Coach Wobble’s golf tournament is today; stories will be told

Wobble

Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

Today, I will play in the Ole Miss M Club’s Wobble Davidson Scramble Golf Tournament at Lake Caroline. The tournament raises money for a scholarship in Coach Wobble’s name. Davidson, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer was an original. What follows is the column I wrote after his death 18 years ago…

Wobble Davidson, who died Memorial Day of 1998, was an original. He was a philosopher who just happened to coach football. He possessed the vocabulary of an English professor and the delivery of a marine drill sergeant.

He made his point in direct sentences, often laced with five-syllable words and punctuated by four-letter ones.

He could be more kind to you than your favorite uncle and more hard on you than the worst S.O.B. you ever came across. And he was funnier than just about anyone. Wobble Davidson delivered one-liners that Jay Leno would kill for. And he did it every day without trying.

His Ole Miss players, his boys – the ones who stuck with him – love him dearly with seemingly equal parts fear, respect and awe.

“I have always thought that a major reason Coach (John) Vaught was so successful was because he had the same great coaching staff for so many years,” Archie Manning says. “Coach Wobble, as the freshman coach, was the main spoke in wheel. He took boys and made them into men.”

“I was just a nice, skinny boy from Drew when I went to Ole Miss,” Manning continues. “He toughened me up is what he did. On the field, he could have you laughing and crying at the same time.”

Impressing frosh named Alford

Davidson had a nickname for everybody. The skinny kid from Drew was Ichabod Crane. Skipper Jernigan was Hollywood. Robert Khayat was Ox. Billy Van Devender was V.D. Leon Felts, who entered Ole Miss as a freshman at 20, was Phi Beta Felts. Warner Alford was ‘Boon, short for Baboon. He even had one for this writer. Wobble always called me “Professor.” I was honored.

Alford, many years later the school’s athletic director and Davidson’s boss, remembers entering Ole Miss as a freshman in 1956 and Davidson’s first speech. “He told us that some of us were bigger and some of us were faster,” Alford says. “He said there was nothing he could do about that. But he said we were equal in three ways.

“He said we could all be in top physical condition, and we could all be mentally prepared. And he said we could all learn to tackle, because all it took to tackle was courage. And either we had courage or we might as well leave.”

Three years later those freshmen were upperclassmen who gave up three touchdowns all season. They shut out eight foes, including LSU 21-0 in the Sugar Bowl. They could tackle.

“Wobble was tough on us, but he made us better people,” Alford says. “For many, he was like a second father. Let me put it to you this way, I’ve always sent a card to him on Father’s Day just to let him know what he means to me.”

Jernigan ‘runs’ laps on crutches

Former Ole Miss players who played for Davidson seem alike in that respect. They feared Davidson, sometimes hated him, but learned to love him – more as the years passed and they realized what the lessons Coach Wobble taught have meant to them later in life.

Says Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Doug Elmore, “When I was inducted I wrote Coach Wobble a letter and told him that I owed much of whatever I became to him. If I was a Hall of Famer, it was because of him.”

Says Jernigan, who played on Davidson’s last Ole Miss freshman team, “He knew exactly how to get into the hearts and minds of 18-year-olds.”

Jernigan remembers after one poor performance against LSU Davidson had the frosh team work extra hard for the next two weeks – without a football.

“Just blocking and tackling,” Jernigan says. “He almost killed us, but we beat Alabama 21-2 in our next game.

“He’d work us so hard, we thought we were going to die,” Jernigan says. “Heck, sometimes we thought we’d be better off dead. But he’d say, ‘You ain’t gonna die. You’ll pass out first.’

`”He’d tell us, ‘If you aren’t in the hospital, you’ll be at practice. No excuses,’ ” Jernigan says. “That included crutches.”

When Davidson once had the freshmen run laps, Jernigan hobbled around the field on crutches. Says Jernigan, “I’d have done anything for that man.”

He was not alone.

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