RICK CLEVELAND: Mississippi’s gridiron greats




Let’s swell our chests today. We’re going to put together Team Mississippi, an All-Time, All-Pro football team of native Mississippians. We are going to kick rumps and takes names. We’ll mess with Texas – and anyone else who gets in the way.

We’ll start with the offense. And why don’t we start at quarterback where we’ll go with the NFL’s all-time leading passer Brett Favre (Kiln), a three-time MVP. Not bad for starters. We’ve got Steve McNair (Mount Olive), Charlie Conerly (Clarksdale) and Archie Manning (Drew) if Favre needs a break – which, of course, he never did.

With arms like that we’ll need lots of wide receivers. Not to worry. We’ll split Jerry Rice (Crawford), the NFL’s all-time leading receiver and scorer wide to the left. We’ll flank seven-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer Lance Alworth (Brookhaven), Bambi himself, wide to the right. In the slot? Take your pick: Harold Jackson (Hattiesburg), Willie Richardson (Greenville), Ray Perkins (Petal) and we could go on and on. This is fun, no?

When we run the ball we’ll give it to Sweetness, Walter Payton, No. 34 on his uniform, No. 2 on the all-time pro football rushing list. Best football player these eyes have ever seen.

Jimmie Giles (Greenville), the first offensive player chosen for Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor, is my tight end, but if we line up with two tight ends, we’ll bring in Wesley Walls (Pontotoc). Between them, they caught 95 touchdowns.

In Mississippi, we know it’s what’s up front that counts. Kent Hull, a Buffalo Bills Wall of Famer and three-time Pro Bowler, will snap it, flanked on either side by Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Billy Shaw (Vicksburg) and Tom Goode (West Point). (I’d love to include Pro Football Hall of Famer Gene Hickerson here, but Ole Miss imported him from Tennessee.)

For offensive tackles, we’ll trot out maybe the best ever Jackie Slater (Jackson) on the left side and Walt Suggs (Hattiesburg) on the right.


And now for the defense. We’ll be nasty on this side of the ball with L.C. Greenwood (Canton) at one end and Ben McGee (Durant) on the other. Both were Steelers and both were splendid. At defensive tackle, we’ll go with the the great Bruiser Kinard (Pelahatchie) and Tim Bowens (Okolona).

We’ve got linebackers galore. The only problem is deciding which ones to start. Hugh Green (Natchez) gets one nod. Run away from him, and you’ll find Larry Grantham (Crystal Springs) on the other side. In the middle, I’m going with tackling machine Johnie Cooks (Leland).

No state, anywhere or any size, can match us at cornerback. Yazoo City’s Willie Brown and Gulfport’s Lem Barney are two more Pro Football Hall of Famers. If they aren’t the best two ever to play the position, they are in any conversation about it.

For safeties, we’ll go with Jimmy Patton (Greenville), a five-time Pro Bowler for the New York Giants and Jim Marsalis (Pascagoula).

On special teams, Stephen “Beaver” Gostkowski (Madison) ranks as one of the most accurate placekickers in pro football history and is money when the game is on the line. Most will assume that Ray Guy, who kicked at Southern Miss and lives in Purvis, is the Guy. He would be except that USM recruited him out of Thomson, Ga. Jerrell Wilson? Born in New Orleans. Not to worry, Chunkin’ Charlie Conerly could punt it just fine. So could Julian Fagan of Laurel and the Saints.

Besides, with our offense, who needs a punter?

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

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