Catching up in a lot of UM athletics areas

Editor Jeff writes about future Rebel football schedules, Wellington Mara and the Giants, Don Kessinger and the White Sox, Cooper Manning, soccer, and baseball.

Slowly but surely future Ole Miss football schedules are taking shape. The latest addition, although not completely finalized and a few years off, is Clemson.

The ACC's Tigers and the SEC's Rebels are tentatively slated to play there in 2015 and here in 2016. All that's basically left is for the two parties to sign on the dotted line.

Clemson joins Wake Forest (2006 here, 2008 there), Missouri (2006 there, 2007 here), and Georgia Tech (2010 there, 2011 here) as major conference foes the Rebels have added recently.

The current contract with Memphis has six more games, and it isn't known what will happen with that series beyond those meetings. Most likely it appears the Rebels and Tigers will not play every year in football beyond those games, if they play at all. But that's all speculation at this point.

Katrina all but halted talks between Ole Miss and Tulane. A lot of Rebel fans wanted that old series renewed and there had been dialogue. At this point it does appear Tulane will play football in the future, but as of right now they have no stadium to call home. The Louisiana Superdome and Tad Gormley Stadium at City Park have both been sites of recent Tulane games.

The Superdome needs a lot of repairs, and Gormley was under water a few weeks ago. So the Green Wave could be on the road a lot again next season. They are playing at Auburn in 2006 for a pretty good chunk of change, I hear. Too bad old Tulane Stadium, which sat 82,000 and was torn down in 1980, isn't still standing on Willow Street. But things change and we move on.

Northwestern State, Coach O's alma mater, is coming to Oxford in 2006 and again in 2007. That's a Division I-AA program in Louisiana, but the NCAA now allows one game against a I-AA foe to count toward a bowl each season.

Talks in one form or another over the past months have been with Michigan, Texas, Virginia, Notre Dame, and others. No deals appear close with those schools. But the important thing is that dialogue continues with a lot of different programs about playing Ole Miss in football. And so far the ones added for the future seem to have most fans excited.

Gone for now are the days when a team like Ole Miss loads up on Monroes, Arkansas States, Lafayettes, Troys, MTSUs, etc. It's too expensive to play those teams now. The going rate for a one-time game with those at our place used to be in the $200,000 range. Now you can't get one for $500,000.

Bigtime neutral site games seem to be making somewhat of a comeback. Florida State and Alabama are supposed to play at some point in Jacksonville, and a corporation or group of companies will pick up the tab and pay each school a ton. Don't know if Ole Miss will move in that direction or not.

I do know the plan is to have seven games a season in Oxford. That's four SEC home games and three non-conference contests. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.

Certainly the additions of Wake, Tech, and Clemson of the ACC and Missouri from the Big 12 have added some excitement and spice – and challenge – to the Rebels' future slates in football.


Wellington Mara died this week. Nobody knew Ole Miss players in the NFL better than the late Giants owner.

Mara was a lifer in the NFL, having been involved since he was a Giants' ball boy during his childhood.

Mara's last Rebel to add to the Giants' fold was obviously Eli. Reports are that Mara awoke briefly Sunday just in time to see Eli drive his team downfield for the winning score. Or at least he was told about it after New York's 24-23 comeback win over Denver.

If you go to the players' lounge inside the IPF at Ole Miss, you will see a couple of walls filled with names of former Rebels in the pros. There are 29 former Rebels who have played for the Giants, the most of any pro team. The Saints are next with 16.

Mara most likely knew every one of our 29. None was more important or more famous in New York than the late Charlie Conerly, who played there from 1948-61.

Monday afternoon I was in Clarksdale, Conerly's hometown. Spirit friend Russell Harris' grandmother had passed away over the weekend. James Taylor from the Ole Miss athletics ticket office and I drove over for the service.

I wondered aloud if Conerly was buried in that particular cemetery as we drove in. On our way back to the car, I happened to walk right up to his marker – Charles Albert Conerly, Jr. – Sept. 19, 1921 – February 13, 1996.

Russell's grandfather, Tom Harris, and Conerly served in the Marines together in World War II. Another of their war buddies, Miller Dent of Bolton, visited Conerly's grave Monday with Tom.

And so it was all one of those moments this week, as Mara died on Tuesday, and having seen Conerly's grave on Monday, all of this after watching Eli become the latest Rebel to wear the crown as King of the Big Apple on Sunday.

Ole Miss and the Giants are back together again, like they were a generation ago. Back in Mara's family like they've always been.

Well-known columnist Mike Lupica wrote this week in the New York Daily News about what the Giants meant to Mara: "Family was family, whether it was Frank Gifford or Chuckin' Charlie Conerly or Sam Huff or Kyle Rote or Tittle or Summerall, whether it was Phil Simms or Lawrence Taylor or Bill Parcells. Or the kid, Eli Manning. Family was family."

Lupica said he had seen Mara at a dinner in New York back in the spring. With a wink, the late Giants' owner told Lupica of Eli, "That young man is my future."

Certainly Eli is proving to be a big part of the Giants' future at present, just like a lot of Ole Miss football players from the past had done – including Chuckin' Charlie Conerly of Clarksdale.


Eli's oldest brother, Ole Miss alum Cooper Manning, has called Oxford home this fall for the first time since he was here for college.

Cooper graduated in 1996 and returned in late August with his family as Katrina headed for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

"My wife Ellen and our two children came up here the Saturday before Katrina hit," Cooper said. "We'll have our third child while we're here, to be born in December."

After that, he hopes at some point to make his way back home to New Orleans. He's only been back once to check things out. But after the holidays, he will try to make the move back home to the Crescent City, if possible.

Along with his wife and their two children May and Arch, Cooper's mother-in-law and father-in-law have been in Oxford this fall along with Ellen's sister, her husband and their three children. After spending some time in Neshoba County with her family, Olivia and Archie have also been in Oxford basically all fall.

They all want to go back, and it's almost a day to day process at this point with patience being the key.

"New Orleans is home, so our plans are to go back," said the former Rebel wide receiver, who we all suffered with back in the early 1990s when he had to give up football because of a health situation. "But it's been nice to be in Oxford for a while. Everybody's been so great and extremely hospitable. It's been good to reconnect with some old friends and also make some new ones."

Cooper, who works for Howard Weil Inc. energy research firm, says he is thankful their family had a place like Oxford to go for what has turned out to be a lengthy stay.

"Sure we want to get back, but I believe that the eagerness to get back and the impatience to get back almost directly relates to the situation you are in right now," he said. "Fortunately for us, we've been in a good situation. And we're thankful for that."


There's a former Chicago White Sox manager in Oxford who is smiling today.

Don Kessinger, the former two-sport All-American (baseball and basketball) and former Rebel head baseball coach, is best known for his all-star career as a shortstop with the Cubs. But he also spent some time with the Cardinals and the White Sox. He served as player-manager for the southsiders during the last year of his career in 1979.

I asked him recently what it was like when he became a White Sox player after being a loved and respected northsider for many years.

"I was concerned about that, how the White Sox fans would react," he said. "But the first time I took the field at Comiskey was to pinch run. I really wasn't sure what to expect. When the PA announcer called my name as I ran out on the field, the whole place stood and cheered. It was one of the most memorable moments I ever had in sports."

Not many in Chicago connect with both the Cubs and Sox. Kessinger does. It's a part of his past and who he is. Today, he's a World Series Champion.


Former Rebel wide receiver Breck Tyler was at the recent Ole Miss-Vanderbilt soccer game. So was his dad, Bob.

Many of you remember the Tylers. Some of you know them personally. They were there with other members of their family to watch the game with Breck's daughter, Perryn, who is committed to sign with Ole Miss soccer in February.

Bob was an assistant coach at Ole Miss under John Vaught and by many accounts was the heir apparent to succeed Vaught in 1970. But others had different ideas, and that didn't come to fruition. Bob left to become an assistant at Alabama and in 1972 was named head coach at Mississippi State, bringing the Bulldogs up to respectability after living in the Rebels' shadows for years.

Breck played for Mississippi State but transferred to Ole Miss after his dad stepped down at MSU as head football coach and athletics director. Breck was a solid, sure-handed receiver who made several memorable catches during his two seasons with the Rebs.

One of them was in the season opener of 1981 in the Louisiana Superdome. John Fourcade was injured and Kelly Powell started at quarterback. His pass to Tyler in the end zone with a minute to go in the game tied the score. Todd Gatlin's extra point gave Ole Miss a 19-18 lead. When Tulane missed a field goal try in the game's final seconds, the Rebels had a hard-fought one-point victory to kick off that season.


Barry Gunther is in town. The former Rebel catcher, along with several of his former teammates, has made his way back to Oxford this fall. Some are in school. Some have just finished up instructional leagues. Some are just taking it easy. Barry has gotten engaged since he's been back to longtime girlfriend Kristie Stewart.

Barry's Giants team, Salem-Keizer, had two Texas Longhorns from the 2005 team that played in Oxford on the roster. Barry saw them when he first got there and wanted to find out what they really thought of Ole Miss and the Super Regional here. So he got another team member to ask them as he sat within earshot.

Barry said both Longhorns said it was the best atmosphere they had played in for college baseball, and that Ole Miss was the best team they played all season.

With that, I'll remind you of this. First pitch of the 2006 Ole Miss baseball season is Friday, February 17 at 3 p.m. in Oxford, the first of three games against Saint Louis University.

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