As another weekend in the dog days of summer roll around without a full slate of sports, it’s time to hop back in our Red Cup time machines with your resident historian, me, Grayson Weir. Thus far we’ve seen the effects of whiskey on football, traveled by boat over the Gulf of Mexico to get bamboozled out of a bowl win, and learned a valuable lesson about doubting Archie Manning. This week it’s all about points. Lots and lots of points.
Hop in, let’s go!
Where are we going?
We head to a spot that ever calls, Oxford, Mississippi. But not the town we know and love today. We’re taking a trip to a town that predates the Model T, less than fifty years after the invention of the telephone, in the middle of the emergence of modern America during the Progressive Era. The year is 1904 and Theodore Roosevelt is the sitting president, engineers have just begun work on the Panama Canal, the Wright brothers are working on their second airplane model, Cy Young just pitched a perfect game and the University of Mississippi is only 56 years old.
In Oxford, the Square is not the boutique, cuisine and bar scene of 2020. Instead, it is the town center of commerce, revolving around the Lafayette County Courthouse that has only been built within the last 30 years.
While the town certainly has its fair share of deep pockets that contributed to a rise in “folk era” houses and architecture, much of the Jim Crow Law south is recovering from the Civil War and living in poverty. Lest we forget, the Confederacy got its shit rocked.
Spatially, most Southern folk houses in the late 19th century were single pen, one-room log structures with a gable roof and single chimney. When the reconstruction period saw brief period of civil rights and civil liberties for African Americans, and money slowly trickled into the economy on a greater scale, houses began to expand by connecting two single pens with an open passageway that was covered by one continuous roof.
This style became known as the ‘dogtrot house’ and was much of what could be seen around Oxford, beyond the plantation homes and larger ranch homes like that of William Faulkner, who was seven years old at the time.
People were farmers, stonemasons, factory workers, seamstresses, pharmacists, milk men and blue-collar workers. Most of the economy stemmed through that of agriculture, and the town functioned through the Square.
On campus, the University of Mississippi consisted of an entirely white student body. The classes were small, and there was only a single men’s and a single women’s dormitory. We’re going way back.
What brings us there?
With 36 athletes, Ole Miss football was slightly bigger than might be expected in 1904. Being able to field 11 players on both sides of the ball with fresh legs on the bench is ideal, I’d imagine.
The school is a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association, alongside Vanderbilt, Auburn, Sewanee, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Clemson, Tulane, Cumberland, Kentucky State, Tennessee, LSU, Nashville, Georgia and Mississippi A&M, and in its 11th season of existence.
At the helm is head coach M.S. Harvey, who played tackle at Auburn in the late 1880s. He’s super old, so this tiny headshot is the only picture I could find of him, but I like to picture Harvey lining up against a defensive end like Miles Garrett. So funny.
Anyway, after graduation he coached Alabama to a 2-1-2 record in 1901, led his alma mater to a 2-4-1 record in 1902 and took over the Ole Miss program in 1903. The Flood (the Rebels nickname came in 1936) went 2-1-1 in his first year, but began the 1904 season with a demoralizing 69-0 loss to Vandy. It was not nice.
Surely spending the week running countless gassers and contemplating their existence, Ole Miss turned around in week two and beat Mississippi A&M (Mississippi State) 17-5. Neat.
The next week (where we visit today) saw Southwest Baptist, later to be renamed Union College, on the schedule. When the private evangelical Christian university not coached by Hugh Freeze rolled into Oxford, it had yet to play an SIAA team.
They probably should have stayed home.
The Flood and right halfback F.W. Elmer (old names are the best) ran the cardinal and cream Bulldogs into the ground and took out their humiliating loss to the Commodores out on the biblical fundamentalists. Ole Miss pitched a shutout and scored a school-record 114 points. Remember, the touchdown was worth five points (plus a PAT) at the time and the forward pass was not yet a thing.
Not accounting for field goals, the Flooded Rebel Bear Sharks could have run for 19 touchdowns on the day. Let’s make a likely underestimation that the average scoring drive was 35 yards. This would assume that Southwest Baptist didn’t cross the 50-yard-line all too often. Fair?
With that math, Ole Miss ran for 665 yards on its highest-scoring day in school history.
As we come back to present day, we can only hope that Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby’s offense will mimic the scoring of the 1904 team with the offensive weapons in 2020.