350-21: In 1959, Rebels were that one-sided
You read the statistics and scores from the 1959 Ole Miss football season and it’s like reading something out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Such excellence seems hardly possible.
Outscored opponents 350-21? Believe it.
Never allowed a touchdown drive of more than eight yards? Believe it.
Scored more than 33 points a game? Believe it. Allowed fewer than two per game? It’s true.
Twelve members from one team in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame? You can believe that, as well, and that doesn’t count the coaches.
The 1959 Rebels will be celebrated at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Thursday night at the Renasant Bank Toast to the 1959 Ole Miss Rebels. There will be a reception at 6 p.m. and a program at 7. The night’s activities will be highlighted by the showing of a documentary made about the 1959 Ole Miss season. In this case, seeing is believing. The film might be black and white — and grainy in spots — but you can still see that Ole Miss players are bigger, faster and better coached than their foes.
John Vaught, who coached Ole Miss to six Southeastern Conference championships (the last in 1963), called the 1959 team the greatest he ever witnessed.
“If there was a better team than that one, I never saw it. We did not have a weakness,” Vaught told this writer shortly before his death. “We not only had great players, they were great people. You knew they were going to be successful in life.”
This was back before recruiting limits. Vaught often recruited 55 to 60 players. Competition for playing time was often more intense than games.
Keep in mind, Vaught usually rested his starters most of the second half.
“We begged to play some more,” said fullback and co-captain Charlie Flowers. “Didn’t do us any good at all.”
Vaught said he had reserves on his team who would have been stars elsewhere. He said he red-shirted players who would have started for many of the teams Ole Miss defeated.
The team lost only to LSU, 7-3, on Billy Cannon’s famed 89-yard punt return in a game otherwise dominated by the Rebels. In a Sugar Bowl rematch, Ole Miss defeated the Tigers 21-0 and Cannon rarely got out of his own backfield.
The one loss haunts the Rebels to this day. If not for that one defeat, the 1959 Rebels might well be considered the greatest team in college football history. As it is, when Sagarin (a computer ratings system used by USA Today) rated college football’s best teams of all time, the 1959 Rebels checked in at No. 3, behind two undefeated Nebraska teams.
Says Robert Khayat, the long-time Ole Miss chancellor and a key player on that team, “I don’t think there’s any doubt that if we had won that game — which we should have won — you couldn’t rank any team of any era above us.”
Here’s how good and deep those Rebels were: When Ole Miss practiced for Tennessee’s single-wing offense, a scout team of redshirts and freshmen learned the single wing to help prepare the Rebels. Ole Miss then routed Tennessee 37-7 and Vaught said his scout team ran the single-wing better than Tennessee’s ninth-ranked Vols.
Years ago, Flowers, who surely would have won the Heisman that year if not for Cannon’s punt return, pointed out the players, one-by-one, in the1959 Ole Miss team photo.
“Bank president, CEO of his company, athletic director, mayor, Chancellor, head football coach, Major League baseball player, insurance executive, another mayor,” Flowers said, and he kept on going.
There were 43 players in the photo. Forty-two, Flowers said, graduated. These days, 60 percent is considered off-the-charts as a graduation rate.
Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up. And it’s too good for Ripley’s.
Order your tickets to the Renasant Bank Toast to the 1959 Rebels here.