OXFORD – On the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest plays in LSU football history, join me in creating this mental picture.
It’s 1959 and No. 3 Ole Miss needs a win at No. 1 LSU to remain in the hunt for the national championship.
The Rebels are nursing a 3-0 lead, and they punt. Billy Cannon races 89 yards for a touchdown. The Saturday night crowd at Tiger Stadium erupts as LSU takes the lead.
But wait …
Officials on the field are contacted from the press box. The play is under review. Cannon’s knee touched the ground at the 17. There is conclusive evidence to overturn the call on the field.
How might replay have changed the course of Ole Miss history in 1959?
Ole Miss and LSU have both been on the unfortunate side of replay judgment this season, the Rebels at Auburn, the Tigers at Alabama. The right side could have made the difference in winning and losing.
Instead, the teams find themselves meeting in November without the SEC West title on the line, as it was when they played at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in 2003, but still in a high-stakes game. The winner could have the inside track to the SEC’s top non-BCS prize, Orlando’s Capital One Bowl.
This was to be the Rebels’ year. It began back in August with talk of a first SEC West title and a BCS bowl game. Had some things happened differently along the way with the offensive line and quarterback, who knows?
The fact is, at 7-3 overall, 3-3 in the SEC Ole Miss has a chance to play its way into a strong bowl situation. Bowls are great, but there’s an even bigger picture at work here.
If the Rebels win their final two games they will be 5-3 in the SEC and will have 10 SEC wins over a two-year span for only the second time since 1965-1966. The 2002-2003 teams were a combined 10-6, the bulk of that coming on the legs of a 7-1 mark in 2003, Eli Manning’s senior season.
Ole Miss has a chance to show consistency within the SEC, something it has lacked through the modern era.
Getting there will require consistency on offense, and the Rebels haven’t put together strong back-to-back SEC games this season.
An adjustment on the offensive line, with Bobby Massie moving to tackle and John Jerry moving inside to guard, could change that. It’s a move that could unleash Brandon Bolden in a hybrid role as blocker, receiver and short-yardage rusher.
Standing in the way is the Rebels’ chief obstructionist of the ages.
The rivalry was filled with big plays on both sides in the 50s and 60s, but the Rebels’ 31-13 win in Baton Rouge last year was the most physical beatdown of LSU by an Ole Miss team that I have witnessed. And it could have been worse – Ole Miss was taking a knee inside the 5 to end the game.
I was seven years from birth when Cannon made his run, but I’ve seen the replay enough to know it like the back of my hand.
A year after a dominating Ole Miss win in the series the Rebels’ season of promise has not been without frustration, yet they find themselves in place to do something special within the history of their own storied program.
They have a chance to mark the program as a consistent SEC winner.
That type of replay is something Ole Miss fans are longing for.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal