Several years ago the University of Chattanooga, like a moth seeking the flame, agreed to play a series of four football games against the University of Mississippi. Mississippi has one coach, nine assistants, a student body of 5,900 and its eye on the Cotton Bowl. Chattanooga has one coach, three assistants, a student body of 1,400 and a lot of nerve. Mississippi crushed the smaller school the first three years by scores of 58-0, 45-0 and 54-0. Last week, for the fourth and last time, the two teams met again.
Chattanooga had no expectation of winning. Mice don't challenge cats and expect to survive, and undefeated Mississippi is one of this year's really big cats. For Chattanooga, the game meant two things. One was money. Chattanooga's share of the gate receipts—all the games have been played in Oxford—is about $10,000 each year, an amount the little school feels is worth the loss of blood. Also, the presence of a major football power such as Mississippi—or Auburn or Tennessee—on the Chattanooga schedule is an attractive lure to prospective players at recruiting time. "I'm from Pittsburgh," says Quarterback Ron Eisaman. "No one up there cares about Middle Tennessee or Presbyterian. But when you say you played Ole Miss, people listen."
For its part, Mississippi has found Chattanooga to be a delightful sparring partner, a ragamuffin to cuff about while preparing for more important games. It is also an excellent way to higher ratings. Mississippi has shown no pity for the smaller school. In the 1959 game the Rebels scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to make the score 56-0. But instead of kicking the extra point, Mississippi lined up in running formation and brutally pushed across a two-point conversion.
Such behavior is contrary to the coaches' code of ethics, and might well bring a punch instead of a handshake from the loser at the end of the game, but Chattanooga's enduring coach, Scrappy Moore, refuses to get angry. "Could be that their kicker was hurt," he says.
Bloodthirsty though it may be for scores, Mississippi has a total fixation on defense. Ole Miss is as proud of its tough line as it is of its beauty queens, and to allow a touchdown to the likes of little Chattanooga would be a disgrace. In the 1960 game Chattanooga had come close. The team reached the two-yard line before the Mississippi first team rushed back into the game and drew the line.
This year Chattanooga's abiding hope was to score a touchdown and thereby inflict upon the bigger team at least one brief moment of embarrassment. Quarterback Ron Eisaman, a cocky kid, was all for throwing a bomb—a long pass—on the first play of the game. "Shake 'em up," he said. "We might catch them by surprise, but even if we don't complete it, we'll give them something to worry about." Defensive Back Jim Denton wanted to go for broke, too. He had watched Mississippi's Glynn Griffing complete a dozen short passes in the flat—all of them on film—and he had made up his mind to pick one off and go all the way, acknowledging that, if he failed, the receiver would probably go all the other way. But in this game, Jack against the Giant, one success would be worth half a dozen failures.
In the week before the game, End Kelly Sargent said he had a dream in which Chattanooga beat Mississippi on a long pass to Kelly Sargent. But this sort of optimism was not reflected by university officials. The college president, LeRoy Martin, cheerfully referred to the game as the "annual massacre." And Coach Scrappy Moore went gloomily about making his pregame plans, just as a dying man will plan his future. He took his team into an auditorium to watch Mississippi on film. The team sat patiently in the darkness when the machine broke down twice, watched in silence as Glynn Griffing completed a short pass for a touchdown and listened respectfully as Scrappy explained that they would have to cover receivers close when they were deep in their own territory. When it rained hard on the last day of practice, forcing the team indoors to the tiny gym, Scrappy was genuinely upset. "I wanted to work on defense," he said.
The team left for Oxford by bus early Friday morning in a dismal rain, waved off by no one. There were no signs of student interest in the game on the Chattanooga campus, no rallies, no bonfires, no banners. People around Chattanooga—the president, members of the Rotary Club, the sports editor of the morning paper—said they would like to go along, but somehow they just couldn't make the dreary eight-hour, 325-mile trip to Oxford.
The game was the first this year on the Mississippi campus. Governor Ross Barnett, dressed in a shiny black suit and waving a black homburg to the crowd, took a front-row seat as the band played Dixie. The Mississippi team charged onto the field, preceded by three pretty girls carrying Confederate flags. Hardly anyone noticed that Chattanooga was also on the field.
Nor was it entirely noticeable once the game began. Chattanooga received the kickoff—its chance to strike quickly—and fumbled, barely recovering on its own 15. Eisaman was not allowed to try his bomb. Scrappy Moore deciding to test the Mississippi line. It was a mistake. The big line didn't just hold, it attacked, and on third down Chattanooga kicked from its five.
Mississippi got the ball and boom! it scored in four plays, Louis Guy going over from the 15. The crowd whooped, the band swung into Dixie again and Ross Barnett stood up and waved his hat. Incredibly, Mississippi scored again four seconds later when Charlie Grelier of Chattanooga took the kickoff on his one-yard line and stepped back into the end zone to down the ball. The safety made it 9-0. Chattanooga had to punt from its 20, and in four more plays the score became 16-0. Again the band swung into Dixie and Ross Barnett stood up and waved his hat.
Only five minutes of the game had been played, and already Chattanooga was hopelessly out of it. Early in the second period Mississippi made it 23-0 when Griffing threw a 32-yard pass. The band swung into Dixie but this time Ross Barnett remained seated, worn out from earlier efforts.
It was just after Mississippi's fourth touchdown, which made the score 30-0, that Chattanooga's moment arrived. On consecutive plays following the kickoff, Eisaman completed passes to the Mississippi 35-and 17-yard lines. Suddenly Mississippi, which had allowed only three touchdowns in six games, was in jeopardy of allowing a fourth. Frantically, Coach Johnny Vaught rushed his first team back into the game, but before it could get organized, Eisaman completed his third straight pass to the six-yard line. From the stands the Mississippi crowd pleaded with the team to hold that line.
A first-down pass was incomplete and so was a second. On third down Eisaman threw to End Charlie Lingerfelt in the end zone, but just as Lingerfelt was about to catch the ball he was hit hard by two Mississippi defenders. Eisaman stared hard at the referee, but no penalty was called.
Now there was only one chance left. Eisaman took the ball, rolled out to his right, barely escaped a rushing lineman and threw the ball hard. Jim Bradshaw, who had gone down and button-hooked just over the goal line, caught the ball in his stomach and sat down. A ghastly silence fell over the field. On the sidelines several Mississippi players banged their helmets on the ground. Johnny Vaught hung his head. Chattanooga had scored.
It didn't really matter after that. Mississippi, roaring like a wounded lion, scored 22 more points, but Chattanooga didn't care. It had scored its touchdown and it was happy. When the game was over, the team dressed quickly and climbed aboard the bus for home. This time the ride wouldn't seem so long. And when they got home, maybe someone would be there to cheer.