Whose Ole Miss Football Number will be Retired Next?
Ole Miss announced on Monday it is retiring Eli Manning’s No. 10. Manning joins is father, Archie, and Chucky Mullins as only the third Rebels football player to have his number retired by the school.
Eli is arguably the greatest quarterback in school history. He finished his career with 10,119 yards and 81 touchdowns with a 60.8 completion percentage. Manning finished third in the 2003 Heisman Trophy voting, behind Jason White and Larry Fitzgerald, a year in which Ole Miss went 10-3 and culminated in a Cotton Bowl Victory over Oklahoma State — the program’s first New Year’s bowl since 1991. Manning will be honored this fall at halftime of the Rebels’ September 12 home game against Auburn.
So this prompts an obvious thought experiment: who should be the next player to have their number retired?
Here are a few candidates:
1. Patrick Willis
Willis is the greatest linebacker in Ole Miss history.
He amassed 355 career tackles, 33 career tackles for loss during his time as a Rebel, named both first-team All-SEC and first-team All-American in 2005 and 2006.
In his senior year alone, Willis led the SEC in tackles with 137 (11.4 per game), collected 11.5 tackles for loss, added seven passes deflected, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He won SEC Defensive Player of the Year, was named first-team All-SEC and first-team All-American. Willis took home the Jack Lambert Award and the Dick Butkus Award.
He was selected by 11th overall by the San Francisco 49ers and capped a nine-year NFL career that included 950 tackles (732 solo, 218 assists), 20.5 sacks, 16 forced fumbles, five fumbles recovered, eight interceptions, two touchdowns with a Super Bowl appearance.
Willis was obviously a fan-favorite at Ole Miss, and his popularity was likely amplified by the struggles of the teams around him. In the three years he was a starter on the Rebels’ defense, they went a combined 11-23.
The number 49 is synonymous with Willis as it pertains to Ole Miss.
2. Deuce McAllister
McAllister is the only running back in Ole Miss history to post three 1,000-all-purpose-yard seasons. He capped his career in Oxford with 3,181 yards on the ground, 3,852 all-purpose yards and 41 total touchdowns. McAllister averaged five yards per rush on 633 career carries.
The iron man back helped lead to the Rebels to four-straight bowl games, in which they went 3-1.
The New Orleans Saints drafted McAllister with the 23rd overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. He played eight seasons, posted four 1,000-yard campaigns and 49 career touchdowns. The two-time Pro Bowler battled injuries in the latter half of his career and retired in 2009.
He is one of, if not the most decorated back in Ole Miss history. Like Willis, McAllister’s college number, 22, is synonymous with the Morton, Miss. native and his decorative career.
Honorable mention: ‘Gentle’ Ben Williams
Williams was the first first African American player to appear in a game for Ole Miss. He was a three-time All-SEC selection and was a first-team All-American selection in 1975. Williams is the all-time sacks leader in program history with 37.
A third round selection, Williams carved out a 10-year NFL career with the Buffalo Bills and made the pro bowl in 1982.
Williams died in May at the age of 65.
We Guess It Can't Happen But It's a Fun Thought: Chad Kelly
Yes, he wore the aforementioned, retired No. 10. But for the sake of the exercise, Kelly deserves a mention.
He only played in 21 games for the Rebels, but might be the most under appreciated player in program history. Kelly led Ole Miss to its first Sugar Bowl in a generation and carried the offense during the 2016 season. Kelly threw for 6,800 yards in two years with 50 touchdowns, 21 picks and a 63.9 completion percentage. He was 14-9 as a starter and likely didn’t have a long enough career to be on the list, but his productivity can’t be questioned.