Don’t miss debut of new Hall of Fame book

Book CoverWe begin with an admission: I just thought I knew about everything there was to know about Mississippi sports history and heroes.

And then I started working on a book — Mississippi’s Greatest Athletes — to benefit the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum about a year ago. That’s when I found out how much I didn’t know. It has been educational; it has been a true labor of love. I love sports and love

Cleveland
Cleveland

history. This book combines the two with a lot of human interest mixed in.

Published by Neil White at The Nautilus Publishing Company, the handsome coffee table book debuts this month at bookstores across Mississippi.

It tells about colorful men named Goat and Bruiser and Boo and Eagle and Dizzy and Deuce. It tells about national heroes named Payton, Rice and Favre and more local legends such as Heifer (Stuart) and Wobble (Davidson).

Archie Manning, the patriarch of the first family of American football, has written the foreword. Wrote Manning, “And when you grow up in a state with such an incredible athletic heritage, you desperately want to be part of it…”

You do. I have spent a lifetime writing about this remarkable heritage, these heroes. I never tire of it. How could I? So what was learned in researching and writing this book?

That Edwin “Goat” Hale, a charter member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, was badly wounded, missing and thought dead, fighting in France during World War I. The Army found him recuperating in a French hospital. The war had interrupted his brilliant college football career. He returned to score 23 touchdowns and drop-kick 23 extra points for Mississippi College during the 1921 season. He once led Mississippi College — yes, Mississippi College — to a 74-0 victory over Ole Miss. How’s that for legendary?

That Claude Passeau, from Waynesboro, was not only a five-time National League All-Star pitcher but also great friends with President Ronald Reagan, who announced Passeau’s minor league baseball games in Des Moines, Iowa, when Passeau played there in the mid-1930s.

That Aberdeen’s Guy Bush, “The Mississippi Mudcat” famous for serving up Babe Ruth’s last two home runs, should be better known for his splendid career Major League record of 176-136.

That J.T. “Blondy” Black, the great Mississippi running back, ran a 9.6 100-yard dash when the world record was 9.4. That was 1940. He weighed 215 pounds, ran over most anybody in his way and was Herschel Walker decades before Herschel Walker was born.

That Greenwood’s Riley Smith was the second player ever taken in the NFL Draft (in 1936) and the first drafted player to sign an NFL contract.

That Lem Barney, the Pro Football Hall of Famer from Gulfport, sang background vocals on Marvin Gaye’s classic hit What’s Going on.

That Brookhaven’s Lance Alworth, nicknamed “Bambi”, played his last seven seasons of a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, catching 349 passes and scoring 46 touchdowns without ever once fumbling the football.

You couldn’t make all that stuff up, and I didn’t have to.

The book contains pertinent statistics and countless anecdotes about — and splendid photos of — our sports heroes. It also contains a section that explores who might become Mississippi’s future Hall of Famers. We know for certain that in some little community, in some out-of-the-way corner of Mississippi, the next great sports legend is taking his or her first steps.

We’ll launch the book with a signing Thursday at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame (4:30-7 p.m.). That would be Oct. 23, 2014, charter inductee Bruiser Kinard’s 100th birthday. (Did you know Kinard is also a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with Jim Brown and Vince Lombardi?)

The book will be available in bookstores across Mississippi as well.
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Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

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