By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
It’s not uncommon for quarterbacks from championship teams to turn pro when their college days or done.
That’s what Jim Weatherly did, he just did it in something other than football.
Pontotoc pays tribute to one of its own at the Bodock Festival this weekend, the main event a Saturday evening dinner honoring Weatherly, the long-time singer and songwriter.
But before Weatherly penned hits like Midnight Train to Georgia, he was the quarterback on Ole Miss teams that won SEC championships in 1962 and 1963. The 1962 team was named national champion by three different outlets.
“Football was a real thrill for me. I played with a lot of great guys, great players and under a lot of great coaches,” he recalls.
Music was a love that took root in Jim Weatherly at a young age as different family members exposed him to different styles, whether pop, country or gospel.
“I soaked it all up,” he says.
It was an interest he didn’t neglect as a college student in the early ’60s, though he was careful to make sure music, studies and football ran parallel courses and never overwhelmed his calendar.
It was always that way with Weatherly, who while at Pontotoc would go from the football field to playing and singing at the post-game dance.
At Ole Miss, Weatherly’s band would play throughout the South, but long road trips might only come once in a month. Other than that, there was about an hour’s worth of practice during the week and maybe a closer-to-home playing opportunity on the weekends.
“We didn’t do enough music to hurt our studies,” he said.
But he did enough football to be named second-team All-SEC in 1964. In Weatherly’s three varsity seasons, the Rebels were 22-6-3. They played in the Sugar Bowl twice, the Bluebonnet Bowl once.
His 2,584 yards of total offense ranked third on the Ole Miss career list when he completed his career, and his average of 5.5 yards per play still ranks No. 5.
Weatherly’s greatest football memory came as a sophomore, his accidental 43-yard touchdown run against Mississippi State in 1962. It was the decisive blow in a 13-6 Ole Miss win that helped preserve the only perfect season in school history.
Coach John Vaught had called for Weatherly to hand off the ball. Weatherly says he botched the handoff and had no choice but to keep running. When he turned the corner he saw nothing but green space, and no one caught him before the end zone.
“Coach Vaught just said, ‘thank you, thank you, bless you boy.’”
But Vaught wasn’t the first to greet Weatherly, who was laughing as he reached the Ole Miss sideline and confessed his folly to trainer Doc (Wesley) Knight.
“I said, ‘Doc, I missed the handoff,’ and he said, ‘Well, just don’t tell anybody.’”
The Rebels had been successful long before Weatherly arrived. His sophomore and junior seasons were Vaught’s last championship teams.
Weatherly and his teammates then didn’t consider the idea they were playing games that Ole Miss fans would talk about 40 years later.
“That never entered our minds. There had been so much tradition, so much success … We just expected to win. Winning breeds winning.”