Mississippi is the place where a doctor hangs up a picture of Archie Manning and asks, "Is it really wrong for a 40-year-old man to be in love with a 21-year-old boy?" Manning is the red-haired, freckle-faced country boy who serves the University of Mississippi both as superstar quarterback and resident folk hero, and last week before the big game with Alabama all sorts of Archie jokes were floating around the Ole Miss campus. For example, there was the one about the poor fellow in Tupelo who intended to jump off a bridge.
"Wait," said a friend. "Think about your family and your religion."
"Don't have any family," the jumper said, "and I don't believe in religion."
"Well," said his friend, desperately, "then think about Archie."
"Jump, you s.o.b., jump."
So you might say Manning was in people's thoughts as Ole Miss set out last Saturday night to beat Bear Bryant and his stoked-up, much improved Alabama team. All week the game had been billed as a replay of last year's turmoil. That had been college football's answer to Gone with the Wind, an Old South spectacular awash with melodrama, madness and more passes than Rhett Butler ever threw. At the end Manning had 540 yards in total offense, not to mention a national reputation, but Alabama and its fine quarterback, Scott Hunter, had won 33-32. The game had ended with a to-be-continued feeling in the air, however, because Ole Miss was driving as the final whistle sounded. Every Rebel fan believed that, given a few more seconds, Archie would have been able to save the honor of the Rebels. Sour grits, said Alabamans; take your loss and mount it up there with your Archie buttons. And there the matter simmered until last weekend, when the rivals met chinstrap-to-chinstrap in Jackson's Memorial Stadium. The game had been a sellout for four months. At the kickoff the 46,000 seats were overflowing with bourbon-sipping, flag-waving zealots, and the flags were not designed by Betsy Ross.
This time Alabama had to play without Hunter, who was on the sidelines because of a shoulder separation, and that was a pity. However, Manning showed the enemy none as he marched the Rebels to touchdowns the first two times they had the ball. The score was 14-0, it was still early in the first quarter, and all the Ole Miss fans were risking tennis elbow from waving their Stars and Bars. But on the field, Guard Skip Jernigan smiled grimly to a teammate and said, "The thing about Alabama is that they never give up. You can have them down 40-0 and they will still come back."
Come back they did. With Manning unable to run well because of a groin injury, and not really on target with his passing, the Ole Miss offense sputtered long enough for Alabama to creep back within nine points, 26-17, in the third quarter. Then the Mississippi defense, which had been swarming over Alabama Quarterback Neb Hayden, recovered a fumbled punt, and that was all the inspiration Archie needed. His passes began connecting. Suddenly Ole Miss had three more touchdowns and had turned the Tide for good.
With the final score Ole Miss 48, Alabama 23, Rebel rooters were justifiably jubilant. It was only the second time Mississippi had beaten Alabama in the last 60 years. Moreover, the Rebels now were 3-0 on the season and bound to move up in the polls. The one person who was not completely happy was Manning himself, even though he had completed 10 of 24 passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns and had run nine times for 46 yards and two more TDs. "I didn't think our passing game was real sharp," Archie said between sips of Coke in the locker room. "And my leg was hurting, so I didn't feel fast. Understand, I'm not complaining, because we got the points on the scoreboard. But the defense won this game. They gave us all the breaks and we took it in."
Strangely enough, Oxford had been relatively quiet the week of the game. On the neat, tree-lined campus the students seemed to be having trouble working up a good hate against The Bear and a couple of pep rallies failed to rally much pep. A morale-boosting panty raid (that's right, sir, they still have panty raids at Ole Miss) accomplished little more than the arrest of 10 fraternity men.
In the athletic offices, however, the mood was serious. Coach Johnny Vaught, a no-nonsense fellow even in his lighter moments, had been unhappy with his team's sluggish performance in a narrow 20-17 escape from Kentucky the previous Saturday. In addition, Alabama's surprising 46-15 victory over Florida had impressed him. All last week he and his staff spent 12 hours a day plotting and watching films and otherwise getting ready for Alabama. Vaught brushed aside talk about last year's game ("That has nothing to do with this one," he said) and scoffed at the notion that the Crimson Tide, which had a 19-1-1 record against Ole Miss since 1910, had the Rebels' number. "No, no, I don't believe in that foolishness," said Vaught one afternoon during a pause in the preparations. "Block and tackle, that's what it's all about. If you knock people down you can move the ball."
Vaught was finding it more difficult to divert the focus of the football world's attention. He frowned and banged a stubby hand on the top of his desk as he said, "It's not that it's hurting us or Archie or the team," he said. "It's just an inspiration for the opposition. Anything you say is just more stuff for their bulletin board. We've had enough articles. What we need to do is to win some games."
Later that afternoon Manning was lying on his bed in the room he shares with Linebacker Bill VanDevender. His game against Kentucky had been only average ("Boy, the mail sure dropped off this week," he said, smiling), and now he was staring at the ceiling and thinking. "I haven't had good games statistically; I'm not even in the top 10 in total offense. But that doesn't bother me. There are not too many games you play like the one we had with Alabama last year, where you have a real offensive battle the whole game.
"I'm looking forward to Alabama. They play good hard football, just like we do. It's difficult to say how the game will go. I think both defenses will work harder. It could end up 0-0, and wouldn't that be something?"
Archie laughed, then rubbed his right thigh. In the Kentucky game he had pulled a groin muscle and it had bothered him all week. He had not run in practice, and his injury was the best-kept secret in the South. "I don't know if I'll be able to run full speed," said Archie, "but I think I'll be all right. I've been throwing as well as I ever have."
Before a game Manning usually looks unconcerned, but last week he was excited. On Thursday he was so absorbed that he almost forgot it was his fiancée's birthday. He remembered in time to give her a dozen roses. "I've never seen him like this," said that young lady, Olivia Williams, a brunette who does nothing to diminish Ole Miss' reputation as the champion Miss America school. "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."
Meanwhile, in Tuscaloosa, Archie had other admirers. A student group sold buttons (WRECK THE REBEL RABBLE) in the union. Pictures of Manning hung on the bulletin board in the Tide's athletic dorm (the "Bryant Hilton").
"Archie beats you in so many ways," said Bryant with a sigh and a sniffle. "He dominates a college game more than Namath did." Bryant had suffered with a head cold all week. He felt so lousy, in fact, that during practice he sat up in his tower on a folding chair instead of prowling about the field as he usually does. But of more concern to Bryant than his health was the fact that his best receiver, George Ranager, was still bothered by a knee injury suffered in Alabama's opening 42-21 loss to USC. And then, during Thursday's practice, a tackle pulled the wrong way and banged into Quarterback Hunter's right shoulder, his throwing shoulder. On Friday morning the injury was diagnosed as a separation and that evening, after the Tide had flown to Jackson, it was announced that Hunter would not be able to play. It hardly looked like an Alabama week, and wasn't.
Like last year's game, this one had several heroes, most of whom wore the white jerseys of Ole Miss. Tailback Randy Reed gained 99 yards and caught two touchdown passes. Wingback 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 up to 14-3. Taking the following kickoff a yard deep in his end zone, Studdard 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."
Studdard was happy about that run, but probably the most satisfied players were the men of the Rebel defensive team. Among its many accomplishments, VanDevender intercepted a pass to set up the first Ole Miss touchdown and Linebacker 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—opened up holes in the offensive line so that Linebackers Brister and Crowell Armstrong could blitz. They dumped Hayden seven times for losses of 79 yards. And it was Aldridge's recovery of the muffed punt at the Alabama 26 that started Archie toward those last three touchdowns.
During one stretch in the second half, Manning worked the option play about as well as a quarterback can. 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 Floyd Franks, 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. Bob Knight carried the ball in.
The Rebels travel to Georgia this week for their toughest road game to date. Looming ahead are difficult sessions with Houston and Louisiana State. After the Alabama game neither Archie nor Vaught wanted to say where they thought Ole Miss belonged in the national rankings, but their smiles indicated that they might be inclined to agree with the President of the United States. Aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga in the Mediterranean last week, some sailors asked Mr. Nixon about the football situation at home.
"Well, Texas looks pretty good with that Worster," said the President. Then he pumped his right arm as if he were trying a forward pass and added, "But watch out for Mississippi and that...ah...ah...ah...that Archie Manning."
O.K., Mr. President, see you down in Mississippi. And don't forget your Archie button.