Instant classic reminds me of one in 1969
We love college football for many reasons, including the emotions the sport evokes from players, coaches and fans. Those emotions leave us with lasting memories, just as Thursday night’s Ole Miss-Vanderbilt instant classic will.
The Rebels’ exhausting 39-35 victory over Vandy left me thinking back to 1969 when Ole Miss was on the other end of a 33-32 defeat at the hands of Alabama.
Older fans, if they were watching the first prime-time college football broadcast, surely will remember, as well. You just don’t forget something like that. It was the same kind of game, back and forth, offenses dominating, until the end, when Archie Manning, easily the game’s best player, walked off the field in tears. (On Oct. 4, 1969, at Legion Field in Birmingham,Manning completed 33 of 52 passes for 436 yards and two touchdowns. He ran 15 times for 104 yards and three touchdowns.)
Manning was watching last night when Jordan Matthews, Vandy’s splendid wide receiver, walked off in tears.
“No,” Manning said, he didn’t make the same connection.
“To be honest, I was just so glad we won,” Manning said “That kid played a great game. Vanderbilt’s offense played a great game. It was a tough game for them to lose. I can’t remember a bigger game in Vanderbilt history, national TV after ending the season with a seven-game winning streak. I know how much it had to hurt.”
Manning set an Ole Miss record for total offense in that Alabama game all those years ago. Matthews didn’t do that, but he did catch 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He did all that despite being double-covered often and despite having to take an IV for dehydration and cramps and despite a fourth quarter injury that him throwing up all over the field.
But the played that sealed the game for Ole Miss was a pass that went off Matthews’ hands and into the waiting hands of Rebel safety Cody Prewitt, who played a whale of a game.
“Fatigue,” Manning said. “I’ve been there. All football players have. That’s a catch Matthews makes 99 percent of the time. He was just worn out.”
Announcers, Matt Millen in particular, made a huge deal of Matthews being back in the game after he threw up repeatedly, as Millen said “the first sign of concussion.”
“I thought they made far too much of that,” Manning said. “I don’t think with all the precautions we have in college football today, especially at a place like Vanderbilt, that they sent that kid back in the game if he had a concussion.”
Matthews surely didn’t play as if concussed. Moments after re-entering the game he made still another clutch catch to keep the Dores’ hopes alive.
Thursday night’s game reminds us it takes two teams to make a classic, the winners and the losers. Although, as Manning reminded me, there will be coaches on both teams, defensive coaches, who won’t consider the Rebels’ 39-35 victory anything resembling a classic.
Said Manning, “Years and years after that 1969 game I was at a function with both Coach (John) Vaught and Coach (Bear) Bryant. Somebody brought up that game and Coach Vaught immediately said, ‘Worst damn game I’ve ever been associated with.’
“And then Coach Bryant said, ‘Nobody played any damned defense.’”
But that’s not what the rest of us remember, from that game and this one, as well.
The lasting memory will be Manning in 1969 and Matthews in 2013, and more excitement and emotion than almost imaginable.
Somebody, even a hero, has to lose.