Remembering Doug Elmore, a graceful man

We will celebrate the greatest team in Mississippi football history Thursday night at the Renasant Bank Toast to the 1959 Ole Miss Rebels. As this is written, 26 of those Rebels will attend. Seven team members are no longer with us, and they will be remembered fondly during the program. That number includes the late, great Doug Elmore, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer and a man I was proud to call a friend. Doug died of cancer at age 63 in 2002. This was the column I wrote at the time of Doug’s death.

DOUG Elmore was from the small town of Reform, Ala. Jake Gibbs was from Grenada. They were high school football heroes, the talk of their towns back in 1956. Both played quarterback.

Both were recruited to Ole Miss. Both were gifted athletes. Both were leaders. Both had always been the star player, the best athlete in town, the man.

Gibbs chuckles when he remembers the shock that awaited them in Oxford.

“We got there and found out Ole Miss had signed 11 quarterbacks,” Gibbs says. “Not four, not five, not six but eleven! It was a rude awakening. We didn’t know if we would ever play.”

 

Doug Elmore graces Saturday’s LSU ticket.

One by one, those other quarterbacks were moved to other positions.

Gibbs and Elmore remained. Elmore redshirted his sophomore year, so Gibbs finished a class ahead of him. During the four seasons they were quarterbacks at Ole Miss, the Rebels won 38 games, lost five and tied one. They played in four bowls and won three.

There was never any quarterback controversy, even though, as Gibbs says, “There wasn’t much difference in us. We had the same type of ability. We both specialized in the sprint-out pass. We had the same kind of leadership ability.

“But we were friends from the day we met. Doug wasn’t only a great athlete, he was a truly good person. You could count on Doug. He just went out and did his job.”

Elmore, a member of both the Ole Miss and Mississippi sports halls of fames, died last Friday after a long illness. He was 63.

Close friends say Elmore fought his battle with cancer in the same manner he did everything else: that is, with grit and with grace.

Baseball, too

In fact, grace is the word you hear again and again when friends and former teammates speak of Elmore.

“People forget about his baseball,” says Gibbs, the former New York Yankee. “Doug was as graceful a center fielder as you’ll ever see, and he could hit.”

Says Warner Alford, another former teammate, “Doug had a quiet confidence about him. He absolutely believed in himself, but he’d never talk about it, and he didn’t have to. You just knew. Guys responded to his leadership. We all believed in him.”

Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat is another who played both football and baseball with Elmore. This morning, Khayat will eulogize his close friend at a memorial service at Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

“Doug had what I call a quiet strength about him,” Khayat says. “He was quiet, maybe a little shy. As an athlete, he was so graceful. There was nothing jerky about him. His movements were graceful and easy. In fact, he lived a graceful life.”

Khayat remembers the first time Elmore entered a game. Seconds remained. Ole Miss led Kentucky 9-0 at Lexington. Elmore called a quarterback sneak.

“Doug ran 53 yards for a touchdown, just a tremendous run,” Khayat says. “Doug had this wit about him. He got to the sideline and everybody was congratulating him and he smiled that sly smile of his and said, `Maybe now Coach will give me the ball more.’ “

`A hell of a drive’

Strangely, Elmore is most remembered for a game the Rebels lost. After Billy Cannon’s famous punt return in 1959, Elmore, the fourth team quarterback at the time, drove the Rebels from their own 30 to the LSU 1 where he was stopped on fourth down.

“Doug made play after play to get us in that position,” Gibbs says. “It was a hell of a drive. It just came up short when somebody blocked the wrong way.”

I am too young to remember Elmore’s playing days. I didn’t know Elmore as an athlete, other than as a weekend golfer with an easy, graceful swing, a warm smile and a genuine gentlemanly charm about him. That was enough for me.

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A limited number of tickets remain for Thursday night’s event. Call 601 982-8264 to reserve yours.

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