Before John, Kris and Jake Mangum, there was Big John, Sr.
I could never run as fast as Jake Mangum, nor could I hit a curve ball, but I have one thing on Mississippi State’s C Spire Ferriss Trophy winner.
I knew his grandfather, “Big John” Mangum.
That’s who I wanted to tell Jake about as we chatted prior to his winning the trophy as Mississippi’s most outstanding college baseball player on the same day he was named the Southeastern Conference’s most outstanding freshman.
“Big John” Mangum, who died in 1994, was one of my first football heroes. He was a bull-strong defensive tackle at Southern Miss in the mid-1960s, a giant, friendly guy off the field and a terror on it.
He was from Magee in Simpson County and was recruited by Johnny Vaught to play football at Ole Miss in 1961. Soon after, he transferred closer to home at USM.
There, Mangum flourished. This was before widespread weightlifting, but Big John Mangum did not need weights. He was, as Mississippi high school coaches say, “country strong.” He dominated the scrimmage line is what he did. He was listed at 6-foot-1 and 270 pounds, much of it muscle. It usually took two guys to block him and often that didn’t work either.
He was the anchor of two Southern Miss defenses that led the nation in total defense. Mangum had plenty of help. Those USM defenses featured linebackers Doug Satcher and Ken Avery, defensive end Tom Roussel and nose guard Poochie Stringfellow. All but Poochie played in the NFL.
How good were they? At one point, after USM lost starting quarterback Vic Purvis, a future Hall of Famer, and his backup, USM still kept winning. During one stretch, they played three straight 3-0 games, beating Auburn and Richmond and losing at William & Mary.
I don’t even know if tackle statistics were kept back then, but Big John made a slew of them, and he always occupied blockers so that Satcher and Avery could take dead aim at quarterbacks and running backs.
After finishing at USM, Big John played in both the Blue-Gray games and the Senior Bowl and went on to play for the old Boston Patriots (along with Purvis) in the old American Football League.
Big John died in 1994. Little Jake was born in 1996.
“Obviously, I never knew my grandfather, but I have heard about him all my life,” Jake Mangum said. “I sure wish I had known him.”
I told Jake: He was a great player and a better guy. The only problem was when Big John slapped you on the back, he knocked you into next week. Did I say he was strong? Not even he knew how strong he was.
Two of Big John’s sons, John Jr. and Kris, went on to play in the NFL. John. Jr., a Mississippi high school football player of the year, at Magee, went on to play at Alabama and then for the Chicago Bears. He was a cornerback who would knock the slobber out of you. Kris also played at Magee and then at Ole Miss before going on to the Carolina Panthers, whom he helped to the Super Bowl.
When Jake Mangum accepted the C Spire Ferriss Trophy Monday, he first thanked his family. (You can watch his acceptance speech elsewhere on this website, and I strongly urge you to do just that.)
The Mangums are a proud family for good reason. And Big John Mangum was the patriarch of that remarkably successful and productive Mississippi sports family.
Jake Mangum is making them all proud.