It was to be the South's most significant football game since 1939, when the undefeated, unscored-on colossus that was Tennessee savaged undefeated Alabama.
You may surmise what the Louisiana State-Mississippi collision meant to LSU's Coach Paul Dietzel. His perfect season last year and Sugar Bowl victory electrified the nation. His undefeated Tigers had permitted exactly two field goals to be scored against them all year, while Coach Johnny Vaught's undefeated Rebels had been almost equally miserly in allowing just one touchdown. Dietzel's team was, of course, rated first in the land, and Vaught's challengers ranked way up in third place nationally. The winner would probably become national champion.
Saturday dawned gray and dripping, threatening a further softening of the turf in LSU's Tiger Stadium after a damp week, but scalpers were reported still to be getting as much as $100 for a good seat and $25 to $40 for a poor one.
Under a clearing evening sky a throng of 67,500 filled up the Tiger Stadium saucer, and the LSU partisans' fundamental anti-Mississippi war cry—"Go to hell, Ole Miss" rang out. Temperature 73°; humidity 100%; pent-up emotion incalculable.
The first half was a nightmare for LSU. Three times the Tigers lost fumbles to Ole Miss. The second lapse was by the idolized All-America left halfback, Billy Cannon, and it made possible a Mississippi score.
A tremendous punt by the Rebels' Bobby Franklin had gone out of bounds on the LSU five-yard line. Cannon slammed off tackle to the 15, was hit while moving the ball from one hand to the other and fumbled to Billy Brewer of Ole Miss at the 20. (With Franklin, Jake Gibbs and Doug Elmore, Brewer was one of the Rebels' quarterback stars of the game; he covered all three LSU fumbles.) Ole Miss drove to the three in four plays. On third down Jake Gibbs swept to the right and was hurled back to the five-yard line by a fine LSU end, Mickey Mangham. On fourth down the Ole Miss specialist, Robert Khayat, who is revered at Oxford for having dated both of the recent Miss Americas during their Ole Miss days, kicked a field goal. With just half of the first quarter played, LSU was behind 3-0 and in trouble, for the fast and resourceful Rebels kept the Tigers pinned to their own terrain the rest of the first half.
THREE BIG POINTS
In the third quarter the awesomely gifted Cannon, who weighs 207 pounds and has twice run the hundred in 9.4 seconds, put pressure on Ole Miss by returning an intercepted pass into Rebel territory. With the ball on the Ole Miss 31 the Tigers' Wendell Harris, who had made five field goals in five attempts before Saturday's game, kicked a wobbler that appeared to be partly blocked, and the Rebels' three points looked larger by the minute.
Early in the last quarter Cannon drifted back to field an Ole Miss punt. It was a beauty, off the toe of Jake Gibbs, and angled away from Cannon so that he could not quite catch it. The ball bounced neatly into Cannon's hands at the LSU 11-yard line, and the big fellow was away on the run of the year, the decade or, if you are an LSU fan, the century. He was hit almost immediately, but he drove on. He was hit again and seemed certain to go down. He was hit solidly yet again as he ran the gantlet of Ole Miss tacklers. He did not appear to swerve from a path near the right sideline; he did not make fancy cuts or feints. He insisted under the punishment as a brave bull would under the picador's lance. He finally outran the pursuit near the LSU 40-yard line and fled on to score the touchdown of his life. He was given an ovation that could have been heard in Oxford and must have lasted for two minutes. Harris anticlimactically kicked the conversion.
Ten minutes remained in the game, and the valiant Rebels used nearly all of that time in a long drive that tested LSU to the core. Doug Elmore, the least known of Mississippi's hot quarterbacks, started the attack from the Rebels' 32-yard line. When it penetrated to the LSU 23, Dietzel withdrew the famous Chinese Bandits, who were having heavy weather, and sent in the first team. Still the Rebs marched. They smashed to a first down on the seven—and into an unforgettable goal-line stand. Running from the two on fourth down, Elmore kept the ball, rolled to his left, cut ahead and was stopped cold by Tackle Bo Strange and Quarterback Warren Rabb. Just 18 seconds were left on the clock when LSU took the ball. The crowd counted down from 10 seconds and then went slightly crazy.
Dietzel ran onto the field to shake Vaught's hand and give joyful whacks to the players he could reach. Finally three students carried him off the field on their shoulders.
Stretched out on his back on a trainers' table with a blue towel draped around him and holding an ice pack to his bruised face, Billy Cannon, the home town Baton Rouge boy who was the toast of the town, praised his blockers on that phenomenal 89-yard punt return. "Every time you see your man you try to set up a block," he said. "Every time I saw one he cut a man down. I owed the team something. My fumble gave them three. I'm just glad the blocking got it back for me."
He failed to mention the parts where there were no blockers.
"That," said Paul Dietzel, "was the greatest run I ever saw in football."