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Original Issue

A nightmarish ending for Spook Murphy's dream

Coach Murphy and his Memphis State Tigers thought they could upset Mississippi, but the Rebels put them right in their tank

After unknown Memphis State tied powerful Ole Miss 0-0 last year it was no longer true that the most exciting activity around Memphis was watching the ducks float in the marble fountain with the artificial gladiolas on top in the lobby of the Hotel Peabody. The thing to do was to whoop it up for Memphis State and to believe Coach Spook Murphy when he said his Tigers would beat Mississippi this year. "If we don't," said Spook, "there ain't a cotton picker in Mississippi." Last Saturday more than 15,000 Memphis State whoopers followed Spook to Oxford, Miss. for the big day, surviving a 21-car collision on Interstate Highway 55, a severe parking and hiking problem on the Ole Miss campus and 93° heat. When the game was over Ole Miss had won by the nightmarish score of 30-0 and Spook's friends headed home to watch the ducks.

It was quickly apparent that Ole Miss has another of those teams—faster, bigger and deeper than many of Coach Johnny Vaught's fine ones in the past. The Rebels scored on the fourth play of the game, when a lot of people were still trudging down the hill from the statue of the Confederate soldier. Quarterback Jim Weatherly threw a pass in the Memphis State end zone to Halfback Billy Clay. Two hours later, on the last play of the game, Ole Miss was again on the Memphis State goal line, fumbling away what should have been another touchdown.

In between, Ole Miss pounded out 439 yards passing and running, held Memphis State to a mere 36 and aggressively forced the stunned, jittery visitors into eight fumbles. In fact, the only element of suspense during the long afternoon was whether or not State could make a first down. With two minutes and 56 seconds left in the third quarter, they finally did so, winning a few well-scattered cheers from Memphis people filing out of Hemingway Stadium.

Unfortunately for Memphis State, it was a football-wise audience, one that included Coach Weeb Ewbank and Assistant Coach Chuck Knox of the New York Jets and Talent Scouts Pat Peppier of the Green Bay Packers, Don Klosterman of the Kansas City Chiefs, Harley Sewell of the Los Angeles Rams, Red Ettinger of the Houston Oilers and Charlie Flowers of the San Diego Chargers. Elroy Hirsch of the Rams was lucky. He left the day before the game after watching Memphis State in workouts.

Like most of the enthusiasts, the pros believed they were going to see an epic contest between two teams loaded with prospects. Memphis State had at least four, led by 275-pound Tackle Harry Schuh. Ole Miss certainly would have some; it always does. Before the kickoff the Rams' Sewell said, "You like to see quality go against quality."

Most of the prospects the pros saw turned out to be from Ole Miss. Quarterback Weatherly, for one. Weatherly sprinted the Memphis State ends with ease and completed 14 out of 22 passes. There were other standouts, too. End Allen Brown caught passes in midair, with Tigers glancing off him, and Guard Stan Hindman sometimes smothered Memphis State's quarterbacks before they could fumble.

Nothing had happened during the days before the game to give Spook Murphy the slightest suspicion that a crushing defeat lay ahead. There had been a couple of uninspired workouts, sure. On Wednesday, for example, the Tigers looked so bad the coach had to say, "Just get outa my sight." But on Thursday, Memphis State was sharp again, and Spook, a tall man with a booming voice, was cheerful and confident. Driving through the narrow, shaded streets of the Memphis State campus, Spook almost had a minor collision with one of his assistant coaches. "By dog," he said, "you can tell we're gettin' near game time, because my coaches are stoppin' on green and goin' on red. Well, the hay's in the barn now, anyhow. Nothin' to do but wait."

He seemed to enjoy relaxing and waiting in the athletic dormitory, a new one with a color television set, and discussing his personnel—and that of Ole Miss. "Now you take old Brooks, our end," said Murphy. "He's a big one [6 feet 5, 240], but he's also got some mean in him. Yes sir. He's about half mean." About Hindman, the Rebels' best lineman, Spook said, "That boy is somethin' else. Man, when he lays his ears back he's about half gazelle. You don't find big old boys who run like him."

Nor did it disturb Murphy to talk about the curious fact that most of Memphis State's players come from such quaint southern strongholds as Oak Park, Ill. and Feasterville, Pa. Memphis State had two starters from Illinois, two from Pennsylvania, two from Missouri and one from New Jersey. "You know what?" said Spook. "Those old boys like it down heah. Why, they get taken into our fine homes and get in this fine, warm climate and they like it." Spook grinned and said, "Of course, now, we got some, too, who came because their coaches phoned me up and said come get 'em."

One such player is Quarterback Olie Cordill. Spook acquired him from the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette because Cordill, the son of a former star at Rice, admittedly could not "get along" with the coaches at the Louisiana school. "Just a personality clash, so to speak," said Murphy. "Wish they'd send me more like him. That boy can kick [his kicking against Ole Miss was Spook's only weapon] and do some other things, too."

Talk was one of them. Cordill was relaxed and confident before the Ole Miss journey. "We've had some family feuds out there on the practice field," he said, "but that's good for you. I know one thing. We've got one of the best teams in the nation. Last year we didn't really think we had a chance to beat Ole Miss until after we had tied the game and knew we were better than they were. This year we know it for sure."

Mississippi knew no such thing. The team's attitude before the game was serious, almost grim. The players regarded last year's tie as an insult, and in an effort to atone for it they practiced last week in strict privacy. Reporters, photographers, students—all were banned from Mississippi's workouts.

Drawn by the prospect of a bitter rematch, people began arriving on the Mississippi campus at 9 o'clock in the morning and parked in the Grove, a pleasant little park surrounded by buildings in the center of the campus. Men raised the trunks of the cars and lifted out folding chairs, hammocks, tables, quilts and iceboxes. Women removed huge baskets of fried chicken and sandwiches. Children romped through the trees. Couples played bridge at the tables, read newspapers and magazines. Some slept as they waited for the game. Some listened to the noises of the traffic confusion and wondered if the police were drinking coffee in the school cafeteria. Several were.

Meanwhile Ole Miss Publicity Director Billy Gates worked hectically to find passes for the pro scouts to get through the gates of the stadium. There were just no tickets remaining. As Gates worked out the problem, one man asked how Ole Miss, a big school, really felt—really—about having Memphis State as an opponent?

Gates, his shirt unbuttoned, his brow moist and the phone ringing, studied the question carefully and chose a word. "Crummy," he said.

As the game began and Spook Murphy's sweet dreams quickly turned sour, the pro scouts did not have to struggle very hard for explanations of why it was happening.

"Memphis State is so jittery," said Don Klosterman of the Chiefs. "The Ole Miss defense gives'em the off-tackle, but they don't take it. They're sure tight. Woodlief, their linebacker, is a good one, though. He's staying after them. Even if you're as good as Ole Miss you can't win unless you take it to them."

Charlie Flowers of the Chargers, a former Ole Miss All-America, had the simplest explanation. "This is the best Ole Miss team I've ever seen," he said.

Although dazed by the quickness and the thoroughness of his team's defeat, Spook Murphy was equal to the occasion. "We thought we were movin' into the big time," he said, "but it looks like we're gonna have to tread water for a while."