when Richard Holmes would enroll without incident. While Meredith’s story at Ole Miss is well-documented, Mississippi Southern/USM has its own controversial tale involving Clyde Kennard, a black Korean War veteran who tried to enroll on three separate occasions in 1956, ‘57, and ‘59, but was denied and would instead be twice arrested on trumped-up criminal charges and eventually sentenced to seven years in the state prison. Mississippi Southern school president Dr. William McCain had objected to Kennard’s enrollment, but his direct involvement in the abuse of the justice system remains unclear. He was definitely as aware as other intimate members of the state political establishment were as to how fraudulent and bogus the charges were, but still made no public objections.)

There was certainly nothing much to suggest anything special about the 1970 USM team, which would be the second season in charge for hulking coach P.W. “Bear” Underwood (right), whose first squad in 1969 would finish a modest 5-5. The Southerners would serve as cannon fodder for three SEC foes (Alabama, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss) that ‘69 year, and were on the short end of lopsided scorelines such as 63-14 (vs. the Crimson Tide) and 69-7 (vs. the Rebels). During the previous 1968 season, Vann’s last campaign in charge, Southern Miss had also been on the wrong side of a 68-7 count against Don Coryell’s San Diego State. And, speaking of Coryell’s Aztecs, they had scored another thumping win over USM, 41-14, behind QB Brian Sipe, the week before the 1970 Southerners were apparently going to be served up on a platter to fourth-ranked Ole Miss...the same Rebels team that had romped to a 62-point win the year before.

Meanwhile, Ole Miss was riding high again at the midway point of the 1970 season, undefeated and ranked fourth, with a Heisman Trophy favorite in QB Archie Manning. The Rebs had re-emerged as a national force under long-time HC Johnny Vaught (featured in our current SEC Retrospective highlighting the blazing LSU-Ole Miss rivalry years) after appearing in the final Top Ten in eight of ten seasons between 1954-63. The Rebs would rank 11th in 1958 and finished 7-3 in 1956, the only campaign in that ten-season span when not ranked.

Ah, yes, Archie Manning. By midway in the 1970 season, Archie was the top storyline in college football. At that point, Manning had been on the map for a while, opening eyes in the region during his 1968 soph season and then emerging as a national curiosity in ‘69 after a wild early-October shootout against Alabama, televised nationally on a Saturday night by ABC. Though the Rebs would lose that thriller by a 33-32 count, Archie suddenly became a major topic of discussion after accounting for an astounding 540 yards of total offense that night at Legion Field in Birmingham. Before the ‘69 season was complete, the Rebs would deal LSU and Tennessee their only losses of the regular season and would earn an invitation to the Sugar Bowl, where Archie would throw for 3 TDs as the Rebs upended Arkansas, 27-22, less than four weeks after the Razorbacks’ memorable shootout for the top spot in the polls against Texas (also highlighted on these pages in our current Big 12 Retrospective piece).

The 1970 rematch vs. Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide, on October 3, shaped up as one of the high-profile battles of the season. ABC, recalling the magic of the 1969 shootout, moved quickly to secure the rematch, which became something of a crusade in Mississippi. The state legislature acted quickly to make sure that Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson, in those days the site of most of the big Ole Miss games, would get new lights so the game could be featured on prime-time TV. For the special occasion, the Rebs, perhaps hoping to highlight the new stadium lights, would also wear their bright white uniforms in Jackson.

Manning, usually unaffected by pre-game hype, seemed especially tense before facing Bama. On Thursday he was so absorbed that he almost forgot it was his fiance' Olivia’s birthday."I've never seen him like this," said Olivia, a brunette who did nothing to diminish Ole Miss' reputation as the champion Miss America school...and the same Olivia who is now as well-known for being the mom to Peyton and Eli. "Even before the Tennessee game last year he wasn't this fired up. Why, I think he wants to hurt somebody, and that's not like Archie."

Bear Bryant had seen Manning’s magic up close and was a fan as well. "Archie beats you in so many ways," said Bryant. "He dominates a college game more than (Joe) Namath did." The Bear had further reason to fret when his starting QB, and the man who outgunned Manning in the ‘69 shootout, Scott Hunter, was ruled out because of a shoulder injury suffered in a Thursday practice. Backup Neb Hayden would instead be taking snaps for the Tide on Saturday night.

Manning was slightly slowed by a strained leg and groin, so he did not post the numbers he did in the ‘69 game, but the sky-high Rebs were a lot more than a one-man show that night in Jackson.

Like the ‘69 classic, the ‘70 renewal of Bama and Ole Miss had several heroes...though most of those would wear the white jerseys of the Rebs. Tailback Randy Reed gained 99 yards and caught two touchdown passes. Wingback and future New York Jet Vernon Studdard also caught a scoring pass and made the most exciting play of the game. It came in the second quarter after Alabama's Richard Ciemny had kicked a field goal to pull the Tide within 14-3. Taking the following kickoff a yard deep in his end zone, Studdard (right) started up the middle, cut for the left sideline, zigged once and zipped down the field for a 101-yard touchdown. "The outside man came in," said Studdard, "so I went for the sideline. I'd much rather go where there's nobody than into a crowd."

The Rebel defense chipped in as well. Linebacker Bill VanDevender intercepted a pass to set up the first Ole Miss touchdown and fellow LB Fred Brister made another score possible with an interception after Studdard's kickoff return. The front four--John Gilliland, Elmer Allen, John Aldridge and Dennis Coleman---shot holes all night in the Bama OL so that LBs Brister and Crowell Armstrong could blitz. They dumped Hayden seven times for losses of 79 yards. And it was Aldridge's recovery of a muffed punt at the Alabama 26 that started Archie toward three more TDs that would balloon the score upward from 26-17 in the 4th Q .

During one stretch in the second half, Manning worked the option play about as well as a quarterback could execute. First, after taking possession at the Tide 26, he moved Ole Miss to the 12, then passed to Studdard for a touchdown and a 34-17 lead with 11:54 left in the fourth quarter. Later, after Alabama stalled and punted, he took the Rebels 68 yards in nine plays for another score. The big gainer was Manning's 29-yard pass to WR Floyd Franks (who was burning the Tide again after catching 13 passes for 191 yards in the '69 game), and it was Archie who rolled out to his right and circled end for the final nine yards, sore leg and all. The Tide made one last-gasp touchdown and tried an onside kick, but five plays later Ole Miss scored again. Manning closed in on this one by running to his left, stopping, sprinting again, then lofting a pass over the Alabama secondary to Franks, who was tackled at the one, from where Bob Knight would carry the ball into the end zone.

The final score was a rousing 48-23 in Ole Miss’ favor...only the second time in 60 years that the Rebs had beaten the Tide.

After the Alabama game neither Archie nor Vaught wanted to say where they thought Ole Miss belonged in the national rankings, but the pollsters answered within the next two days when moving the Rebs from seventh to fifth. President Richard Nixon, a devout football fan who had been present at the previous December’s classic Texas-Arkansas game, even knew what was going on despite being far away from home when aboard the USS. Saratoga in the Mediterranean the next week. When queried by some sailors who asked Nixon about the football situation at home, the President had plenty to say.

"Well, Texas looks pretty good with that (FB Steve) Worster," said Nixon. Then he pumped his right arm as if he were trying a forward pass and added, "But watch out for Mississippi and that Archie Manning!"

Sports Illustrated would then project the remainder of the Ole Miss schedule. “The Rebels travel to Georgia this week for their toughest road game to date. Looming ahead are difficult sessions with Houston and Louisiana State.” No mention was made of the October 17 in-state clash vs. Southern Miss. Why would it?

At that stage it looked as if the Rebs were on a likely collision course with top-ranked Texas in a possible national title showdown at the Cotton Bowl. Avoiding a letdown the following week in a dangerous ‘trap” spot at Georgia, the Rebs had repelled the aroused Bulldogs, 31-21, with Archie passing for 244 yards and three more TDs. When No. 4 USC lost the same day at Stanford, 24-14, the Rebs would hop up one more spot in the polls, to fourth. Manning was the consensus leader in the Heisman race. Meanwhile, USM was getting its behind kicked at San Diego State.

Hardly the prelude to the upset of the year, if not the decade.

Although no line was posted on the game, various media sorts made their predictions on USM-Ole Miss. Will Grimsley, the venerable Associated Press scribe, picked Ole Miss to win the game 53-7. The Meridian Star daily newspaper went even further. The front page of the Oct. 17, 1970, sports section ran a photo of Manning pulling up his socks in the Ole Miss dressing room. The caption read: "Archie Manning . . . Is This One Worth Suiting Up For?"

USM fans were even prepared for the worst. A charter plane filled with supporters flew from Hattiesburg to Oxford the morning of the game. Approximately 60 boosters, including many Southern Miss employees and coaches' wives, were on board. Most put up a dollar and wrote down a predicted final score. The one closest to the final score was to get the entire pot. Only one, then-USM sports information director Ace Cleveland, picked the Southerners to win.

But something was brewing that Saturday in Oxford. Years later, in an interview with longtime USM play-by-play voice John Cox, HC Bear Underwood (who passed away in 2013) said that he didn’t need to do much to get the Southerners fired up.

“They didn’t want to be embarrassed like the year before,” said Underwoood.. “I said, ‘Listen, no doubt they’ll embarrass you if you let ‘em. So go out there and play as hard as you can and show some character.'

“Then all I had to say was the 69-7 score and the fake punt (which Ole Miss used late in the ‘69 romp.). I said, ‘That shows they ain’t got any respect for you, up 50 points and fakin’a punt!’

“Boy, you talk about makin’ the fellers mad. Made me mad, too.”

Rick Donegan, USM’s small, 160-pound, but strong-armed quarterback, had suffered three interceptions the year before in the 62-point loss to Ole Miss. Still, he remembers a confident Southern team that took the brand new artificial turf at Hemingway Stadium that day. "We were not in awe of them," said Donegan to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "I'm not saying everyone thought we would win, but we all thought we had a shot."

"I thought we could win," said Willie Heidelburg, a 143-pound water bug of a scatback who had transferred that summer from Pearl River Junior College and was USM's first black football player.

Other Southern players weren't nearly so confident.

"We just wanted to be competitive with them," said Craig Logan, then a USM cornerback. "I don't think many of us were really thinking win."

Hugh Eggersman, the defensive end who became famous that day, certainly was not. "I considered it almost a given that they'd beat us," Eggersman says. "My feeling was one of let's keep it close, let's don't get embarrassed."

No matter what they believed, they all performed magnificently. Donegan, all 160 pounds of him, completed 14 of 30 passes for 116 yards and also had a key 42-yard run. Logan, assigned to one-on-one coverage against the Rebels' splendid receiver, Floyd Franks, intercepted two Manning passes. Eggersman claimed National Lineman of the Week honors with eight tackles, including one of Manning on fourth down at the goal line, and two sacks. And Heidelburg, who had said in the preseason that his goal was to score one touchdown against Ole Miss, scored two.

But for an upset of such magnitude, it took more than an inspired Southern team playing well. It also took an overconfident Ole Miss team playing far below par. Vaught had warned the Rebels all week against overconfidence. For one thing, Vaught knew the 1969 game had been an aberration. The Rebels had always won, but they had usually struggled against Southern until the 69-7 blowout.

“Ole Miss wasn’t ready to play,” said Underwood in the interview with John Cox, which took place in 2012. “They had too much talent. Archie was top five for the Heisman Trophy, they’re number four in the nation. (Johnny Vaught) is the one who had trouble gettin’ 'em up.”

Underwood, who had played down emotions during the week, became highly charged just before the teams took the field. With the fervor of a Baptist preacher at a revival, Underwood challenged his players' character. He held up the Meridian Star sports section, the one with the photo of Manning dressing, and boomed, "This is what people think of you! Go out and prove them wrong!"

Perhaps the worst possible thing that could happen to Ole Miss took place on the Rebels' first possession. Manning hit Franks, easy-as-you-please, with a 51-yard touchdown strike, a perfect spiral that Franks gathered in without breaking stride right at the goal line. "I can actually remember guys coming to the sideline saying, 'Let's get two or three more and then take it easy,'" Manning would remember in a Clarion-Ledger story decades after the game.

But nothing was easy for the Rebels thereafter. Part of the reason was USM’s All-American punter and future Raider (and new Pro Football HOFer) Ray Guy, who also played DB in his USM career and kept the Rebels pinned deep in their own end of the field all afternoon, averaging 49 yards on his booming punts that seemed to fly above the top level of rows at Hemingway Stadium and often forcing Ole Miss to start drives from inside of its 10-yard-line. "Every time we got the ball we had 90 yards in front of us," Manning would later say. "Ray was just amazing."

After the Manning-to-Franks TD pass, USM answered back with a 44-yard touchdown run by fullback Bill Foley, then the Rebels regained the lead on a touchdown pass from Manning to tailback Randy Reed. But this was to be no replay of the previous year’s 69-7 laugher, because Bear Underwood’s troops were putting up an unexpected fight. Driving early in the second quarter, the Southerners had the ball fourth and two at the Ole Miss 11-yard line. A play that turned the tide of the game, and football history in the state of Mississippi, would come next.

USM had the aforementioned 5-foot, 6-inch secret weapon named Willie Heidelburg, who was the first black player to appear in a varsity game for one of the Mississippi schools. Underwood had used “Wee Willie” sparingly beforehand, mainly because he wanted to keep all of Heidelburg's 143 pounds in one piece. For Ole Miss, USM offensive coordinator Dick Steinberg, later an NFL personnel guru with the Rams and Patriots and eventually a GM with the Jets, installed a new play. It was a wingback reverse with Heidelburg carrying the ball. Steinberg and Underwood decided to pull the play out of the hat on that fourth down at the Rebel 11; Heidelburg would score to knot the game at 14-14. After a Guy field goal from 47 yards put the Southerners up 17-14 at the break, Heidelburg, for good measure, would score on the same play in the third quarter.

Legendary New Orleans Saints scout Hamp Cook, then USM's offensive line coach, remembered the plays.

"The first time we ran it, it fooled them," Cook says. "But the second time, they were all yelling, 'Watch the reverse, watch the reverse!' They knew it was coming, but they still couldn't stop it. I couldn't wait to get back home and see it on film and see what a great job my guys had done blocking.

"Hell," Cook would say, laughing harder, "we didn't block anybody. Willie just dodged every one of them."

Heidelburg was the quickest man on the field and the Ole Miss Astroturf made him just that much quicker. Heidelburg stuck out that day like a black dot on an ivory domino. "To my knowledge, there was one other black person in the stadium that day, and I think he was the Ole Miss equipment manager," said Heidelburg, who went on to a long career as an assistant coach at Bellhaven University in Jackson before his passing in 2013.

By halftime, it was apparent that USM had a legit shot at an upset. The defense had stiffened since the early Ole Miss touchdown. When recounting the game decades later with John Cox, Underwood would recall what was going through his mind at the time,

“We saw right quick they couldn’t run the ball,” said Underwood. “We knew Archie could run the ball, so we did our defense to rotate into the strong part (side) of their offense. We brought the corner up some, and then we skated the line with a number five technique (DE lining up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles), and we skated them hard, not to let Archie get outside. Any time they went wide right or left, our linebackers would rip in there and blitz. We shut down the run that way. Archie set a record for passes, but it was all 5, 6, 7-yard stuff.

“(Linebackers) Eggersman and Johnson, they usually ran about 5 flat, but they ran about a 4.4 that day, sideline-to-sideline. Eggersman and Johnson never played that good, never had that type of speed. I said to myself, boy, the adrenaline must be flowin’, but them rascals--I couldn’t believe it. They never played that good.”

(In the Cox interview, Underwood would go on to recall the same defensive plan that he would use when he was Auburn's defensive coordinator in 1980, shutting down another mobile QB...USM's Reggie Collier.)

The Ole Miss players, and the Rebel fans in the stands at Oxford, were stunned at the halftime scoreline. "When we were walking to the locker room, both teams went up the same walkway," USM star LB Hugh Eggersman would later say. "All their guys were shaking their heads, cussing and saying stuff like, 'Can you believe this?'"

Heidelburg scored again on Southern's first second-half possession and, suddenly, Ole Miss was in deep trouble. By then, even the doubting USM players had grown confident. After Heidelburg’s second score, the situation quickly became even more grave for the fourth-ranked Rebels as Gerry Saggus returned an Ole Miss punt 60 yards for a touchdown, giving Southern a stunning 30-14 lead with 5:45 left in the third quarter!

"It was like we were in a zone," Eggersman said in retrospect. "You read and hear about golfers or tennis players getting in a zone. Well, we were a whole team in a zone. Everybody was playing over their heads. I mean, you had to see it. I was the tallest lineman we had and I was 6-foot with my hair pushed up. Our nose guard, Johnny Herron, was listed 5'9 but he was shorter than that. All their guys were 6'3 and 6'4. Heck, Archie was bigger than any of us."

Southern seemed to grow in confidence as the game went on. Manning, who was slowed all day by the aforementioned groin injury, took a brutal beating. "I've never been beat on so much," he said at the time. "When those guys hit you, they hit you good."

The last gasp for Ole Miss came late in the 3rd Q, when a drive would reach the Southerners’ one yard-line. On fourth down, however, as he swept wide, Manning was nailed by that man Hugh Eggersman. The ball went over to USM on downs and the Rebs would never seriously threaten thereafter.

When Vaught sent in Shug Chumbler, Manning's backup, during the final seconds, Manning sent Chumbler back to the sidelines, as if to say, "Heck no, I'm not quitting!" Unable to run effectively, Manning had completed 30 of 56 passes for 341 yards, and those 56 passes stood as school record until son Eli would toss 57 times in a 2002 game against Texas Tech. But Archie had no magic wand this day; the upset was soon etched in granite. Final score: Southern Miss 30, Ole Miss 14!

What must have seemed like an eternity to Manning and Ole Miss was over in a heartbeat for USM players. "Funny thing, I remember the first half better than the second," defensive hero Eggersman would later say. "The second half was like a blur. It went by so fast. It was like a dream really."

When the game ended, the tired USM players tried to carry their massive coach Bear Underwood across the field to meet the legendary Vaught. The players would eventually begin to wobble, dropping Underwood almost at Vaught's feet. The classy Vaught managed a smile and a quip. "Hell, Bear," he drawled, "you couldn't expect two miracles in one day."

Underwood could hardly contain himself in front of the stunned reporters: "This wasn't an upset," the USM Bear boomed. "We took it to their butts and we whipped their butts."

Underwood had a point. USM had simply out-hit Ole Miss, outrushing the Rebs 205-85, and combined with Ray Guy’s punts and the big-play offense, the recipe for an upset had been cooked to perfection by the Southerners. With a little help from Ole Miss. “I know they didn’t play up to their capabilities,” Underwood would later say. “They were in shock. That was the best thing that happened to us.”

So big was the news of the upset that it impacted the Heisman Trophy race. Stanford's Jim Plunkett was considered Manning's top competition for the award, and the then-called Indians' legendary SID (and radio announcer), Bob Murphy, who was running a shoestring campaign for Plunkett, passed out makeshift "Archie lost to Southern WHO?" items to the press the next week in a game at UCLA, a play on words to "The Ballad of Archie Who," a twangy jingle created by the Ole Miss publicity department that would sell more than 50,000 copies. As the Manning campaign waned, the Plunkett campaign picked up momentum.

Plunkett did end up winning the Heisman, helped just a little bit, perhaps, by Southern Miss. Manning would end up in third place, also behind the runner-up, Notre Dame’s Joe Thiesmann.

Things never were quite the same at Ole Miss after the upset. The following Tuesday, Vaught would suffer a mild heart attack and would not coach the rest of the campaign, replaced on an interim basis by assistant and former Ole Miss star player Bruiser Kinard. The Rebel season would go further sideways a few weeks later when Manning suffered a broken wrist in a game vs. Houston. With reliever Chumbler at QB, Ole Miss would lose to Mississippi State and its future NFL QB Joe Reed, 19-14, and with Manning back on the field while wearing a cast on his wrist, the Rebs would get slaughtered at LSU, 61-17, in the regular-season finale. Archie was still wearing his cast (which remains on display in a lounge at modern-day Vaught-Hemingway Stadium) when Ole Miss would lose again in the Gator Bowl vs. Pat Sullivan and Auburn, 35-28.

Vaught would retire at the end of the season; Bruiser’s brother Billy Kinard, another former Rebel star player and also an assistant coach throughout the previous decade around the SEC at Florida, Auburn, and Georgia before serving a year on Frank Broyles’ Arkansas staff, was named the new head coach. Billy was the first hire made by older brother Bruiser, who moved from the sidelines to the AD job, taking the place of Tad Smith, whose name is on the school's basketball arena and who (like Vaught) had been forced to retire due to a heart attack of his own suffered just before the USM game.

Billy Kinard would get Ole Miss back to the Peach Bowl in 1971, where the Rebs beat Georgia Tech, but that would be the last Ole Miss bowl visit until Billy Brewer’s 1983 team qualified for the independence Bowl and lost to Air Force. Vaught would make a valedictory return to the sidelines in 1973 when both Kinards were fired after an early-season loss to Memphis State.

The Rebels have also never since climbed as high in the polls as the number four ranking they had prior to the USM upset.

For Southern Miss, the ecstasy of the win was short-lived; Mississippi State routed the Southerners by a 51-15 count the next week, and USM would lose to Memphis State, 33-0, Louisiana Tech 27-6, and West Texas A&M 14-11 in its subsequent games before ending with a win over Trinity (Texas) to finish an unremarkable 5-6 for the season. But the Ole Miss win validated USM as a program on the rise; no doubt, the win over the Rebs did more than anything else to help Southern's drive to secure funds to more than double the seating at Faulkner Field for what became M.M. Roberts Stadium, which would seat more than 33,000 when an ambitious expansion project was completed in 1976.

Still, there can be no doubt that Heidelburg signaled the biggest change. Wee Willie, who carried the ball only three times that day, was the first black player to help one of the state's predominantly white universities win a big football game. Of course, he was the first to ever have that opportunity. In retrospect, the modest Heidelburg said he never thought about being a pioneer. "I just wanted an education and I wanted to run the football, and Southern gave me a chance for both," he would say.

Heidelburg had broken the color line for USM football, and Underwood’s freshman class of 1970 would feature five black players, including DE Fred Cook (left), who would eventually go on to a distinguished career in the NFL with the Colts. Ole Miss would sign Ben Williams, its first black player, the next year.

Meanwhile, 1970 would not be the last time USM would topple Ole Miss. In 1977, the week after Ken Cooper’s Rebels scored a 20-13 upset win over Notre Dame in Jackson, Southern Miss, now known as the Golden Eagles, scored a 27-19 upset win for HC Bobby Collins. Four more times through 1984, for Collins and successor Bill Carmody, USM would beat the Rebels before, at the behest of Ole Miss, the series was discontinued.

But maybe not forever. At the recent SEC Media Days in Hoover, we asked current Rebel HC High Freeze if he would like to revive the series vs. Southern Miss. “Yes,” said Freeze, a USM alum. “We got Memphis back on the schedule this year, and I think it would be great to play Southern Miss, too.”

He might want to check with Archie Manning about that being a good idea.


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