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Story Archives: Brown remembers 1962
|Brown remembers 1962|
I love sports documentaries. And nobody does them better than ESPN and HBO, especially Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
The pieces with Frank Deford, Andrea Kremer and Jon Frankel are always must see TV.
ESPN's 30 for 30 is right up there with the best.
The idea behind 30 for 30, was to commemorate ESPN's 30th anniversary, by producing 30 films from some of today's finest directors. Each filmmaker brought their passion and personal point of view to each film, detailing the issues, trends, athletes, teams, rivalries, games and events that transformed the sports landscape from 1979 to 2009.
One of the first ones I watched was Two Escobars, about the Columbia soccer team and Andres Escobar and Pablo Escobar, one a team captain the other a drug lord.
I was hooked after that.
The documentary on Marcus Dupree, the great Philadelphia High School running back who went to Oklahoma, was riveting.
So I was anxious to watch last week's edition called "Ghosts of Mississippi."
I was very familiar with the story of James Meredith attending Ole Miss and the riots that broke out in 1962 surrounding that historical event.
As usual, ESPN, specifically directer and writer and narrator Wright Thompson,had me captivated watching the latest presentation.
Thompson had a piece for ESPN not long ago, "10 reasons why LSU's home field is the best in all of sports."
This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the "last battle of the Civil War," the 1962 integration of the University of Mississippi, when President John F. Kennedy sent the National Guard and ultimately the U.S. military into Oxford to force the school to enroll James Meredith, its first African American student. That fall, the Ole Miss football team went undefeated and untied and finished ranked third in the country, and the program hasn't reached a similar level of success since.
The documentary also focused on the all-white Ole Miss football team that conquered the Southeastern Conference, but went basically unnoticed by fans outside Oxford.
The hour-long film weaved through the history of Mississippi segregation and racism, and the pride Ole Miss fans take in the school's football program, up until Meredith's enrollment, when riots that remain a sore spot for the campus and the community erupted.
Football played a role both in alleviating the warfare that took place on the Ole Miss campus.
It was at halftime of a football game between Ole Miss and Kentucky at Memorial Stadium in Jackson when Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett fed off a frenzied, rebel flag-waving crowd and ultimately broke a promise on a secret deal he had made with the Kennedy brothers to allow Meredith to enroll.
The film also focused on a football player, Buck Randall, who saw the carnage of the original riots and attempted, to no avail, to stop them.
And it was football that both acted as a point of pride for Mississippians.
"We've got to show the world that we're not all bad," head coach Johnny Vaught told the team before a game against Houston, highlighting the lack of equality afforded Meredith, who couldn't attend football games because of safety concerns.
Allen Brown, who lives on Lake St. John and was named All-Sophomore SEC in 1962, remembers that night well. He also fondly remembers the magical football season.
Ole Miss completed a perfect 10-0 season in 1962 with a 17-13 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. That team finished ranked third, behind Southern Cal and Wisconsin.
Brown said he watched the documentary and thought it was pretty good.
"They cast us in a bad light for a little while," Brown said. "There were a lot of outsiders who caused problems. There were some people from Lafayette County, and even some from Adams County who showed up before the National Guard who should not have been there."
U.S. Marshals had circled the Lyceum, the home of the university's administration offices, as a show of protecting Meredith, who was assumed to be inside. He was actually in his room at Baxter Hall.
Brown said he and about 15 other football players were at a grill a block from Lyceum when the rioting started.
"We heard all the commotion and went up there," Brown said. "We saw federal marshals surrounding Lyceum. Then I saw a bottle come flying in the air from across the street and it hit a federal marshal in the face. That's when they opened up with tear gas and that's when we high-tailed it to our dorm. The coaches were there and they told us to get to our rooms and lock the doors and they would stand outside and guard them."
Brown said the next day Vaught sent manager Don Estes of Natchez out to find out who was in charge of the troops, who had set up pup tents on the football practice field and the golf course.
"He told Don to tell him he said to get their tails off our field," Brown said. "Don came back and said the person in charge told him to tell Coach Vaught they would be off in 15 minutes, but asked if they could watch practice. We had 4,000-to-5,000 guards watching us practice every day. They would take their tents down when it was time for us to practice."
Ole Miss played only one game in Oxford that year, against Mississippi State. The other home games were played in Jackson.
Brown, who was recently inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, was an All-American in 1964 and all-Southeastern Conference in 1963 and in 1964. He played in the 1964 Blue-Gray Game and 1965 Chicago All-Star Game and Senior Bowl.
As a matter of fact, Brown never played on a losing team, coming close in 1964 when the Rebels went 5-5-1, falling to Tulsa 14-7 in the Bluebonnet Bowl.
In his sophomore and junior years at Natchez-Adams High, the Rebels won the South Big 8 championship.
The Rebels went 7-1-2 in 1963, falling to Steve Sloan and Alabama 12-7 in the Sugar Bowl.
That team finished No. 7 in the nation.
Brown led the team in receiving that season, catching 16 passes for 221 yards, with most coming from Natchez High teammate Perry Lee Dunn.
Brown was co-captain of the 1964 Ole Miss team.
But, understandably, the 1962 season sticks out the most.
"I think it helped how well we did that year because it pulled the student body and all the people together," he said. "I know it did for us. We had a lockdown the whole year except when we went to class or practice. We actually walked by James Meredith with federal marshals around him going to class, but nothing was said that I heard. There was really nothing to it after that night. The reporters and Time Magazine were there and I think they wanted it to be more spectacular than it was. But it cast a bad shadow on Ole Miss for a long time."
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