Tulane Stadium was like an icebox, cold and damp. But in the midst of snow banks, with players bothered by frosted fingertips, Tim Davis was hot. Or, at least, his toe was.
There had been Sugar Bowls won by field goals before – the 1936 game being won by a kick, the only points the winning team could manage. To show how much the game has changed, Sammy Baugh’s boot in that one was the first of just nine before 1964 in the Sugar Bowl’s three-decade history.
Tulane Stadium really did resemble a huge sugar bowl on the first day of 1964, with snow banks flanking the field. The moist 45-degree temperature was said later to have played a critical roles in the outcome, causing a total of 17 fumbles, 11 by the losing team, and bringing on an incredible for-the-time four field goals – including the longest ever kicked in any bowl – by Davis, three coming after bobbles, which provided the ultimate difference.
Playing with a second-string quarterback, 18-year-old Steve Sloan, in place of suspended Joe Namath, and against the nation’s best run defense, Bear Bryant figured he was in for an iffy afternoon.
On ‘Bama’s first series, though, Sloan took the Crimson Tide on an impressive quick-hitting, between-the-tackles drive that netted five straight first downs. Ole Miss, which led the nation in rushing defense, finally was able to stop the Tide at the Rebel 15, forcing Davis to come in and kick a 31-yard field goal.
Following the kickoff, Ole Miss quarterback Jim Weatherly, in for Perry Lee Dunn, set the tone for a frustrating Rebel day by losing the ball with no one around him as he attempted to pass. Butch Henry recovered at the Ole Miss 31, and Davis eventually came back in to boot a 46-yard field goal, breaking the Sugar Bowl record of 32 yards that he set himself two years before against Arkansas.
After yet another lost muff at the Rebel 37, Davis, in for his third play of the game, attempted a 50-yard field goal, but it was wide to the right. “I ought to beat you with a stick, you rascal,” admonished the Bear with a smile. “You should have had that other one, too. I saw you take your eyes off the ball.”
Another lost Rebel fumble at the 16 gave Davis another chance. With 16 seconds left until intermission Davis kicked a 22-yarder that gave Alabama a 9-0 halftime lead.
“I’m not taking anything away from Alabama,” reflected Rebel end Joe Wilkins. “We played under the same conditions. Our game, though, I feel, was much more affected by the weather than theirs. We had a much more open offense, handled the ball more than Alabama, which ran basically a simple quick-hitting offense. The main thing was the snow put more moisture in the air. The field was slick as glass … With our roll-out offense; it just seemed a little more difficult for us.”
Dennis picked up 11 yards on the first play of the second half, registering Ole Miss’ initial first down. Two plays later, Frank Kinard dropped the Rebels’ eighth fumble, bringing Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett to his feet, saying, “Why is it the boys can’t hold onto the football?”
Two series after that, Davis kicked a 48-yard field goal, at that time the record for any bowl (record field goal pictured below, courtesy of the Paul W. Bryant Museum – the University of Alabama).
Ole Miss crossed midfield for the first time in the fourth quarter, and Dunn eventually hit Larry Smith with a five-yard touchdown pass, The Rebels, outplayed most of the day, were now in position to win. And soon they were knocking on the door again, but on a fourth down at the 4, Dunn was stopped at the 2. Bryant would say later, “If I remember right, we (Kentucky) stopped Oklahoma in almost the same spot in the ’51 game.”
Ole Miss, hot now, made a last bid, getting to the 19 where end Joe Pettey caught a pass in the numbers and near the sideline. Fittingly, he couldn’t hold the ball as he was tackled. ‘Bama recovered at the 9 to seal the victory.
It was difficult to believe that a game with 17 fumbles, 11 by Ole Miss, both all-time bowl records – could be so exciting at the finish.
Davis, of course, was the postgame story. He credited the snow with his performance. “I think being off the day before the game was the answer,” he theorized. “I just had more zip in my kicks. I could see when I was warming up before the game. If the snow hadn’t forced us indoors Tuesday, I would not have been so strong and accurate.”
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.
Ala: Tim Davis 31-yard field goal, 1:15 (1st)
Ala: Davis 46-yard field goal, 14:10 (2nd)
Ala: Davis 22-yard field goal (2nd)
Ala: Davis 48-yard field goal (3rd)
Miss: Larry Smith 5-yard pass from Perry Lee Dunn (Irwin kick), 11:58 (4th)
Rushing Leaders Ala: Steve Sloan 16-51; Benny Nelson 16-47; Eddie Versprille 10-25 Miss: Mike Dennis 7-37; Perry Lee Dunn 6-24; Fred Roberts 7-12
Passing Ala: Steve Sloan 3-10-1, 29 yards; Jack Hurlburt 0-1-0, 0 yards Miss: Perry Lee Dunn 8-10-0, 125 yards, 1 TD; Jim Weatherly 3-11-3, 46 yards
Receiving Leaders Ala: Charlie Stephens 1-15; Jimmy Dill 1-9; Benny Nelson 1-5 Miss: Dave Wells 4-76; Mike Dennis 2-29; Larry Smith 2-13 TD, Fred Roberts 1-19
Miller-Digby Award recipient: Tim Davis, Alabama kicker