Brown, Gibbs and others thrilled for Sugar Bowl return

Raymond Brown’s day against Texas on January 1, 1958, may very well explain the evolution of the sport of college football.

By: Jeff Roberson

It was the Sugar Bowl, and Ole Miss was becoming a regular. The Rebels had lost to Georgia Tech and Navy in 1953 and 1955 respectively, and this time they intended to win it. But the Longhorns stood in their way.

Enter Brown. After a 39-7 Ole Miss victory he was named the classic’s first unanimous Most Valuable Player, and for years he was the only player from any team to be so honored by voters.

In checking with the Sugar Bowl media relations staff, it could not be confirmed that Brown is still the lone unanimous MVP or how long he held that distinction if there have been others. The process for selection has changed through the years, the staff said.

“I heard that in 1958 there were 116 media credentials that were given out to the Sugar Bowl,” Brown said.

And all of them voted for Raymond Brown. A book by Marty Mule’ called “Sugar Bowl Classic: The First Fifty Years” says just that.

So if that was the case, what all did Brown do to impress?

“I ran for a touchdown, passed for a touchdown, had that 92-yard touchdown thing that was actually 108 yards because I was standing in the end zone. And I had three interceptions.”

Three interceptions on defense, that is. The Ole Miss quarterback then often played both ways, and Brown was one of those. On that team were also quarterbacks Billy Brewer and Bobby Ray Franklin.

Let’s dissect that “92-yard touchdown thing” a bit. It was a called punt with Ole Miss pinned deep in its own territory.

“I’m not sure if it was a high snap or I bobbled it,” Brown said, with the Rebels leading by a wide margin at that moment in fourth quarter. “There was a Texas defensive player coming at me. That little bit of time with the ball made me feel like it was going to be blocked. I juked him, took off to the left, and it wasn’t very far downfield before a lot of Rebels started picking me up.”

Brown scored. It’s still one of the highlight plays and all-time performances in Sugar Bowl history, which now spans 80 years since it began in 1935.

The story goes that one of Brown’s teammates, Jackie Simpson, was yelling for him to lateral the ball to him on the run for some reason.

“I could hear him over the crowd,” Brown said. “The thought actually went through my mind for a split second.”

But he kept it and scored and made Sugar Bowl history.

The very nature of the game of football itself means the quarterback is normally the most visible and recognizable player. That’s been the case for Ole Miss.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 46 years since we’ve played in one,” said Jake Gibbs, who in Mule’s book was called ‘by consensus the finest quarterback in the country’ before his final college game, the January 1, 1961, Sugar Bowl victory against Rice.

Gibbs went on to be named MVP of that game, and the Rebels were named national champions by the Football Writers Association of America.

Gibbs also made trips to Sugar Bowls after that. He worked with quarterbacks for Ole Miss head coach John Vaught.

“I started working with him in 1965, and when we went to the (January 1, 1970) Sugar Bowl after the 1969 season, I was still working with them,” Gibbs said.

Ole Miss beat Arkansas that day, and Archie Manning was named MVP.

Good coaching, Jake?

“Don’t even think that,” Gibbs laughed loudly and said. “Archie did that himself.”

Gibbs played in two Sugar Bowls. The year before the Rice game was the rematch with LSU on January 1, 1960. That game has been well documented through the years with LSU winning the regular season matchup and Ole Miss the bowl game. Franklin was named the MVP of that game.

Gibbs said the following season against the Owls was quite a war.

“Rice had a good ballclub. They were in the old Southwest Conference. They lost three games that year by a total of five points. They were one of the better teams we played that season. They were tough and would hit you.”

After a Cotton Bowl season for Ole Miss in 1961, the Rebels went back to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl following the 1962 season. Ole Miss’ first perfect season was on the line.

Glynn Griffing was the MVP in a 17-13 win against Arkansas that sealed a 10-0 mark for the Rebels. He established a new Sugar Bowl record for passing of 248 yards. 

There might have been pressure to complete the perfect season, but Griffing said Ole Miss teams were always confident of victory.

“We expected to win,” Griffing said. "We always went to good bowl games. We won them most of the time. We really just wanted to get ready for Arkansas and wanted everything to be as normal as possible.”

Fan support this week should be strong for Ole Miss in the game against Oklahoma State. Back in those days Rebel fans always made New Orleans feel like a home game for Ole Miss.

“It’s so close to Mississippi that we always had huge crowds when we went there,” said Griffing, who was a senior and had also been a part of the Sugar Bowl against Rice as a sophomore. “We filled the stadium up, and it was always exciting. It was a first-class thing to be a part of.”

Jim Weatherly was a sophomore quarterback in that Sugar Bowl against Arkansas and went back the following season as a junior quarterback when Ole Miss played Alabama.

“To play in the Sugar Bowl was always an honor. The Sugar Bowl was a big deal,” said Weatherly, who shared quarterback duties against the Crimson Tide with Perry Lee Dunn.

Back then, teams knew where they were going to play in the postseason immediately.

“After the last game against Mississippi State, Coach Vaught would walk in the dressing room and tell us what bowl we were going to,” Weatherly said. “There wasn’t any delay in announcing who was playing in the bowls. Coach Vaught would just walk in and say, ‘We’re going to the Sugar Bowl.’ And that was it. We’d start preparing right then.”

Sugar Bowls were always the standard that Ole Miss teams worked for back then. Although there have been changes through the years as far as the path to get there, a Sugar Bowl appearance remains one of college football’s significant achievements for the teams who play in it.

“I’ve been to a couple of Sugar Bowls (since the last time Ole Miss played in one), but it’s not something I regularly go to,” Brown said. “I’m certainly glad Ole Miss is back in it. I look forward to being there for this one.”

“I’m so happy for the Ole Miss fans who have been so faithful through the years,” Gibbs said. “I’m happy for this team and the team we had last year to go to back to back major bowls. It shows you the kind of job Coach (Hugh) Freeze and his staff are doing. We’re getting on the top level that everyone has wanted to be on for years.”

The level that everyone has wanted to be back on for years, that is.

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