When Ole Miss owned the Sugar Bowl

Let this next statement sink in for a moment. Some of you actually lived it.

Ole Miss went to the Sugar Bowl eight times during an 18-year stretch.

I've heard Chancellor Khayat say he wants Ole Miss fans to experience Sugar Bowls like he and his teammates did. I heard Archie say at the Ladies Football Forum this summer he was long past ready for the Rebels to get back down to New Orleans for the game that he once was named MVP.

I'm not sure which is more unbelievable, that the Rebels went to the Sugar Bowl eight times in 18 seasons, or that they haven't been since, dating to Jan. 1, 1970.

Back then the bowl committees just picked the team they wanted, and Ole Miss was a New Orleans favorite and a national power. When the SEC champion was sent there annually, it was just after Ole Miss stopped going. Now, of course, there are the SEC title game in Atlanta and the other BCS equations to figure in to get there.

There used to be seen around these parts and around the state a poster with a group of Ole Miss football players holding an Ole Miss script flag while standing on top of the Louisiana Superdome with the words "We Shall Return" on it. You can still see some of them around town. Some of you may have one in your homes.

Right now a Sugar Bowl might be considered down the road a bit for the Rebels, although without playing an SEC game yet this season there is always that hope. It's why the games are played.

I think you can see that with the Wake Forests of the world, making it to the Orange Bowl season before last, that with the right mix of coaching staff, players, the way a conference might line up that particular year, lack of injuries, etc., you can get there. Vanderbilt coming in Saturday with another highly competitive team continues to carry that hope of being a bowl team it has each season.

This wouldn't necessarily be a topic for mid-September except that I ran across a story on the official Ole Miss athletics website talking about the Rebels, specifically Coach Vaught and how he owned the Sugar Bowl all those years. This was back when there were only eight or ten bowl games each year.

That was then; Saturday is now, and the hope of getting back always remains, especially prior to the opener each year of SEC play.

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Ole Miss legendary head coach John Vaught was the subject of a recent blog regarding the 75th Anniversary of the AllState Sugar Bowl.

Johnny Vaught: A Giant of the Game

By Marty Mule'

It took a little while to get the hang of the Sugar Bowl. But once Johnny Vaught did, his Ole Miss Rebels practically owned the game.

Vaught, one of the most important figures in Sugar Bowl history, coached the University of Mississippi to eight postseason extravaganzas in New Orleans in the seasons between 1953 and 1970. Ole Miss lost to Georgia Tech 24-7 in the 1953 game, then was mortified 21-0 by what SEC observers erroneously thought was an Eastern creampuff in Navy in 1955.

After that, however, the Rebels seemed to take a regular visit - and victory - to New Orleans as almost part of the season. The defeat to Navy was followed by a 5-1 Sugar Bowl record between 1958 and 1970, including probably the most satisfying victory of his distinguished coaching career.

With his trademark roll-out option from the wing-T offense, Vaught's Sugar Bowl record parallels that of his entire career, which ended with an overall 190-61-12 worksheet and a total of 18 postseason appearances.

Consider, when he took over at Ole Miss in 1947 the Rebels ranked ninth in the all-time SEC standings. When Vaught retired in 1970, the Rebels had moved up to third. Consider that when he took over Ole Miss had never won an SEC championship. Under Vaught the Rebels won six titles. And since he left the Ole Miss sidelines, the Rebels have not been able to notch a single other championship.

Things like that seem to point to certain conclusions, and this is one: somebody was doing some serious coaching in Oxford in those years.

Vaught, who died in 2006 at the age of 96, also left a large imprint on the complexion of the Sugar Bowl. Alabama's Bear Bryant was the main figure in the tie-up between the SEC and the Sugar, but he may not have been able to get the league to commit its champion to New Orleans without Vaught.

The pair were the most familiar to New Orleans because their teams were such Sugar Bowl regulars (once even playing each other).

Bryant had to be persuaded by his close friend, Sugar Bowler Aruns Callery, but when he decided this was the best course for the SEC, Bryant joined with Vaught in buttonholing their fellow athletic directors in the cause. The proposal probably would have failed without them. Bryant felt he could deliver three votes, which left seven for Vaught. "I guess part of the reason we were able to do it,'' Vaught said later, "is because Bear and I went to so many bowls. We were kind of the dominant teams as far as bowls were concerned, and I think the other athletic directors recognized that if we stood behind it, it had some merit.''

Ole Miss was practically unbeatable in the Sugar Bowl after its first two appearances, losing only once in Vaught's final six games - that was 12-7 to Bryant's Crimson Tide in 1964, with snow surrounding the field, and when Tim Davis kicked four field goals and the Bama defense forced 11 fumbles from the high-octane Rebel offense.

Other than that, Vaught's Rebels ran through a series of Hall of Fame coaches and their teams: Darrell Royal, whose Texas Longhorns were stampeded 39-7 in 1958; Jess Neeley and his Rice Owls, 14-6 in 1961 - after which Ole Miss was accorded a share of the national championship; and twice beating Frank Broyles' Arkansas Razorbacks, 17-13 in 1963 and 27-22 in 1970.

But probably his most remembered Sugar Bowl moment was the 1960 rematch with archrival LSU, the defending national champion who had beaten the Rebels 7-3 on Billy Cannon's famed punt return in the regular season.

Vaught had been heavily criticized for his conservative approach in the defeat, and in the bowl he gave the Rebels the green light to "go for broke.'' He wasn't going to hold anything back.

The Ole Miss task was made easier by LSU's injury situation: Warren Rabb, the LSU quarterback, was still hobbled from a knee strain from a game more than a month before; halfback Johnny Robinson, who started with a protective covering over his fractured hand and would not carry a single time in the Sugar Bowl; nor did another halfback, Wendell Harris, whose injuries kept him completely sidelined. It all meant the Rebel defense could zero in on LSU's only threat, Cannon.

"We did something I don't think we had ever done before,'' Rebel safety Billy Brewer said. "We went to a man defense in the secondary because we knew LSU wouldn't be a passing threat. My assignment was to stay with Cannon, go everywhere he went.''

From the start the Rebels, seven point favorites, applied pressure to the Tigers, who were saved by an interception at the LSU 5, a missed field goal from the 18, and at the 11 where the Tiger defense held.

Then, with 38 seconds left and Mississippi on its 42, the Tigers were assessed a 15-yard personal foul penalty. Ole Miss' Jake Gibbs, who led the SEC in total offense, received instructions from the bench. He took the snap, started to roll out, and pulled up behind tackle. Delaying for an instant while Ole Miss' other receivers flared to different areas, taking the deep defenders with them, James "Cowboy'' Woodruff raced downfield behind end Larry Grantham and cut slightly to the center where Gibbs' pass was arching down.

No Tiger was within 15 yards of the receiver.

"I don't think there's any question that the touchdown pass just before the end of the half broke our backs,'' Tiger coach Paul Dietzel said. "It might have been a different game if we had gone into halftime 0-0.''

But LSU didn't.

Grantham caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Franklin in the third quarter, and an eight-yard TD pass fourth-period to Dewey Partridge made a striking illustration of just how dominant Ole Miss was: The touchdown pass just before the half was the first passing score against LSU in 14 games, and against the Rebels the Tigers yielded three in one afternoon.

Ole Miss held an awesome edge in statistics, 363 yards to 74, the lowest offensive total in Sugar Bowl annals; the Tigers gained 49 yards rushing but lost 64 for a net gain of minus 15 yards. The longest Tiger gain of the day was eight yards by Darryl Jenkins of the Chinese Bandits - LSU's defensive unit. It had taken LSU more than 25 minutes to get its initial first down - and that was the only one the Tigers were credited with in the first half. Cannon gained eight yards in six carries.

Vaught was magnanimous in victory, pointing out the Tiger injuries.

But he did so through a wide, satisfied smile.

*** Marty Mule' is the author of the history Sugar Bowl Classic.

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