Why Mississippi College and Millsaps Stopped Playing Each Other
[This is Rick Cleveland's August 31, 2000 column from The Clarion-Ledger. Barry Landrum preached a youth revival at my church in Natchez, Miss. in 1962. I did not learn of the incident at the Jackson City Auditorium until I read Lee Baker's 1997 piece.]
Imagine this. Imagine fights breaking out all over the stands this Saturday night at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. Imagine the good Baptists from Mississippi College and the good Methodists from Millsaps brawling-- on the field, in the stands and underneath the stadium in the concession areas.
Imagine Jackson police rushing to the scene to break up a riot-like situation. Imagine the police restoring order, only to see fights break out again and again. Imagine blood, lots of blood. Baptist blood. Methodist blood.
Never happen, you say?
Why, it already did.
That's why Millsaps and Mississippi College quit playing 40 years ago. It was ugly. It was dangerous. Not to mention, it didn't look good for all those Baptists and Methodists to be acting like heathens.
A STOLEN FLAG
We take you back now to a night in early 1960. This was the night years of bickering and scuffling between students of the two schools turned ugly. Millsaps and Mississippi College were playing basketball at old [Jackson] City Auditorium, which no longer exists. [Capital Towers is now at that location.] MISSISSIPPI COLLEGE WAS WINNING BIG. Worse, Choctaw students were waving a banner at Millsaps students across the floor. What burned the Millsaps faithful so much was that the banner had been purloined from a Millsaps fraternity house. (Caps added)
Finally, Millsaps football player James "Wooky" Gray could stand it no longer. He charged up into the stands. Wooky Gray was going to get that flag.
First, he had to get past Mississippi College football player Barry Landrum [of Laurel] and about 40 of his friends. Landrum and Gray had met before, and I'm going to try to put this nicely. They did not like each other. LANDRUM CAUGHT GRAY WITH A HARD RIGHT. And that's when all hell broke loose. (Caps added)
Landrum, a Baptist preacher in Houston, Texas, remembers. "You know, people who were there say I attacked Wooky, but we all know a preacher wouldn't do that," Landrum says, chuckling.
Other witnesses have said that Landrum knocked Gray out. Landrum's not so sure. "If he was out, he wasn't out long, because he hit me back," Landrum says.
That was before halftime. At halftime, Millsaps and Mississippi College fans were jammed into a small concession area. Well, you know what happened then.
"They started fighting like sardines in a can," Landrum says. "It was bedlam."
A SAD ENDING
In the days thereafter, the decision was made to end the rivalry. It was just too bitter. Landrum remembers sadness at both schools.
"I was a junior then, so it meant we wouldn't play Millsaps my senior football season," Landrum says. "We were really disappointed."
George Dale, this state's insurance commissioner, had a unique view. He played football at Millsaps in 1960, then transferred to Mississippi College where he played baseball. He is a member of both M-Clubs. He remembers the night he decided to transfer.
"Wooky came to my room with tears in his eyes," Dale says. "He said, 'Anywhere, George, anywhere but Mississippi College.'"
Wooky Gray would become one of this state's most successful football coaches, both in the high school and junior college ranks. His 1993 Mississippi Delta team won the national juco championship. He died in 1996 of a heart attack at the age of 57.
"When I was a pastor in Greenville, Wooky and I crossed paths several times," Landrum says. "I wouldn't say we were friends, but we were able to laugh about what happened."
Landrum, by the way, won't preach Sunday. He'll be in Jackson this weekend.
"I wouldn't miss this game," he says. "This is history. I'll be there."
Millsaps fans, be forewarned.
[This is Lee Baker's February 6, 1997 article from The Clarion-Ledger.]
A basketball fight ended the football series between Mississippi College and Millsaps College.
It was 1960, at the [Jackson] City Auditorium, where Capital Towers stands today. Millsaps football player Wooky Gray went into the stands after a banner taken from a Millsaps fraternity. What resulted, the Jackson Daily News [an afternoon paper!] reported, was a "riot."
Participants and witnesses alike abound with recollections, but no one had better seating to view it all than John Smith, now defensive ends and linebackers coach at Mississippi College, then a Choctaw senior.
"Chuck Brandon went to a fraternity party at Millsaps and brought back the flag," Smith said. "We decided to take it to the game and after the first 2 points, we'd throw it up to the ceiling and let it float down.
"It came down like a parachute."
Sometime thereafter Gray came in like an avenging angel, first gathering some associates, since, Smith explained, "Millsaps didn't have a lot of guys at the game and they first got some more.
"When Wooky and his entourage came in front of the MC seats, he said, 'Guys, we don't want any trouble. We just want our flag back.' Then he started up the steps, real slow, stopping at each one and looking over everyone on the row.
"I was in the sixth row, watching, and when he got to the fifth level, BARRY LANDRUM [of Laurel], right in front of me, STOOD UP AND HIT HIM IN THE MOUTH. (Caps added)
"After that, well, the fight went from there into the whole crowd."
Gray went on to become a coach and led Mississippi Delta to the 1993 national junior college football championship. He died last year .
While Wooky and Co. never came close to getting the flag, Smith a day later was summoned to the office of Dr. Charles Scott, MC's dean of men [and later dean of students], and told to get the flag back to where it belonged.
"I took it back myself, calling first for someone to meet me at the student union building, and handed it over," Smith said. "I don't remember who it was, but it sure wasn't Wooky."
Ted Alexander, now president of Pearl River Community College, has his own recollections. He was second in line behind Gray heading into the stands.
"It was a mess, just an unbelievable amount of confusion," Alexander said. "Probably foolhardy on our part, but an opportunity for a souvenir. We were young and didn't know any different." (sic)
When the fight broke out, the players sat on the floor and watched. Afterward, MISSISSIPPI COLLEGE WENT ON TO A 131-72 VICTORY. The teams have played a few basketball games since, but the football rivalry ended. (Caps added)
Millsaps football coach Erm Smith and Vice Chancellor Jim Ferguson perhaps saved Gray from total destruction.
"We went into the stands to get Wooky," said Erm Smith, now 80 and living in Madison. "He could have been killed, and I told the administration I was too old to go up into stands and stop fights.
"As serious as that was, it could have been really bad, so it was well not to play MC the next fall."