Oct. 13, 2011
*Written by the 'Voice of the Golden Eagles' John CoxDid you know that the University of Southern Mississippi (then Mississippi Southern College) is believed to have been one of just a handful of teams to have played a college football game outside the continental United States? For the final game of the 1946 season, the Southerners took their first plane flight, traveling to Cuba to play the University of Havana in a Dec. 14 game dubbed the "Tobacco Bowl," with a $300 silver loving cup to be presented to the winner. If the Americans won, the cup was scheduled to be returned to Havana, the following year and presented to the victor in a game between Havana and another U.S. team.
The game was played in the University of Havana's beautiful $1 million stadium-gymnasium, which seated 12,000. Mississippi Southern College President Robert C. Cook and 16 other supporters, most of them prominent Hattiesburg businessmen, accompanied the team, which was greeted on arrival by members of the Havana team; Jimmy Kendrigan, who had coached the Havana team for 23 years; and Dr. Joaquin Cristofal, administrator of the stadium. Through William Powe, a former Hattiesburg resident who had been in business in Havana for 26 years, Cook and Hattiesburg businessman C.C. Sullivan called on Durley Harwood, the United States ambassador to Cuba. Cook, Coach Reed Green, Sullivan and several others from the school's entourage made an official call to Dr. Clemente Inclan, Havana University's rector, and invited him and his team to make a return visit to Hattiesburg. The MSC party was treated well, staying at the Plaza hotel and eating in a colorful Havana restaurant.
The Southerners returned the hospitality by soundly defeating the Cubans, 55-0. Paced by halfbacks Buster Mullin and James "Ding Dong" Bell, each of whom scored twice, the Southerners tallied eight touchdowns. Havana athletic officials had expressed concern that the game might end in a fight because of the Cubans' "hot temperament," but the contest was unusually clean, with only two penalties, both for being offside. The victory gave the Southerners a 7-3 record on the year. They had scored 243 points that year and surrendered only 52.
On Feb. 3, 1947, the University of Havana visited Hattiesburg to meet Mississippi Southern in basketball. Another meeting between the two schools never occurred and the basketball game was the final time the two would ever meet in any sport.
During pre-game ceremonies, Havana's Kendrigan presented to MSC president Cook the Tobacco Bowl cup won by the Southern football team. He said he made the presentation on behalf of the tobacco industry of Cuba, sponsor of the Tobacco bowl game, and that Southern would be expected to defend the cup against a selected opponent the following year.
Prior to the presentation Dr. Cook welcomed the Havanans to Hattiesburg and after the trophy ceremony he presented each of the visitors with a small medallion. Dr. Cristofal responded by removing his university graduating insignia from his lapel and presenting it to Dr. Cook.
The Cubans extracted some revenge for their loss in football by winning on the hardwood 62-55. Before a crowd of approximately 2,000 at the Hattiesburg High School gym, the Cubans took an early lead and held it for the first six to eight minutes of the game. Southern finally tied the game for the first time at 12-12 on a long shot by Jay Smith. After that, it was nip-and-tuck the remainder of the first half. The score was tied four more times and the lead changed hands a like number of times. Havana finally pulled out in front 31-27 just before halftime.
With four reserves starting the second half for the Cubans, who put on an amazing exhibition of passing, they held the advantage for several minutes before successive field goals by Evan Ragland and Webb Weathers tied the score at 37-37. After the lead had changed hands a couple of more times, Havana put its starters back on the floor moved ahead 45-44 and remained ahead the rest of the way.
Fico Lopez, a sharp shooting forward was the big gun in the Havana attack and scored 21 points. He was topped by Southern's Weathers who had 25 points before going out of the game in the last minute of play with a sprained ankle.
Although the Golden Eagle football team in enjoying an open date this weekend, the excitement is building for next weekend's Homecoming matchup with the SMU Mustangs. The game will be just the third ever meeting between the Golden Eagles and the Mustangs. If you haven't had a chance to see the Golden Eagles in person, this would be a great opportunity to watch them play. They are 5-1 on the season, the best start since 2004, and are 1-1 in Conference USA. Coach Larry Fedora and his Golden Eagles are right in the thick of things in the Conference USA championship race and we need to "Pack the Rock" for Homecoming on Oct. 22. Three of our greatest football players will be inducted that night into the Legends Club, Bucky McElroy (151-53), Hugh Laurin Pepper (1952-53) and John Melvin "Bubba" Phillips (1947-1950). McElroy and Pepper will be on hand for the ceremony. Phillips died in 1993 and will be represented by a family member.
Basketball season is just around the corner and the Lady Eagles opened preseason practice back on Oct. 5, while the Golden Eagles open up preseason workouts Friday, Oct. 14. The Golden Eagles will play exhibition games against Loyola of New Orleans on Oct. 27, and William Carey on Nov. 8, while the Lady Eagles play an exhibition game against West Alabama on Nov. 7.
The season opener for the Golden Eagles is set for Nov. 12, against Spring Hill College, while the Lady Eagles open the season two days later (Nov. 14) against William Carey. Both games are at Reed Green Coliseum. Next week should be another exciting week in Golden Eagle athletics and I hope you join us to be a part of it all.
Southern Miss to the Top!!!