Cristil & Art Davis, a friendship for the ages
Art Davis scored the first Mississippi State touchdown Jack Cristil ever called, and we’ll get to that, but first…
Davis, who will turn 80 in November, lives in retirement in Wilsonville, Ore., a suburb of Portland. Last night, Davis went to sleep thinking about Cristil, his long-time friend and fellow Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer. This morning, he awakened, still thinking about Jack.
“Days like today, I miss Mississippi the most,” Davis said, softly. “I live in Oregon and have for 13 years, but Mississippi is my home. It hurts me not to be there today at the funeral to celebrate Jack’s life and what he has meant to Mississippi State and to Mississippi.
“For 58 years, Jack Cristil spoke eloquently and forcefully about Mississippi State. His name and voice are synonymous with our school.”
You should know that Art Davis and Jack Cristil go back to a time before either had stepped foot on the Mississippi State campus. Mavis Kelly, the future Mrs. Jack Cristil, was Art’s daddy’s secretary in his Clarksdale insurance business. Jack Cristil, dating Mavis and just getting started in radio, broadcast Davis’s Clarksdale High football games. And there’s more…
“Jack had this wonderful morning show on WROX, which was 1450 on the radio dial, that all the teenagers in Clarksdale listened to,” Davis said. “We would call in requests, dedicate songs to girlfriends and boyfriends and Jack would spin them.”
These were songs by Frank Sinatra, Patty Page, The Ink Spots, The Platters, and Johnny Ray, who was Elvis before Elvis. Said Davis, “It was a wonderful, wonderful program.”
Often, Art Davis went to sleep listening to Cristil do the broadcasts of the Clarksdale Planters minor league baseball team in the old Cotton States League.
“I remember he would talk about the catcher putting on his paraphernalia,” Davis said, chuckling. “I don’t know why that stuck with me but it has. He didn’t just call it equipment. It was paraphernalia. He was wonderful at baseball. He had such a unique way of describing the games.”
Art Davis, one hell of an athlete much-desired by all the Southern football powers, broke his leg in the first game of his senior season of high school. He was out for the season. Ole Miss still offered him a scholarship. So did Mississippi State. He chose State because of its coach, Murray Warmath. After missing his senior season at State, he started in his first game as a freshman — against Tennessee.
It was before Davis’s sophomore season at State that MSU athletic director Dudy Noble, a charter member of the MSHOF, hired Cristil to be the school’s broadcaster for the princely sum of 25 dollars a game.
It was reunion for Cristil and Davis. State opened that season against Memphis State at Memphis, Cristil’s birthplace. In the first quarter, Davis, a halfback, broke loose for a 38-yard touchdown run. It’s was Cristil’s first touchdown call of a most remarkable 58-year run. And don’t we wish we could listen to a recording, if one existed, today? State won 34-6, wrapped it in maroon and white.
Said Davis, “I don’t remember the play. I don’t remember much about the game. I only know it was Jack’s first touchdown call at State because he reminded me of it often over the years.”
Art Davis and Jack Cristil remained friends for life.
“I always enjoyed Jack’s company,” Davis said. “Any time I had the chance I would visit with him. We wrote back and forth. One of my last letters to him was in appreciation of all the generous words he used for me and for all he meant to my university.”
Older sports fans know Art Davis is the younger brother of fellow Hall of Famer Harper Davis, another Mississippi State football great. You want still another Mississippi connection? Jim Ellis, Cristil’s MSU broadcast successor and a fine play-by-play man in his own right, played high school football for Harper Davis at West Point.
“I miss Mississippi,” Art Davis said. “You know, people out here hear my accent and ask me where I am from and I tell them Mississippi.”
Invariably, the people say something like, “Really?”
And I tell them, “Yes, I’m from Mississippi just like Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Archie Manning, Brett Favre, William Faulkner, B.B. King, Elvis Presley, John Grisham, Eudora Welty. They are always surprised when they hear those names. And then I’ll tell them: There’s no place like Mississippi.”