Not Even Past

Not Even Past
Alabama at Ole Miss
SEC Game of the Week
October 8, 2007
By Bob Epling

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (Gavin Stevens in William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun)

The Bear walked on water.

At least in that picture hanging on the wall in Arab, Alabama, he did.

A clear and dear memory I hold onto is of making many visits as a young boy to see my cousin Ricky and his family in that small northeast Alabama town near the Tennessee River. As we talked and laughed into the nights, from the pallet on the floor of Ricky’s bedroom I could look up and see a framed drawing of legendary Alabama coach Paul Bryant on the wall.

The Bear walked on water.

Actually, it was a cartoon figure of a vigorous and youthful Bryant, wearing an Alabama baseball cap and windbreaker instead of his trademark houndstooth hat and suit coat, smiling confidently as he strode across the water amid dripping caricatures of mascots from the other SEC schools.

A Florida Gator splattered about. Miniature Bulldogs of the Mississippi State and Georgia breeds struggled to stay afloat. A Wildcat floundered here, a Bengal Tiger thrashed there, a Commodore slowly sank beneath the Bear, and old Colonel Rebel helplessly waved his cane against the tide.

The Bear walked on water.

You know the numbers but still they stagger. At Alabama, 232 wins (of 323 total), 46 losses, and 9 ties, that included six national titles (either outright or a share). Winning 107 games and losing only 14 during that magical stretch between 1971 and 1980.

Making the transition from a passing attack led by flamboyant quarterbacks like Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, and Scott Hunter, to a wishbone ground game with stars such as Johnny Musso, Wilbur Jackson, and Major Ogilvie.

The Bear cast a shadow that engulfed all the coaches who followed him until the seismic hiring of Nick Saban (with the notable exception of Gene Stallings), and the jury is still out on St. Nick.

Yes, the Bear walked on water.

Of course that is in the past.

The past once provided a grander time for Ole Miss too.

A time when Colonel Rebel didn’t struggle so mightily against Bama or any foe; a time before the old mascot had been killed off by campus political correctness; a time when another southern coaching giant built such a legacy that a campus stadium also bears his name.

The Golden Age of Ole Miss football lasted from 1947 to 1970, and the coach was John Vaught.

During those years, Johnny Vaught led the Rebels to an era of excitement never duplicated in Oxford. Under Vaught the Rebels won 190 games, lost 61, and tied 12. Six of Vaught’s teams won SEC titles, and three of his squads claimed shares of national championships by at least one rating system (1959, 1960, and 1962).

The Rebs of the Vaught years churned out quarterbacks like the sentences Faulkner churned out on a typewriter … smart, tricky, and hard to keep up with.

Charlie Conerly was the first.

Chuckin Charlie, as much tailback as quarterback at Ole Miss, set a national record for touchdown passes with 18 during Vaught’s first season in 1947, and went on to quarterback the New York Giants for more than a decade, winning NFL MVP honors in 1959.

Archie Manning was the last.

From 1968 to 1970, Manning quarterbacked Ole Miss with enough charisma to become the program’s most storied player and a southern folk hero to many during a tumultuous time. At my house in Georgia, I even kept a newspaper clipping taped to my closet door with the words to the “Ballad of Archie Who” (by the Rebel Rousers!).

Between Chuckin Charlie and Archie Who were other great signal callers like Farley Salmon, Rocky Byrd, Eagle Day, Jake Gibbs, and Perry Lee Dunn.

Yes, the Rebels once were exciting and powerful.

Alabama and Ole Miss meet this Saturday. Bryant and Vaught will be there, but only in the spirit of those who remember.

There was a time when there were no finer southern teams and no better college football coaches leading them.

Of course, that is in the past.

Game Ball: Alabama

bobepling@yahoo.com

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