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‘Help me get my pants up!’

By Jack Mayfield

With the 2015 LSU vs. Ole Miss game now in the record books, I want to take you back to Coach Johnny Vaught’s first season as Ole Miss coach and the first of his SEC Championships seasons. We all have Ole Miss football games that stick in our memory for years to come. Some games that stick in our memory are those that came when we were students at Ole Miss, and others came along later in life. One of the most memorable games in my life was the 1968 LSU game played in Baton Rouge.

I had just met my soon-to-be wife and took her to her first Ole Miss game and it happened to be in LSU’s stadium. She went to the restroom and came back a few minutes later and said she had seen one of the funniest things she had even seen at a football game. Someone threw a small cup of mustard from the upper deck into the Ole Miss student section. A young coed was hit in the chest with the cup, and she was covered head to toe with mustard. This action by an LSU fan may not have seemed funny to the Ole Miss coed, but it was a sight to behold.

In looking for a theme for this week’s column, I came across an episode during the first season as head coach for Johnny Vaught. The year was 1947, the date was Nov. 1, and the game was played at night in Baton Rouge. The incident did not concern an Ole Miss player. It happened to a legend of the Bengal’s team, Y.A. Tittle.

Going into this the seventh game of the 1947 season, Ole Miss had a 4-2 record. The Rebels had beaten Bear Bryant’s Kentucky team 14-7, Florida 14-6, South Carolina 33-0, and Tulane 27-14. They had lost to Vanderbilt 6-10 and Arkansas 14-19. Vaught figured that if he won the last four games he could win the SEC Championship. This would be a first for an Ole Miss football team. To do this he would first have to get by LSU, then play General Neyland’s Tennessee team, and the last two games would be with Chattanooga and Mississippi State.

The LSU game pitted two archrivals that both had some legendary players. Ole Miss was led by Chunkin’ Charlie Conerly from nearby Clarksdale and LSU led by Y.A. Tittle. They would both later play for the New York Giants.

Sportswriters at the time stated about the game that the ushers didn’t carry out the fans that had heart failure during the game; they just stood on them in order to have a better view of the game. Everyone remembers the game ended with Ole Miss winning 20-18, but not everyone remembers what happened to Tittle after he intercepted a Conerly pass in the second quarter.

Coach Vaught, in his 1971 book “Rebel Coach,” wrote about the football pants incident that happened to Tittle. Vaught stated, “That pants incident was one of the funniest things that ever happened on a football field. On the interception, an Ole Miss player, possibly Jack Odom, broke Tittle’s belt buckle when he tried to tackle him around the LSU 20-yard line. When he came to the bench, Farley Salmon, a defensive halfback, said, “When Tittle’s britches fell I couldn’t keep from laughing.” Tittle said in response, “Dammit, quit laughing and help me get my pants up!”

In his book, Vaught recounted a play-by-play of the second quarter that was sent to him by Bud Montet of the Baton Rouge MORNING ADVOCATE. Tittle had intercepted a Conerly pass on the LSU 17, and holding his pants up with one hand, ran back to the LSU 38 yard line. Time was called for LSU while repairs were made to Tittle’s pants. Tittle did not remember that this was the way the incident happened.

While Tittle was with the Giants, he wrote a book, “I Pass!” in which he recounted the incident differently. Tittle said he intercepted a pass in the second quarter and was headed for a touchdown when his fallen britches stopped him about the Ole Miss 20 yard-line. He also wrote that Conerly was on the bench at the time.

Vaught stated in his book, “your memory of an incident can be tricky and often the record simply says you are wrong.” Maybe the play-by-play that was sent to Vaught by Montet put the record straight.

In the Sunday, Nov. 2, 1947, issue of the TIMES-PICAYUNE, Sports Editor William McG. Keefe reported, “Tittle himself contributed several magnificent runs when he made a grand run after intercepting a pass from Conerly — a run that might have gained more ground but for the fact that Yelberton’s belt broke and his pants threatened to fall about his knees and down him harder than Barney Poole could have downed him. Fortunately, for himself, he held them up with one hand and still gained.”

Vaught would win SEC Coach of the Week honors for that game. He would state in his book, “Aside from the falling britches, the game was a battle between two great passers in football history. Conerly completed 12 of 19 and Tittle hit on 7 of 20. Conerly never ran much — except for his life in his early years with the New York Giants — but he was triple threat at Ole Miss, passing, running and kicking. There aren’t many like Conerly in the history of college football.”

Jack mayfield is a historian and Oxford resident. You can contact him at jlmayfield@dixie-net.com.