/1946 football Bulldogs made history

1946 football Bulldogs made history

The 1962-63 Mississippi State basketball team escaped from the state to participate in the NCAA Basketball Tournament at East Lansing. It was played March 15, 1963. This game is widely believed to have been the first time that an all-white Mississippi college basketball team faced an integrated team. It wasn’t. It was not. Nearly 17 years ago, also in East Lansing on Oct. 12, 1946, Mississippi State’s football squad defeated a mixed Michigan State team 6-0. The Bulldogs were against a black Michigan State player. Three of the three surviving members of that State team include Harper Davis, the long-standing Millsaps College coach. However, there was no published information at the time. According to reports, an agreement was made that Michigan State would not face Horace Smith, a Jackson, Mich. freshman lineman. However, Michigan State coach Charlie Bachman approached Allyn McKeen, Mississippi State coach, before the game. He told McKeen that Smith would be playing Smith because of injuries to two his starting linemen. State’s game was won by Johnny Grace, Jim Stuart, and Davis. Grace was a sophomore, while Stuart and Davis were sophomores. All three of them played in the backfield. Stuart, 89 is the youngest. All three live in the Jackson region. Jim Stuart stated, “I clearly remember Coach McKeen coming into the locker room just before we were supposed take the field. He told us all about it.” “Coach McKeen said we didn’t need to play. He told us, “I’ll forfeit the match and we’ll just go home and turn around if that’s what you want.” But nobody wanted that. All of us said that we wanted to play. We all said that we came to play, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” Davis stated, “All we could see was the uniforms of the players.” Grace recalls the incident slightly differently. Grace said, “Coach McKeen told us that if we didn’t want to play, he’d forfeit.” “That’s when Eagle Matulich, an older back who died in 2002, stood up and said, “No, let him play. We want to play. “We came a long distance to play. State scored an early touchdown but missed the extra point. The Spartans held them scoreless in miserable weather that began with rain and turned to sleet. None of the three men remembers Horace Smith, who wore jersey number 56 and would continue to play for Michigan State for three more years. According to Michigan State sports publicists, Smith died in 2006. It was a different time seventy years ago. In more ways than one. The Mississippi State team flew to the game, and many of the State players were the first to fly. Harper Davis said that there were three to four players from Mississippi State who refused to fly. They didn’t want to fly. They left Wednesday or Thursday, I believe, and drove a car to East Lansing. The Bulldogs finished the season with an 8-2 record and lost to LSU and Alabama. Five of their wins were shutouts, including the win over Michigan State, 33-0 defeat of Auburn, and 20-0 victory over Ole Miss. Davis, Stuart and Grace claim they never considered themselves or the 1946 Bulldogs team to be special in Mississippi sports history. Davis later played in professional football with black players. “There wasn’t anything special about it.” We just wanted football.” The 1946 game is no way to take away Coach Babe McCarthy’s 1963 SEC Champion basketball Bulldogs. They flew out of Mississippi under the cover of darkness to participate in the NCAA Tournament. The 1963 episode was widely covered in the media, and it was openly debated before. The 1946 Bulldogs were just trying to play a match and nothing was written about them. Davis, Stuart, and Grace claim that it was not obvious to them that both Mississippi’s history pieces – the 1946 football match and the 1963 basketball match – were played in East Lansing. It sounds like something from ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Mississippi Today’s sports columnist is Rick Cleveland. Check out his columns as well as his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.