30 years later: Alcorn-Valley unforgotten
That’s what was supposed to happen 30 years ago next month.
It did not. What happened was something else entirely, something so grand, so magnificent that 30 years later people still talk about it.
As the public address announcer said that day: “Welcome to the game of the week, the game of the month, the game of the year, the game of the decade, the game of the century…”
It was something…
Thirty years later, Alcorn State alumni will host a celebration of the game the night of Oct. 16 at your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. It should be something, too…
A short history lesson is in order for younger fans.
In the fall of 1984, both Alcorn, coached by the venerable Marino “The Godfather” Casem, and Mississippi Valley State, coached by the flamboyant Archie “The Gunslinger” Cooley, were both enjoying historic, landmark seasons.
Both were undefeated, with Valley and its high-powered offense, drawing national attention and Alcorn, with Casem’s traditionally excellent defense, winning week after week.
In early October, I wrote a column in the Jackson Daily News looking forward to their Nov. 4 showdown at Itta Bena. It was too big for the venue I wrote. There was no way the stadium at Itta Bena could handle the masses who would want to attend that game. I proposed moving the game to Jackson and Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, which would hold 50,000 more people.
Problem was, there was a doubleheader scheduled for the The Vet on Nov. 4. So I asked Hall of Famer Barney Poole, then the stadium’s manager, if there was a rule against playing on Sunday. He said not so far as I knew.
So I proposed playing it on Sunday afternoon. It would be, I suggested, the biggest payday in the history of either school.
Both schools went for it. And that’s what happened. And, oh my goodness, what a spectacle it was!
The announced crowd was 63,808 in a stadium that sat officially held around 62,000. Even the aisles were populated. And that was despite the fact the game was televised statewide (and dominated the NFL games in TV ratings that day.)
The game story from the Sunday New York Times follows:
ALCORN STATE TRIUMPHS, 42-28
JACKSON, Miss., Nov. 4— Perry Qualls got five touchdowns, including the go-ahead one with 1 minute 51 seconds to play, in Alcorn State’s 42-28 victory over Mississippi Valley State in a showdown of Southwestern Athletic Conference unbeaten teams today.
Qualls scored on runs of 1, 9, 5 and 3 yards, and caught a 10-yard scoring pass from Richard Myles, as Alcorn State raised its record to 7-0, including 4-0 in the conference.
Mississippi Valley (7-1, 3-1), ranked No. 1 in Division I-AA and averaging 64 points a game, fell behind by 28-7, but scored 21 straight points in the third quarter and early in the fourth on quick drives.
A crowd of 63,808 saw the game, which was originally scheduled for Saturday in Mississippi Valley’s 10,000-seat stadium at Itta Bena. The date and site were changed because of spectator interest.
Qualls, a 5-foot-9-inch, 191-pound junior, finished with 211 yards in 37 carries.
Led by the defensive back Isac Holt, Alcorn State stymied Mississippi Valley’s passing offense, which had averaged 550.4 yards. Holt picked off Willie Totten’s pass with 16 seconds to play and ran 29 yards for the insurance touchdown.
Totten, who went into the game with 43 touchdown passes on the season, completed 26 of 52 passes (four interceptions) for 383 yards, including touchdowns of 14 and 35 yards. He also ran a yard for a touchdown.
Myles finished with 16 of 30 for 306 yards, including 219 in the first half.
That may be the only game story of Jerry Rice’s career that did not include the words: Jerry Rice.
Rice caught several passes but was covered game-long by future NFL star Isaac Holt. Valley fans will tell you Holt held Rice on every play. Alcorn fans will tell you it was simply great defense. Highlights of the game will be shown and viewers can decide for themselves.
The event — Gentlemen of the Gridiron: Thirty Years After “The Game” — is being hosted by the Alcorn State Alumni Association. Many of the game’s main characters are expected to attend. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Click here to purchase tickets.