Gov. Winter remembers 1941 and ‘The Game’
People don’t believe me when I tell them this, but it’s true:
Mississippi State and Ole Miss once played a football game with the Southeastern Conference Championship at stake. It’s true. It happened nearly 74 years ago in 1940.
I have an eyewitness. His name is William Winter and we know him as Governor and one of our greatest statesmen. Gov. Winter, now 91 years young, was in the press box at then-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. He was keeping statistics and covering the game for The Mississippian, then the weekly Ole Miss student newspaper.
The future governor was the sports editor with designs on making a living in the manner of one of his heroes, columnist Walter Stewart, of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
“I wanted to be Walter Stewart,” Winter said. “He was a such an entertaining writer. I tried my best to write like him. I shamelessly copied some of his phrasings.”
Gov. Winter talks about the 1941 Ole Miss-State as if it happened eight days ago, and it happened eight days before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
“Ole Miss was heavily favored that day,” Winter says. “That was a veteran team that featured the H and H Boys, (Merle Hapes and Junie Hovious). State was a really good team, as well, but Ole Miss was supposed to win that day.”
As is the case 73 years later, both State and Ole Miss in 1941 were well-coached. Allyn McKeen, the State coach, entered the game with a 24-3-2 record at State. Harry Mehre, the Ole Miss coach, entered with a 31-7-1 record at Oxford. Both teams were undefeated in the SEC. Both were ranked in the Top 20.
“State scored in the second quarter on a mis-direction play,” Winter remembers. “Jennings Moates took a direct snap and turned around and hid the ball. Meanwhile, State faked a run to the right side of the line. When Ole Miss pursued that direction, Moates took off through the left side for about 4o yards and a touchdown.”
Well, Governor, it was 38 yards to be exact. Nobody’s memory is perfect.
Ole Miss gained 283 yards of offense, compared to 185 for State. Ole Miss forced 13 State punts, but six Ole Miss turnovers — four by fumble and two pass interceptions — were the difference.
“What I remember vividly is that Ray Terrell, who was a sophomore from Water Valley, had a long touchdown run in the fourth quarter that was called back because the official ruled he stepped out of bounds right in front of the Ole Miss bench,” Winter says.
“Ole Miss got inside State’s 20-yard line about six times and never got anything to show for it,” Winter says. “Afterwards I was devastated.”
As Winter recounts the game, this listener comments: “I can’t believe you have such a vivid memory all these years later…”
To which Winter replies, “You have to understand it was the most important thing in my life at the time.”
No, Winter says, he would never have imagined that he was watching the only time in history — at least until now, that State and Ole Miss would play one another for the SEC Championship.
“Both teams were so well-coached, so good that I thought it was something we would see quite often,” Winter says. “In fact, the Ole Miss freshman team that year included three future All Americans, Doug Kenna, Barney Poole and Charlie Conerly. State had lots of great young players. World War II broke all that up.”
Indeed, all too many of those State and Ole Miss players from the 1941 Egg Bowl lost their lives in World War II.
Gov. Winter will be in Oxford Saturday to watch the Rebels play Alabama. He will follow closely the State-Texas A&M game as well. He always pulls for State when the Bulldogs aren’t playing Ole Miss.
In fact, the first college game he ever witnessed involved the Bulldogs. In 1939, State beat Arkansas 19-0 at Crump Stadium in Memphis.
“My family was visiting in Memphis,” Winter says. “It was raining and nobody else in my family wanted to go, but I went and bought my own ticket. The Maroons dominated.”
That was 75 years ago. On college football, William Winter was hooked. He still is.
Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) will host a community screening of the University of Mississippi’s (UM) documentary “The Toughest Job: William Winter’s Mississippi,” produced by the Southern Documentary Project filmmaker Matthew Graves. The screening is Thursday in MPB’s courtyard at 3825 Ridgewood Road in Jackson. The event begins at 6 p.m. with a reception. Governor Winter will speak briefly at 7 p.m. and the screening will follow immediately after. The event is free and open to the public. Hal & Mal’s and Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company will provide food and refreshments.