How Mississippi and Texas Met in the 1958 Sugar Bowl
Even the Southeastern Conference began putting the squeeze on the Sugar Bowl. With northern and western teams virtually unobtainable for New Orleans, Auburn emerged in 1957 as the New Year’s most desirable trophy.
The undefeated, untied War Eagles were the season’s national champion but were ineligible for bowl competition because of NCAA probation. Mississippi, which missed a share of the SEC title because of a final game tie with Mississippi State, was a solid second choice. Ole Miss was still embarrassed over its previous Sugar Bowl appearances against Georgia Tech and Navy, and wanted a New Orleans stage again.
“Jimmie-nee! I have a special desire to win this one. That’s what we’re going down there for – to try to win,” said Rebel Coach Johnny Vaught.
Getting a suitable opponent was a man-sized job. From the season’s beginning, Texas A&M was in the corner of every bowl’s eye. Bear Bryant’s Aggies started fast and finished slow while young Darrell Royal’s Texas Longhorns came off a disastrous 1956 and a slow 1957. The Longhorns rode a season-ending surge that battered A&M on national television, as well as Cotton Bowl-bound Rice and TCU. The Sugar then took Texas, which finished 6-3-1 and wasn’t in the Top 10.
Royal later said, “We shouldn’t have been in a bowl to begin with. We were kind of a Cinderella team even with that record. The year before we were 1-9, so we received a lot of notoriety. But the truth of the matter is we weren’t that good of a football team.”
Ray Brown, who quarterbacked the sixth-ranked Rebels and led the team with a better than five-yard-per-carry average, was the story of the 1958 Sugar Bowl. Ole Miss had a superb defense, headed by Gene Hickerson, and a top-ranked offense. But it was Brown who was the team’s soul.
When Brown was a child, a small friend pulled a wagon from under him. “We thought it was just another fall,” said his mother, “but Ray ran a high fever…” Doctors in Memphis diagnosed osteomyelitis; they had to operate and scrape the bone. It looked doubtful that he would walk again.
“They used tractions on my right leg,”…said Ray. “That saved me from being crippled…after I showed doctors I could walk, well, then I started running…and then I went out for high school football…” He kept going until he became the ignition of Vaught’s high-octane offense.
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.