Welcome back to another addition of Red Cup Chronicles, I’m Grayson Weir, your resident historian here at Red Cup. As we all anxiously await the return of college football, I will be bringing you weird, lesser-told stories of Ole Miss past.
If we can’t titillate our brains and our emotions with sports, why not do so with some good ole fashioned learning? Seems like a good alternative to me!
Last time, we traveled back in time to 1921 when the Rebels went down to Cuba and got snookered out of their first-ever bowl win. This week, unfortunately, will finish with the same result. If you are looking for a tale of victory and triumph, look elsewhere. If you’re cool with a bizarre story with a disappointing ending, do come along!
Where are we going?
Our second adventure begins in Jackson, Mississippi. The state’s capital was founded in 1821 and named after Andrew Jackson, who would later serve as president of the United States and was kind of a huge asshole. But I digress...
In 1862, during the Civil War, Union forces won the Battle of Vicksburg and set off to begin the Siege of Jackson, an effort to clear the Confederacy’s relief effort from the area. General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops burnt the city to the ground, which helped to ensure that the Mississippi River remained in Union possession for the remainder of the war. Thanks Jackson, you were inadvertently a big help.
The city struggled to recover economically in the late 1800s, but began to develop throughout the 20th century. Its skyline became one of the tallest in the south.
Transportation boomed and Jackson’s new Union Station became a stimulant for growth of the railroad in the south, creating opportunities for workers who moved from the country to the city for industrial jobs. This is the time period in which our story will take place.
Today, Jackson pulses with music born from a deep tradition of the arts and blues culture that grew alongside the reconstruction period as the African American population almost singlehandedly pulled the city back up by its bootstraps.
The tunes bump and the southern cuisine is abundant. Fried chicken, fried okra, biscuits and gravy, collard greens, catfish and cornbread— you name it. As the culture of the rural south moved into the city, the food followed. Anthony Bourdain, rest his soul, went down to the Dirty ‘Sip and took a
look taste. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the watch.
In addition to the deep-rooted culture, one of Jackson’s tourist draws comes with the Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo. As the largest professional rodeo east of the Mississippi River, the two-week event is held at the State Fairgrounds of Mississippi. The grounds were founded in 1858 and sits over a hundred acres in downtown Jackson. It has hosted many events through the years, including the annual meeting between Mississippi A&M Aggies (yet to become the Mississippi State Bulldogs) and Ole Miss Rebels for seven seasons in the early 1900s, the setting of this particular story.
What brings us there?
Of the nearly 10 years where Mississippi’s Football Classic (it would be named the Egg Bowl in 1979) went down in the capital city, the 1907 meeting was the most unique. The Rebels were led by head coach Frank Mason, and the Aggies by Fred Furman. Lots of Fs.
Mason played both baseball and football at Harvard, graduated from Harvard in 1884 and later attended Harvard Law School and Boston University School of Law. Smart dude. He was named Harvard football’s first full-time head coach in the fall of 1886 and the Crimson went 12-2 under his guidance. They turned back to captain coaching the next year.
In 1907, Mason returned to coaching in Oxford. This was the only logical jump, because Ole Miss is the Harvard of the South and all other institutions not in the Ivy League are inferior in academics, infrastructure and culture. Smart dude.
However, his first season back at the helm of a college football program did not go so well.
Ole Miss was bad. Like, very bad. The team returned just two players from the year prior and entered the Classic with an 0-5 record that saw losses to Alabama, Sewanee, Vanderbilt and LSU by a combined score of 168-0. To their credit, they found the end zone against Southeast Missouri State, but lost 12-6.
Mississippi A&M also entered the final week of the season with its own losses to LSU and Sewanee, as well as Tennessee. Unlike the Rebels, the Aggies did win six games and beat Southwestern Presbyterian (now Rhodes College), Howard, Union (TN), Mercer and Drury to play the Classic as the favorites. Real strong strength of schedule, not-yet-Bulldogs.
How’d it go down?
Torrential rains had hit Jackson prior to the 1907 Thanksgiving Day game and the field was virtually unplayable. To make matters worse, a literal three-ring circus and the Thursday morning game between Jackson High and Chamberlin-Hunt Academy ripped up any semblance of turf. Officials had to hold the ball in place so it would not float off in the knee-deep water before the center could snap it and frequently stopped the game so players could wipe the mud off to find out who everyone was.
Nevertheless, the weather did not stop “those sturdy youngsters who were to take all the risks of broken bones (...) and death by strangulation in the pools of (...) uncertain depths,” as the Jackson paper put it. The game kicked off on a cold, wet afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and the two teams played to a 0-0 tie at halftime.
Coach Mason, the Harvard-turned-Mississippi man, believed not in adjustments and instead attempted to keep his players loose amidst such a cold, damp day. He had a large amount of coffee prepared for his team at the break and poured in a generous amount of ninety-proof whiskey. Dumb dude.
The Rebels took the field in the second half with “an obvious glow.” In other words, they were donghoused. To no surprise, playing football absolutely delighted on giggle water did not help Ole Miss win the game. Mississippi A&M won 15-0.
The game ended and the players immediately blamed their head coach for the loss, which seems fair. When Mason faced the press, he was asked if the team were to return home that evening. Mason replied, “Yes, the team is going north at 11 o’clock. I’m going in another direction, and hope I never see them again!”
He did not, he was fired.
If you have gained any knowledge today, it is that you should not drink a high volume of alcohol midway through playing a football game. This rule applies to most things in life.
Consider yourself learned.