By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
There was a time when the Ole Miss Rebels and Tennessee Volunteers crossed paths on the gridiron on a yearly basis.
Former Ole Miss standout Archie Manning played in a few of those battles with the Volunteers, who suffered defeat at the hands of the Rebels eight straight times between 1959 and 1966.
Tennessee finally stopped the string in 1967 with a 20-7 win, and then turned it into a winning streak with a 31-0 win over the Manning-led Rebels in 1968. In 1969, the Volunteers were loaded, undefeated and ranked No. 3 in the nation like the Rebels are this year.
Manning and the Rebels were also good in 1969, having lost a couple of games by one point, but in the meeting with the Vols, Manning got the last laugh, leading Ole Miss to a 38-0 win.
“In the old days, Ole Miss played Tennessee every year and I can remember, not in my day, but in the late 50s, early 60s when Ole Miss had very good teams, Coach (Johnny) Vaught set up his schedule around LSU and Tennessee,” Manning said. “Those were usually the two toughest games, and he always set up an open date before those.
“There is an old story about why he always played Chattanooga. Back in those days, Bowden Wyatt, the coach there at Tennessee, was running the Single Wing. Coach Vaught would always line up to play Chattanooga usually a week before Tennessee and they had an old coach named Scrappy Moore who liked to play Ole Miss and get some money out of it,” Manning continued. “We’ll Coach Vaught put in the contract that Chattanooga had to run the Single Wing. Back then, LSU and Tennessee were just two games he prepared for the most, and they were usually the two toughest games.”
To be exact, Chattanooga was a week before Tennessee in 1959-1962 and then again in 1968 and 1969.
Manning called the annual Ole Miss-Tennessee matchup a “good rivalry” in the 1960s. The 1969 contest is considered a big game because of what happened in 1968. Ole Miss was two weeks removed from a big road win at LSU in 1968 in which Manning earned a national award for his play. After thrashing Chattanooga, the Volunteers ripped up the Rebels, 31-0.
“I think it was the worst game I played in my career. I stunk. I threw six interceptions,” Manning said. “(Vaught) took me out and my backup up threw one. It was seven for the whole day. What made our game big was they had a lot of talk after that game, and Coach Vaught kind of remembered it. Then there was even some talk at SEC Media Days, and Coach Vaught remembered it.”
The Volunteers came in with a 7-0 mark and were ranked No. 3 in the nation. Ole Miss was ranked No. 18. The Rebels had lost 33-32 to Alabama on the road, 10-9 to Kentucky on the road, as well as to a “really good” Houston team, Manning said.
“We were playing good, and we had already beaten an undefeated Georgia and an undefeated LSU team. They were ranked teams, good teams,” Manning said. “We were a good team and it was late in the season and we were playing good. I think the things that made it big were they were undefeated, we were playing good and then all of the talk. We had beaten LSU and Georgia in Jackson, and we had this game in Jackson.”
Manning went on to say that the Volunteers, who went on to play in the Gator Bowl and finished 9-2 that season, had a productive offense and three of the best linebackers in all of college football. They included Steve Kiner, Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, who played for years in the NFL, and the other was Jackie Walker.
As for this year’s matchup, Manning said he was going to be in attendance.
“I’m not going to see a whole lot of them from here on out and I start soon on this College Football Playoff committee which is going to take up a lot of time,” Manning said. “We made a lot of good Tennessee friends when Peyton was there, so we have a lot of good friends, good connections.”