1963 Liberty Bowl Remembered

Bulldog fans are more than happy to be part of the 2007 postseason bowl schedule. Mississippi State accepted a berth in the 49th Annual Liberty Bowl. The Bullies will be looking to ring the Liberty Bell for the third time in the bowl game's long history. In State's first Liberty Bowl, 1963, Ode Burrell led the Maroon and White to a win over North Carolina State.

Coach Paul Davis led the Bulldogs to a 6-2-2 regular season record, but star halfback Ode Burrell still wonders what might have been.

"We had an excellent season," Burrell said. "Justin Canale was our field goal kicker. He missed an extra point against Florida down in Gainesville and we tied them 9-9.

Then we went up to Memphis State and we got beat 17-10. The next week we played over in Tuscaloosa and we got beat 20-19 and Canale missed some extra points that day."

Make no mistake, Ode's not trying to paint Canale as a goat. The Bulldog legend is attempting to illustrate how close the Bulldogs came to even greater riches than a Liberty Bowl appearance.

"When you look back at it you have to remember that he was playing both ways," explained Burrell. "Everybody played both ways, but it's real tough on a guy to ask him to come in and kick field goals and extra points and play guard too."

The Bulldogs earned some hard fought victories on the road over some SEC heavyweights.

"We beat Tennessee up in Knoxville and we beat Auburn over on the Plains," said Ode. "Ole Miss tied us that year. They were chicken. They wouldn't go for anything. Canale missed a field goal at the end of that game that would have beat them and they won the SEC that year."

The Goodman, Mississippi native believes the Bulldogs were able to out think and out quick their bigger opponents.

"We didn't have a real big team, but we had a real smart team and a pretty quick team," said Ode. "We had guards that were 5-11 and weighed 210 pounds. You can't play like that now-a-days, the game has changed."

After the season was over, MSU players were unsure of their destination or their post season opponent. Neither detail seemed to matter to the Bulldogs. They were just ready to play.

"Our guys were pretty well committed," said Burrell. "We would have played anywhere really. Leading up to the game, it was just like any other game. We didn't even know who North Carolina State was. We had never heard of them. I think all we saw was one or two films of them. We just went out there and did what we did best and that was run the ball."

The Liberty Bowl was televised on NBC that year and it was the first time a Mississippi State football team had played before a nationally televised audience.

The Wolfpack and Bulldogs squared off in the Liberty Bowl's final year in Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium.

"We played up there in a 100,000 seat stadium and I think they said we had 8,000 people there," said Ode. "It looked like a group of black birds sitting out there in the snow. It was cold, real cold. It was 18 degrees when we played that day."

The extreme winter weather was something to behold for the sons of the south.

"It was real exciting," said Burrell. "It was country that at least 3/4ths of us hadn't ever seen before. We flew up on a big jet plane. The pilot was talking about it was 40 degrees outside and I started looking for ice outside."

The Bulldogs won the 4th Liberty Bowl 16-12 over N.C. State. Ode explains that the game was worse than the score indicated.

"Well, it really wasn't that close," explained the AFL veteran. "We dominated them the whole game. Every time we would make a long run, they would call it back on a penalty. I was very disappointed in the officiating, but of course I didn't have anything to do with it. I was playing it and it kind of hurts when every time you make a 15-yard run, they call it back."

A few questionable calls withstanding, Burrell played well enough to earn Most Valuable Player honors.

While most of the Bulldog team got the chance to see the sites after their big win, Ode was off to play in another ball game.

"I left after the game and I went to go play in the Blue/Gray game over in Montgomery, Alabama," said Ode. "The rest of the team went on over to New York and stayed for a couple of days, so I didn't get to make that part of the trip with them. It was a big time."

Despite all of his travels and experiences, Burrell is still a Bulldog at heart. The All-American is still a big fan of the Maroon and White.

"I follow the team quite often," said Ode. "I watch them on TV and go up and watch them play some. I went up to see them play Alabama this year. I like Coach Croom. I think he is a good guy and I hope we can keep him up there a few more years. I think he is going to improve every year. He has made liars out of a lot of people, so I am glad for him on that end of it also."

Being the product of a Mississippi High School and University education, Burrell would like to see more Mississippi prospects stay home for their college days.

"When it comes to recruiting we need to keep our Mississippi players in Mississippi Universities," said Ode. "A lot of these players that go to Alabama or some where else is somebody that State or Ole Miss could use. That's a problem. I don't understand it. Our stadiums and our fields are nice. You can get get a good education in Mississippi just as well as you can get one at Alabama or LSU."

After his playing days in Starkville were done, Ode went on the play for the Houston Oilers of the AFL from 1964-1968. He was named the Oilers MVP in 1967 and in 1968 Ode was selected to the Pro Bowl. Burrell was selected as an All-American and All-SEC for his play at Mississippi State. He currently resides in Gautier, Mississippi.

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