Epic Little Brown Jug battle conjures memories
Hattiesburg and Laurel played the Battle for the Little Brown “Between the
Bricks” in Laurel for the 94th time last Friday night. For pure drama, it may have been the most memorable.
Down 32-6 with under four minutes remaining, Hattiesburg fired back and won 34-32. There was no Fat Lady to sing in Laurel last night. And, if she was, she wore Hattiesburg’s purple and gold.
Can’t tell you how many of those Jug battles I’ve seen over the years. I can tell you my first memory of a football game is from the Battle for the Little Brown Jug.
I think it was in 1958. I know it was played at USM’s Stadium, then called Faulkner Field, which was then my backyard. Mom and Dad were the proctors of “The Old Rock,” which was the athletic dormitory under the east side of the stadium.
That Battle for the Little Brown Jug was played on Thanksgiving Day and I probably remember it so well because I sat with my dad, who was usually in the press box at football games back then.
I remember cheering for Hattiesburg, because my daddy had played for Hattiesburg, and I remember not having much to cheer.
But I also remember my daddy pointing out a huge man on the Laurel sidelines and telling me his name was Barney Poole, and he had been one of the greatest football players in Mississippi history.
Barney’s Laurel boys beat the socks off Hattiesburg that sun-splashed afternoon. I cannot remember my social security number but I remember that score from 56 years ago: Laurel 48, Hattiesburg 12.
And I can remember my daddy taking me down on the field afterward. I remember the Laurel players, all painted up with “eye black” laughing and hugging. I remember the dejection of the Hattiesburgers.
And I remember my daddy introducing me to “Coach Poole” who surely was the biggest man I had ever seen or met at the time.
Barney picked me up and held me over his head. What I most remember is that his hands reached all the way around my waist. Those hands, my daddy told me, used to catch passes in Yankee Stadium for the New York Giants.
Years later, Barney, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer and one of Ole Miss’s all-time greats, came back to USM as an assistant coach. I was at one practice when the Southern players egged Barney to get in line during passing drills and run a pattern and show them how it’s done.
By then, Barney had a big ol’ belly. But he got in line, ran a down and out pattern, and when the ball flew high over his head, he just reached up and snatched it out of the air with one hand. The Southern players went nuts.
They asked him to do it again. He just tossed the ball back and went about his coaching.
He had showed how it’s done.
Still years and years later, I stood next to Barney at Charlie Conerly’s funeral on a cold, gray day, at the graveside, across the way from a Clarksdale high school football field.
Chunkin’ Charlie had thrown so many of the passes Barney caught. I asked Barney about catching balls from Conerly.
Said Barney, “Charlie threw passes that melted in your hands like butter.”
Greatest quote I ever got.
We lost Barney, one of the three great Poole brothers, in 2005. His memories live on at your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.