/Rockey’s ‘rock’ will be there in spirit when he goes into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

Rockey’s ‘rock’ will be there in spirit when he goes into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

STARKVILLE — RockeyFelker met a friend recently who had lost his wife to breast cancer. Felker stood up and embraced him for several seconds. The man finally stated, “Rockey! It’s just not fair!” “No,” Felker replied, “it is not.” The column is about Felker who will be inducted into Mississippi’s Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night. This column is about the man who, in 1974, quarterbacked the Bulldogs to victory over college football’s ruins and to their first win in a single season since 1941. It is about a man who was State’s head coach for five years, and then later as an administrator. It’s about a man loved by his former teammates, coaches, and players he coached. It is also about Rockey Tingle and Susan Tingle, the former Susan Tingle. Their 42-year marriage ended in February after she lost her battle with cancer. Felker said that she had no idea what she was getting herself into by marrying a man who was going to be a football coach. She didn’t know the demands she would face, the weekends and nights I would be away, or all the moves we would make. She had no idea. She was the perfect coach’s spouse. She was the glue that held our family together. She was a rock.” It is funny how they came together. Rockey didn’t initially pursue Susan. Rockey was actually after Nancy, her roommate. It would seem that the star quarterback would be able find a date on his own. “Nancy wasn’t interested” in dating a football player, Felker stated. But Felker kept trying and eventually became friends with Susan Tingle. They fell in love quickly. “Susan didn’t know anything about football,” Felker smiles through her misty eyes. “But she began coming to the games, or at least home games.” She was not there when Rockey, who led the Bulldogs 98 yards against time to victory over then-Memphis State, became a folk hero in 1974 Memphis. With 49 seconds left, Felker converted the two-point conversion and won it. Felker led the Bulldogs’ victories over Ole Miss, LSU, and Georgia that year. Felker ran the veer option offense and was a magician. He knew when to give the ball away, pitch, and when to keep it. He was a great passer, even when passing was required. He was the SEC’s leader in total offense, and was also named the league’s player of the year. In the Sun Bowl, State beat North Carolina 26-24. Felker was already a subject of a song: “Rockey Can Help.” Rockey and Susan were soon married. Rockey was a son of a coach and became an assistant coach to Bob Tyler at State. The Felkers moved eight times before Felker’s coaching career was over. There were many triumphs and many heartaches. That’s coaching. Coaching can have devastating effects on a couple’s marriage. Rockey says Susan made it work. “It wasn’t easy, and sometimes Susan didn’t want it to be,” Felker stated. The Felkers had three children, Jay, David, and Stephen, who would all become ministers. Felker’s five year tenure as State’s head coach, which began at 33 years old, was ending. This was in addition to Susan’s fight with cancer. Emory Bellard had left him a program that was talent-poor. He improved the talent level, especially across both lines, and laid the foundation for Jackie Sherrill. Felker says, “I know that I left it worse than I found it,” these days. The heartache felt by the Felkers when their alma mater, where they were married and loved deeply, was let go is beyond words. Rockey stated, “I was lost.” “I was lost, I was in a fog. I didn’t know what to do next.” Susan gave the solution: “Let’s pack our car.” They’re going to Disney World,” they said, along with their sons, who were 9 and 7. It’s amazing what you can remember. “We’re heading down the road and David (then 7 years old) suddenly asks, What’s sex?’.” Rockey agreed to let Susan handle this one. She explained that sex is when your father and mother love one another so much it produces children. The 7-year old was satisfied for a while, but Jay, 9 years old, piped in again. Jay said, “Come on David, don’t be dumb. Stephen, me and you. It’s been done three times …” Rockey cried as he recounted the story. Rockey also said that Susan was thrilled to hear last fall that he had won induction into Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. Rockey said, “She was proud of me. She said that I deserved it. She said that she wondered if she would be there to witness it all. Rockey’s children, grandchildren, and Rockey’s mother will all be at the 10-top Felker tables, nine in total. Rockey said, “I think that we’ll just leave the 10th seat open.”