|19th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1953
If football really is often a game of inches and close calls, this would be Exhibit A.
Rebel quarterback Jim "King" Lear wasted no time in staking Ole Miss to the lead, sending Wilson Dillard into the end zone eight plays after the kickoff.
Then Georgia Tech, traditionally a slow-starting outfit, fumbled at the Yellow Jacket 19, and quickly the Rebels were at the goal again with two downs to get in. Dick Westerman gained a yard, and then Dillard carried again on fourth down. Players were piled up at the edge of the stripe; when they were untangled, Dillard was ruled an inch short of a touchdown and the ball went over to Tech.
Coach Johnny Vaught protested later, "That ball was over, but they pushed it back two inches!" Yellow Jacket linebacker Larry Morris thought the call could have gone either way.
Another fumble, this one by Lear as the second quarter began, eventually had the ‘Jackets camped on the Rebel 9 with a first down. The ball popped loose as Glenn Turner hit the line, but he caught it in midair and gained four yards. Bill Brigman sneaked over from the 2.
Instead of a two-touchdown lead, Ole Miss was all even with Georgia Tech.
The Rebels, though, charged right back with a drive to the ‘Jackets' 3. But four plays gained one yard and no points.
"That's where we won the game," said Tech coach Bobby Dodd. "Those goal line stands won the game." Also, for the first time, Tech was beginning to control the Ole Miss offense. Frank Broyles, a Yellow Jacket assistant who nine years before starred in the Sugar Bowl, explained, "We changed the play of our tackles. All season long we have been crashing our tackles straight ahead on pass plays. There's not but one quarterback in 50 who can get out of the pocket we form that way. Lear was that one in 50. So we changed the angle on them. Instead of charging straight, we sent them crashing out at an angle toward the sidelines."
Leon Hardeman and Billy Teas began finding holes in the line, and soon Tech was at the Ole Miss 5 where Franklin "Pepper" Rodgers kicked a 22-yard field goal to give the Yellow Jackets a 10-7 halftime lead.
"When we went into the locker room I remember Coach Dodd sitting on a table, swinging his legs and drinking a Coke," said George Morris, who was recruited for Tech right out of the Rebel stronghold of Vicksburgh, Miss. "He said, ‘Well, boys, it looks like we got ‘em on the run.' Our reaction was that Coach Dodd wasn't watching the same game we were."
Another controversial call occurred during the third quarter when Lear punted to Bobby Morehead on the Tech 24. As three blue-shirted Rebels zeroed in on the returner, he gave a last-second motion that was described as "something like a wave to his girl friend." The ball was knocked loose and Ole Miss recovered on the 21. But the officials ruled the faint fair-catch signal had given the coverage enough time to back off, a decision derided by the press.
Tech was in the clear by then, although Rodgers threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Knox in the fourth period.
Statistically, little separated the Yellow Jackets and Rebels, but the stats were deceiving. In the first half Ole Miss gained 164 yards. In the second half the Rebels had 123 yards against the revamped Tech defense. Ninety of those second-half Ole Miss yards came after Tech's 24th point.
None of that was the topic of conversation afterward, though. "Three of the four officials who worked in the Sugar Bowl live in Georgia." Times-Picayune sports editor Bill Keefe couldn't resist noting. "Two are from Atlanta. Mississippi Governor Hugh White sent letters to George Gardner, president of the SEC Officials Association, and to Bernie Moore, SEC commissioner, saying he had "witnessed the worst officiating I have ever seen."
A Rebel fan spotted Ole Miss President Dr. John Davis Williams walking from the stadium and said, "Well, Doc, I see you've still got your watch and chain, so maybe we're lucky."
Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.