Eagle Day - Ole Miss Rebels  



The greatest years of Mississippi football actually began in the ruins of the 2-7 disaster of 1946. That was the year that former Alabama assistant Harold "Red" Drew became head coach and hired John Vaught as his line coach. Vaught, was a former Forth Worth, Texas Polytechnic High School fullback who stayed home and became a TCU All American guard. He began what was often described as “a love affair” with Ole Miss when he signed on, one that lasted the remainder of his life. Drew’s ultimate goal was to return to Alabama as head coach and in 1947, his wish came true. Vaught, with the backing of the Ole Miss players, was elevated to the head position, and in his first season, improved the 2-7 record of 1946 to an outstanding 9-2 mark that included a Delta Bowl win against Vaught's alma mater. The ’47 squad had future College Football Hall Of Famers Charles Conerly and Barney Poole as an unstoppable pass-catch combo, but Vaught's genius was apparent in the offensive innovations that allowed the two All Americans to exploit their talents and his ability to get young men to accept a military-style discipline and play up to and often, beyond their physical potential. A fatherly-type who instilled a burning desire to represent the state of Mississippi on the field, his 8-1 record of '48 was compiled by switching to the Split-T formation that Vaught would become known for. The surprisingly good 1948 season was followed by two sub-par years due to a lack of depth now needed to play the newly mandated two-platoon football.


The Ole Miss color scheme was adopted at the turn of the century, blue copied from Yale and crimson from Harvard. When plastic Riddell RT helmets were introduced for the 1949 season, they displayed the Ole Miss colors with a royal blue shell highlighted with a one-inch crimson/red center stripe. Vaught's boys posted a 4-5-1 record in what would be the coach’s only losing season and followed that with 5-5 in 1950. There was talent but the manpower was lacking for effective platoon play. Led by HB’s John “Kayo” Dottley and Wilson Dillard, the year’s highlight was a tough 27-20 win over rival Mississippi State. The popular Dottley would be voted “Colonel Rebel” and also compile1312 yards to lead the nation in rushing in 1949, very much fulfilling the expectations he first brought with him to the Oxford campus. His family had lived in Mississippi but he had played his high school football at McGehee, Arkansas and was very much considered the “property” of the University Of Arkansas. When Dottley showed up in Oxford for what was essentially a tryout in the spring of his senior year of high school, a rather common practice in that era, he immediately ran through and around all of his opponents. With twenty-nine Rebels experiencing injury, eighteen of them first-stringers, in 1950, the 5-5 mark was explained though not accepted by Vaught. In an emotional finale against rival Mississippi State, Dottley led the Rebs to a 27-20 victory with the players believing that they needed victory to save Vaught’s job. All SEC halfback Dottley later played for the Chicago Bears for three seasons.


Despite the two disappointing seasons, this was the prelude to what became the Golden Age of Ole Miss football. Vaught is often considered to be the "inventor" and certainly the developer of "the roll-out offense" and in a running era, wasn't afraid to pass. However he won with defense and with recruiting. He was among the first coaches to hire a full-time recruiting coordinator, a "contact man" with the high school coaches of the state whose time was spent exclusively evaluating talent. Tom Swayze, a former Mississippi high school coach, was also the Ole Miss baseball coach but he mined the rural Mississippi high schools for home-grown talent. Vaught's commitment to what was termed the "Mississippi-Boys-First Program” paid off. He transformed a small college in the poorest state in the nation into a national football power by utilizing a team composed of players who were born and bred within the borders of the state with just a few from the neighboring Memphis-metro area, and the nearby Louisiana border. He appealed to their pride and the players in turn, went to extraordinary lengths to represent their small home towns and the state of Mississippi every time they entered the field of play. His defenses were built with tall, rangy athletes who played what was later termed "smash mouth football". Through the 1950's and early '60's, no SEC or national championship could be considered without first factoring in Ole Miss, somewhat of an amazing accomplishment considering the lack of facilities (what Vaught termed "terrible athletic facilities" as late as the early 1950’s) and small crowds. Ole Miss football actually had to compete against the lure of the Lafayette County Farmers' Market held each Saturday in Oxford, a weekly event viewed with more interest and importance than the Ole Miss football games. The coaches held staff meetings in their cars as they did not have an office to sit in. Yet, recruiting tall and lean players that Vaught felt would "fill out" made Ole Miss the first college to develop what became the prototype for tall professional tackles. Vaught also instituted a number of what were considered to be restrictive rules in order to enhance team unity. These included the decision to ban the signing of married players, the factor that sent future All American and All Pro Lance Alworth to Arkansas. The players would no longer be allowed to use cars or visit their home towns during the season, and they had to walk to all classes and destinations on campus. He also stated that he would not single out any player for individual praise or honors so that the team would be brought closer. All of these decisions worked to make Ole Miss a premiere program.  By 1951, the 5-3-1 record with upset wins over Bear Bryant's Kentucky team, Auburn, and rival Mississippi State who always got the better in-state boys before Vaught arrived indicated that the Ole Miss "master plan" was right on schedule. The 21-17 win over Kentucky was meaningful as the Wildcats were favored by twenty points and noting the freshmen in the Ole Miss lineup, eligible due to the manpower shortages of the Korean War, Bryant had stated that he did not think that “any team with freshmen in the starting lineup could beat me.” Fullback Arnold "Showboat" Boykin scored seven TD's in that Mississippi State finale and QB’s Rocky Byrd and Jimmy “King” Lear, who had missed much of 1950 with injury, proved to be great team leaders.


Although opening the season with two wins and two unhappy ties did not give full indication, Vaught's plan really coalesced in '52 with center Ed Beatty snapping to QB Lear. FB Harol Lofton was a hard runner with the luxury of rushing behind Vaught's first interior line All American Kline Gilbert, and the Rebels went undefeated with two ties. A tough defense was led by DB Jimmy Patton. The psychological key to this and the following few seasons was a November 15th 21-14 win over number-three ranked Maryland who came into the game a 20-point favorite. Shredding the Terrapins’ number-one ranked defense for 461 yards propelled the Rebels into the Sugar Bowl and even though the game was lost by 24-7 to Georgia Tech for an overall 8-1-2, the Rebels now believed that despite many disadvantages in their financing, number of scholarship players, and facilities they could play with anyone. 1952 also marked the establishment of the Ole Miss "M" Club Alumni Association for graduated athletic letter winners which would be vital to raising needed funds. Beatty, who would be the Rams number-one draft choice, returned for 1953 to lead the line play with guard Crawford Mims who developed into another All American for Vaught. Lofton teamed with Bobby "Slick" McCool as a powerful backfield tandem, supported by soph Billy Kinard, and the result was a 7-2-1 record and a second place SEC finish to winner Alabama. There was excitement regarding the QB position as a newcomer proved he was an effective runner or passer while rolling out from behind the line, something that Coach Vaught thought would be useful for the upcoming 1954 season.


Vaught's signature sprint-out offense with the QB rolling at a 45-degree angle really made its mark in 1954 with QB Herman "Eagle" Day, a fine high school pitcher who had thrown five no-hitters in baseball, leading them to the Sugar Bowl. They began the season by playing in the SEC’s first double header, defeating Kentucky 28-9 while Tennessee beat Mississippi State in the opener. If the double dose of Mississippi style football had played well in Memphis, the season record crowd of 95,607 that witnessed the Rebels’ easy dismantling of Villanova had the team on a national stage. McCool, Jim Patton who later was a long time Giants DB, FB Paige Cothren who also handled the kicking chores, Day, who totaled more than 1000 yards, and FB Kinard (who would be the Rebel head coach in 1971 and '72) gave Ole Miss the SEC Championship with a 9-1 record. The squad finished as the top rated defensive unit in the nation despite dropping the Sugar Bowl game 21-0 to Navy. After playing in 1950, tackle Rex Reed Bogan had departed for three years of service with the Marine Corps and he returned for 1954, giving Vaught another in what would become a long line of All American lineman. They repeated as SEC champs with very much the same cast in '55, and they once again took part in an historic double header. The success of the 1954 game played in Memphis, found Atlanta hosting the ’55 version of the unique event and the opponent this time was Georgia. Georgia Tech fans got the “double win” of watching Ole Miss beat the Bulldogs by a 26-13 margin while their own Rambling Wreck upended Miami 14-6.  McCool was lost to military service but Billy Kinard was dependable and Day proved to be a terrific field general before he left for thirteen years as a pro player in both the NFL and CFL. 10-1 with a loss only to a tough Kentucky team in the season's second game put Ole Miss among the nation's elite. Cothren, who was every bit as good as the reputation he earned as the star of the 1953 High School All American Game, won the SEC Jacobs Blocking Award, led the conference in scoring, and later performed as a kicker for the Rams and Eagles before becoming a well-known author. The up front blocking came from Buddy Alliston, Ed Crawford, and Bill Yelverton who put time in with the Denver Broncos at DE. Billy Lott came on strong as the season wore on. The Rebs seemed to get stronger too as the season progressed and then concluded with a daring last-minute victory orchestrated by Day, over TCU in the Cotton Bowl. Defeating a powerful SWC opponent like TCU in the 14-13 thriller was vindication for Ole Miss’ number-nine national ranking.



Herman Day, known to all football fans as “Eagle”, was the perfect fit for Coach Vaught’s roll out offense. He could run or pass, something he proved at Columbia, MS High School as the winner of sixteen varsity letters in four sports! Even with Vaught’s so-called “Revolving Door Quarterback System” used in 1955, Day was the acclaimed leader of the squad that won its second consecutive SEC title as he won his second All SEC mention. As Ole Miss established its football program with an emphasis on home grown talent, the record showed that Day’s collegiate career finished with successful results, perhaps an understatement in light of the Rebels’ 26-5-1 mark. Day’s MVP Trophy in the 1956 Cotton Bowl against Vaught’s alma mater, TCU, came with the new moniker, “The Mississippi Gambler” as the 6’, 180 pound quarterback streaked for a twenty-five yard fourth quarter gain to set up the winning score in the 14-13 donnybrook. Day finished his Ole Miss career with huge statistics for the era: 2022 passing yards on 111 completions and fourteen touchdowns. His running ability brought his total offense mark to 2428 yards and as the baseball team’s primary pitcher, he helped the Rebs into the College World Series as a senior. Day passed up a chance to play for the Washington Redskins, and instead headed to Canada and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, returning to the States and the Redskins for the 1959 and ’60 seasons as a back-up quarterback who excelled as a punter. He returned to the CFL, playing for Calgary and Toronto and was second in the voting for the CFL’s MVP in 1962. After twelve seasons of professional football, Day retired.   

7-3 would be great anywhere, even at Ole Miss prior to the Vaught-era but the bar had been raised and that 1956 record was a disappointment despite an unsettled QB situation and an unusual number of injuries. Cothern was lost in June to a knee injury and Lott was sidelined a good deal of the time. Lott would see time with the Giants but earned his reputation as a reliable FB with Oakland and Boston of the AFL. Don Williams emerged as a terrific end and guard Ed Crawford went off to the Giants. In '57, it was a return to the Sugar Bowl with a 9-1-1 mark, an upset 12-6 defeat by Arkansas as the only loss, and the emergence of a number of excellent sophomores. The line, led by All American Jackie Simpson (Broncos and Raiders) and long time Browns All Pro Gene Hickerson at the guard positions, powered the way for QB's Ray Brown and his back-ups soph Bobby Franklin and Billy "Dog" Brewer. FB Charlie Flowers was considered by many to be the best back in the SEC. Soph ends Johnny Brewer and Larry Grantham, guard Marvin Terrell, and center Ken Kirk earned immediate playing time. Despite the insult of having rival Mississippi State sending an assistant coach to the University Of Texas to help them in their Sugar Bowl preparations against Ole Miss, the Rebs showed their anger for this "conference betrayal" by bombing the 'Horns 39-7 and the Golden Age of Rebel football was truly a reality.

If interested in any of these Ole Miss helmets please click on the photos below.