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The Red Cup Chronicles: 1969 Tennessee pissed off Archie Manning and paid the price

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The Mule Game can be summed up in one word, “dang.”

The Jackson Free Press

Hello everyone, thank you for joining me for another edition of Red Cup Chronicles where I, your Red Cup historian Grayson Weir, will tell stories to help you learn stuff about Ole Miss.

After getting drunk during the Egg Bowl in 1907 and traveling down to Cuba in 1921, this week’s tale is certainly more familiar to Rebel fans. We saw disappointing finishes to our first two time machine trips and I felt a need for some positivity this go around. Please buckle your seat belts and keep your hand inside the moving vehicle at all times. Let’s go!

Where are we going?

We find ourselves back in Jackson, Miss., the state’s capital. If you’re looking for a backstory on the city, click here. Or Google it, I guess. In this instance, we will focus on Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on the corner of Woodrow Wilson Drive and North State Street.

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Construction on the extremely gorgeous and awe-inspiring facility began in early 1949 and opened in 1950 with a seating capacity of 21,000 people. Ohio State’s horseshoe has nothing on the Jackson junction, in my opinion. Surely a great and necessary investment by the city, the stadium hosted its first football game between Holmes Junior College and Kilgore College on December 9, 1950, when a crowd of 18,000 saw Holmes lose. Two years later, Southern Miss played the first Division I-A game at the field against Louisville.

Fortunately for the local government leaders, the idea of playing games in Jackson began to take off and became the site of many great football stories. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alcorn State, Jackson State, Millsaps, Mississippi College, Mississippi Valley State and Southern Miss started playing select games at the stadium, including “SEC doubleheader Saturdays” when the Rebels or Bulldogs would host a conference foe in the morning and the other would host a different SEC school at night. The games drew sold out crowds, no matter the home team or opponent, and the stadium was expanded to hold 46,000 fans in 1961, and grew to welcome nearly 62,000 fans in 1981.

‘The Vet,’ as it has come to be known, is where the likes of Walter Payton, Brett Farve, Jerry Rice, Steve McNair, Donald Driver and countless others played some, if not all of their college ball. It frequently hosted the Egg Bowl from 1973 to 1990, held Mississippi high school football championships throughout the years and has been home to the Jackson State Tigers football team since 1970. The history is there, but the optics are not.

What brings us there?

On November 15th, 1969, an undefeated, No. 3 ranked Tennessee marched into Jackson and were set to face off against Ole Miss at ‘The Vet’ with their sights set on a national championship. Because every year is the Vols’ year!!

The No. 18 ranked Rebels sat 5-3 but had wins over No. 6 Georgia and No. 8 LSU and single-point losses to Alabama and Kentucky, so the record didn’t necessarily reflect the talent on the roster. It was a group that easily could have been in the mix for an SEC title, led by sophomore quarterback Archie Manning.

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In fact, before the season, it was very possible that a spot in the conference championship could come down to the Week 9 matchup between Ole Miss and their neighbors to the north. When Volunteer linebacker Steve Kiner was asked about the Rebels having the “horses” to contend at the top of the conference during the preseason, his response was along the lines of “they played more like mules up here last year.” Dumb move, Kiner.

As a direct result of the comments, and head coach Johnny Vaught’s uncanny ability to get the team fired up before big games, Ole Miss was pissed off ahead of that cool November day in Jackson. Even soft-spoken Manning got in on the action, saying, “we want Tennessee — more than anybody wants them.” Dumb move, Kiner.

To add fuel to the fire, the Tennessee faithful wore gameday buttons that said “Archie who?” and Ole Miss fans countered with ones that simply said, “Steve.” Concise. Brilliant. Hilarious.

When the game began, Manning and the irate Rebels dismembered the Volunteers piece by piece until there was nothing left standing.

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Ole Miss took the opening kickoff and went 82 yards in 11 plays to go up 7-0. At the end of the first quarter, it was 21-0. Toward the end of the first half, with the score remaining the same, kicker Cloyce Hinton lined up for a field goal. The ball went up, hit the crossbar and bounced over to make it 24-0 at the half.

As Sports Illustrated reported, in the publication’s shortest quote ever, the only thing that Vols sports information director Haywood Harris could say was, “dang.” That single word summed up the night and the game ended 38-0, handing Tennessee its worst loss since a 51-7 loss to Vanderbilt almost 50 years prior.

Mule Game

Archie Who? We think that was answered. Flashback to 1969 and the "Mule Game" vs. Tennessee. 69 days until kickoff! STH19.com | #HottyToddy

Posted by Ole Miss Football on Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The 1969 Ole Miss team went on to win the Sugar Bowl over No. 3 Arkansas and probably could have had a legitimate shot at the national title if not for a few early season fluke losses. Sound familiar? Ugh.

Nonetheless, the Rebels made the Volunteers eat their words and the game was such a big deal that country, folk group The Rebel Rouses released a song called “The Ballad of Archie Who” sung to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Bad move, Kiner.