A memorable date with 'Big Daddy'

(This was last week’s column, which is syndicated across the state to more than 20 Mississippi newspapers. You really should hear Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Robert Khayat tell the story.)

Robert  Khayat, a standout guard and placekicker, was accustomed to lining up nose-to- nose, eyes-to-eyes, against the best players in the Southeastern Conference. And winning.

But nothing at Ole Miss or in the SEC prepared him for what he faced 53 years ago tonight at Chicago’s Soldier Field when the best players in college football players from the season before played against the 1959 NFL Champions in the 1960 College All-Star Classic.

Khayat

Khayat took his three-point stance, looked across the scrimmage line, right into his opponent’s chest. All he saw was a huge, blue No.  76 against a white Baltimore Colts jersey. So, Khayat glanced up, and up and up some more. Finally, there were Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb’s piercing dark eyes and his dark, thick beard.

“Boy,” Big Daddy said to Khayat with a bemused look, “does your mama know you are out here tonight?”

Lipscomb, born in Uniontown, Ala., raised in Detroit’s ghetto, was already an NFL legend, 6 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing 300 pounds, a black Paul Bunyan. He had a 7-foot wingspan and those arms were as thick as a normal man’s legs. He never graduated from high school, and was a four-year Marine veteran.

Khayat was 22, blonde-haired, fresh from Ole Miss, and did not need to shave regularly. He gave up half a foot and 80 pounds to Big Daddy. Khayat answered Lipscomb’s question like the polite, southern honors graduate he was: “Yes sir.”

Robert Conrad “Bob” Khayat would go on to a three-year professional football career, quitting on his own terms to enter law school. Lipscomb, already an NFL legend, would die three years later of a heroin overdose at the top of his game.

Big Daddy

Khayat told the story recently on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon at the Neshoba County Fair. There were eight of us around the table, sipping iced tea, seven of us about to fall out of our chairs laughing.

Lipscomb stared down at Khayat on the game’s second play from scrimmage, Khayat’s first. The play before, Lipscomb had bowled over the college all-stars’ starting left guard so savagely the poor guy never got up. Khayat would not name the player all these years later.

“He started crawling and crawled back through the end zone and off the field,” Khayat said, laughing himself. “He just left.”

The guy never came back. Khayat played the rest of the game. So did Lipscomb. Khayat’s mama, if she watched, must have worried herself sick for her baby boy.

On Khayat’s first play, Don Meredith — yes, Dandy Don of Dallas Cowboys and Monday Night Football fame — took the snap and handed the ball to a running back. Big Daddy flung Khayat aside like a sack of potatoes and tackled the runner for a loss.

“For Big Daddy Lipscomb I was like swatting a fly,” Khayat said.

To his credit, Khayat went four quarters, never quitting, always holding.

“I held him every way a man can hold,” Khayat said. “No way I could block him.”

Almost every time Lipscomb knocked him down, Khayat said, he would reach down and help him back up. “Nice try, Sweet Pea,” he’d say.

By now younger fans must be skeptical: “College players versus pros? Since when?”

Up until 1976, that’s the way every football season started: With the best college seniors from the year before going against the defending NFL champions. The results were usually predictable. The pros taught the younger guys often painful lessons. In 1960, the Colts pummeled Khayat and his teammates 32-7. Big Daddy Lipscomb, Khayat says, almost killed him.

But Khayat survived and says Lipscomb hugged him afterward, presumably to congratulate him on still being in one piece.

Most Mississippians know that Khayat went on to become a lawyer, a law professor and Chancellor at Ole Miss. His new book The Education of a Lifetime debuts next month. Lipscomb, dead now for 40 years but still a Bunyon-esque NFL legend, deserves at least some credit. For sure, he taught Khayat a thing or two.

Said Khayat, “…that’s the night I started thinking seriously about law school.”

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Big Daddy could fill up a camera lens.

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