Today marks the anniversary of the “Jackson Massacre,” the 38-0 loss to Ole Miss at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson that put a damper on the 1969 season.
And that’s putting it mildly.
Tennessee was No. 3 in the nation and seemed headed for bigger and better things, maybe even playing Notre Dame in the 1970 Orange Bowl.
The Vols had won seven in a row to start the season, highlighted by home wins against Auburn and South Carolina and road wins at Alabama and Georgia. There was talk of a national championship around Big Orange Country.
The Rebels, led by junior quarterback Archie Manning, had lost one-point decisions to Alabama and Kentucky and had a more decisive loss to Houston.
Uneasy, however, lies the head that is even remotely close to the crown. That’s not a direct quote from William Shakespeare, but it’s close. This would be no ordinary Tennessee-Ole Miss game.
Just before the 1969 season started, media types asked Vol linebacker Steve Kiner about Ole Miss having the “horses” to contend for the SEC title. According to Russ Bebb’s history of Tennessee football, Kiner’s response was, “They played more like mules up here last year.” Bad move. That comment would come back to haunt the Vols later that season.
Ole Miss head coach John Howard Vaught, no slouch during his career in the motivation department, took advantage of this and every other opportunity to get his team at fever pitch for the game. To be honest about it, it didn’t take much. Even a quarterback named Manning got into the act.
“We want Tennessee — more than anybody wants ‘em,” Archie said before the game. “They can be had. They weren’t 31 points better than us last year, or this year.” Manning was referring to a 31-0 Vol victory at Neyland Stadium in 1968.
Vol boosters wore orange and white buttons to the game that said “Archie Who?” Ole Miss countered with ones that said “Steve,” referencing Kiner.
Whatever happened before the game, Ole Miss, primed to a fever pitch, simply took the Vols apart once the opening whistle blew. It was 21-0 at the quarter, 24-0 at the half and the rest was anti-climactic. It was Tennessee’s worst loss since a 51-7 loss to Vanderbilt in 1923.
When Ole Miss kicked a field goal late in the first half, the ball hitting the crossbar and bouncing over, Haywood Harris had the shortest quote ever to appear in Sports Illustrated: “Dang!”
The Vols recovered to win against Kentucky by 31-26 and Vanderbilt 40-27 to annex an SEC title, second in three years. That was little consolation as the Vols lost the Gator Bowl to Florida 14-13 and then saw head coach Doug Dickey head for Gainesville a few days after New Year’s.
It might have been the worst weekend in Tennessee football to that time. The Vol rookies had lost to Alabama 35-0 the preceding afternoon.
The game story was not a total loss, however, given the passage of time.
The next year the Vols were 11-1 and No. 4 in the nation. For whatever reason, Ole Miss was not on the schedule for the first time since 1955. You wonder what the demand for tickets might have been had the Rebels been scheduled to show up at Neyland Stadium to play the 1970 Vols.
If you believe that time heals all wounds, consider this. Manning and Bobby Scott both ended up with the New Orleans Saints in 1971 and became close friends.
As the Vols prepared for spring practice in March 1976, March 24 that year, there was a birth announcement from New Orleans that caught the attention of very few Vol fans. After all, this is Tennessee football and the future is now.
That was the day that Archie Manning’s second of three sons was born, a youngster named Peyton Williams Manning.
Move ahead quickly to 1993-94. Peyton Manning was now a prized recruit, a “franchise player” for whatever school got his name on a grant-in-aid form.
Tennessee did, and the rest is history. It was a magic time.
No one who saw the 1969 game could have imagined what would take place over the next 25 years or so.
What kind of odds could you have gotten outside Mississippi Memorial Stadium 46 years ago today that Archie Manning’s son would end up playing at Tennessee down the line and become one of the most popular Vols ever?
It sounded crazy at the time, but the inexorable passage of time causes some strange (and unexpected) things to happen.
Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015