Southern Miss' 1962 Football Champs Recount Big Season
Southern Miss' 1962 Football Champs Recount Big Season
HATTIESBURG ?? When the Mississippi Southern College football team of 1962 learned a week after the season ended that it had won the UPI Small College National Championship, a celebration ensued.
?We had a parade down Hardy Street and had our picture taken in front of city hall,? said Dwayne Martin, a sophomore on the team.
But not everyone on the squad learned immediately of the good news. Some were out of the loop, recalled Martin's teammate, Nick Kolinsky. ?A bunch of us had gone dove hunting, and I remember we were pulling back into town and someone came up and said, ?You idiots! You missed the parade You're No. 1 in the nation.??
This weekend, Kolinsky has no plans to go hunting, since he will join Martin and many of
their teammates to celebrate the 40th anniversary of that 9-1 season.
A lot has changed since then. That same year (1962) ? MSC became The University of Southern Mississippi, and in the next two seasons began playing football at the major college level. A few years later the team changed its nickname from ?Southerners? to ?Golden Eagles,? but the memories of that ?62 championship season will likely be rekindled Saturday when the team is honored at halftime of the Southern Miss-East Carolina football game at Roberts Stadium.
Organizers of the event expect more than 30 players and coaches from the team from all over the country to come to Hattiesburg to gather for a series of reunion events, recall old times and renew old friendships.
?The thing that impressed me the most was that we had an awful lot of talent on that team,? said Larry Hancock, a junior on the 1962 team and one of the organizers of the reunion. ?We had depth at every position and we had players at every position who were willing to pay the price to have a great season,?
MSC reeled off four straight victories to start the season, beating Arlington State (now Texas-Arlington), Richmond, Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) and Tennessee-Chattanooga before traveling to Memphis to face arch-rivals Memphis State (now University of Memphis) Tigers. The Southerners were 8-point underdogs going into the game, but had an opportunity to salvage at least a tie had it not been for a controversial call near the end of the rain-soaked contest, a painful memory that remains fresh for many on the team.
In the game's closing minutes, with the Tigers leading 8-6, MSC scored a touchdown and went for a two-point conversion in an effort to tie the score. Quarterback Billy Coleman hit Jimmy Havard with a pass and Havard appeared to get into the end zone with the ball. The referees disagreed, however, and did not give him the conversion after the Memphis defense knocked Havard out of the end zone before he touched the ground.
?The film clearly showed I was in (the end zone). I broke the plane (of the goal line),? said Havard. ?But that's just spilled milk now.?
Kolinsky insists that Havard scored on the play. ?I was standing on the goal line and watched Billy Coleman throw the ball and Jimmy catch it, and he was clearly in the end zone," he said. ?(Memphis linebacker) John Bramlett knocked him out of the end zone, but it didn't matter ? the ball had crossed the goal line. It's still a nightmare to this day. It was the only blemish on our season and it shouldn't have been.?
Havard said MSC head coach Pie Vann pulled his players ? who were complaining vehemently to referees following the call ? to the sideline to put a few words in himself. ?He got us all off the field, and then went out and gave that official a piece of his mind,? he said.
The Southerners rebounded from the loss to win the next five games, including a 30-0 win over North Carolina State in Mobile, along with victories over Abilene Christian, Arkansas State, Trinity and Louisiana Tech. Like many Southern Miss teams that followed, the 1962 edition of USM football was known for its defense, allowing only
63 points and recording three shutouts.
Ben Willoughby, a former fund-raiser for the USM Athletic Department, holds the distinction of having been on both the 1958 and 1962 national champion teams.
?It's kind of a unique situation,? he said. ?I wish I could have played in ?58 (as a freshman), but I wasn't good enough yet. It's(championship special to me and the guys that were on the(1962) team. It was quite an honor.?
Assistant coaches for the team included Maxie Lambright, Morris Meador, Tom Pratt and Pete Taylor. Larry (Doc) Harrington was the trainer and Joe McDavid was the student trainer.
Players expected to attend the reunion include then-seniors Marvin Breazeale, John Brechtel, Coleman, Harold Hale, Havard, Don Hultz, Willoughby and Jerrel Wilson; juniors Sam Bella, Jim Berry, Tony DeFranco, Hancock, Kolinsky, Dwayne Martin, Joe Owen, Bud Pigott, Wiley Rice and Tommy Walters; and sophomores Andy Armstrong, Berenger Brechtel, Larry Ecuyer, Jim King, Ken Martin, John Melton, Herman Nall, Vic Purvis, Doug Satcher, George Sumrall, Skeeter Waites and Will Willoughby.
Breazeale, a defensive standout on the team, credited the coaching staff ? including the late Vann, one of USM?s winningest head coaches ? for much of the Southerners? success. Vann won 139 games over 20 seasons and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
?He was a real gentleman, and a guy who expected you to work and who got you in shape,? said Breazeale of Purvis, who now serves as Lamar County sheriff.
Hancock and Kolinsky have equally high praise for Vann. ?There wasn't a finer man,? Hancock said. ?Not only did he have the football program at heart, but he had us (players) at heart. He cared about us, made sure we went to class. He was just a tremendous person.?
Kolinsky holds Vann at the same level of esteem as he does his own father, and remembers him as someone the team respected. ?When ?the man? talked, everyone listened,? Kolinsky said. ?There was no rolling of eyes. He got your attention simply by calling a meeting.?
Like many on the 1962 team, Havard and Kolinsky are grateful not only to have played on a champion team, but to have had the benefit of receiving a scholarship to play football.
?I appreciated the chance to earn a college degree, ?said Havard who now serves as Forrest County Chancery clerk.
Kolinsky, a native of Pennsylvania, remained in the Hattiesburg area, raised a family and went into private business area after his stint at USM. He credits the opportunities and rewards he's earned to the education he received through his football scholarship at Southern Miss.
?USM gave me a life,? he said.
David Tisdale is a senior writer for the Southern Miss Department of Marketing and Public Relations