21st Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1955
#5 Navy 21 (8-2-0)
#6 Ole Miss 0 (9-2-0)
How Navy and Ole Miss Met in the 1955 Sugar Bowl
Quarterback George Welsh stepped into the Navy huddle. All he heard was his teammates pleading for a play, not a punt.
It was fourth down with a foot to go at Navy’s own 39, against Ole Miss’ imposing defense – and on the game’s first series.
“The fellows all said, ‘C’mon George, we can make it. Let’s try it.” Welsh related. “So we had (Joe) Gattuso slant off tackle.”
Gattuso gained four yards. Mythology of this memorable game says this call spurred the Midshipmen to its victory. Actually, Ole Miss was offsides and, in fact, Navy accepted the five-yard penalty. But the play seemed to prick the poise and pride of the Rebels. “The coach tells us only one thing,” explained Navy second-string quarterback Dick Echard. “If you think you can make it, go for it. Because if you believe you can, then you will.”
“When I saw them do that,” said Coach Eddie Erdelatz, “I knew we were going to play a whale of a game.”
Welsh ran options for short, but surprisingly consistent, gains, sending a flanker to one side, then running the play the opposite way. It led to a Gattuso touchdown of three yards. John Weaver, who had a 24-yard gain in the drive, kicked the extra point.
Navy’s bug-sized defense, using 14 different looks, played head-to-head with the fearsome Rebel offense the remainder of the quarter. In the second period, it was Navy who again threatened, going from its 40 to the Ole Miss 8. Three plays at that point produced nothing. On fourth down Welsh threw a pass to Ron Beagle, who made a flying catch right on the goal line. It was originally called a touchdown, but head linesman Charles Wood, who was in better position to judge, overruled it. Wood said that while Beagle’s feet were in the end zone, he fell just outside when he made the catch. Film revealed it to be a highly questionable call.
Navy probably secured the victory in the third quarter when Gattuso broke through right tackle, going 17 yards to the Ole Miss 17. On fourth down, after picking up one yard, Weaver eased into the end zone and Welsh threw straight into the Rebel coverage. Weaver, with Billy Kinard’s arms around his neck and Eagle Day practically inside his jersey, went up and made a miraculous catch.
Day, one of the nation’s outstanding quarterbacks, gave the outplayed Rebels a sliver of hope with a 72-yard punt to the Navy 7. If Ole Miss could hold them, or force Navy to make a mistake, the Rebels might turn the tide. Instead, Navy ran off four successive first downs, one on a 22-yard run by Gattuso and another on a Gattuso fumble that bounced 14 yards up-field to be recovered by teammate Wilson Whitmire. Then Weaver raced 21 yards around right end. Gattuso scored from two yards out on his third consecutive carry from the 5.
Gattuso (111 yards) and Weaver (106 yards) each outrushed the Ole Miss offense, which had just 78 yards rushing and 43 passing.
“The difference,” Erdelatz told the press, “was desire.” The coach asked the media to move from the center of the locker room, saying he wished to speak to his team. “Men,” he said simply, “you were terrific today. Let’s get down on our knees and thank God.” A moment of silence was offered by the grateful Midshipmen who knew full well what they had accomplished.
Then Erdelatz leaped up, fist in the air, and shouted, “Now let’s go raise hell in Noo Awleans.”
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.