Rick Cleveland: Motivation turns into state’s Possum Bowl

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, August 24, 2016

By Rick Cleveland

If you’ve never heard of Mississippi’s Possum Bowl, you might want to listen in…

It started in back in 1984. Roe Burns, now a 66-year-old Lincoln County cattle farmer, was a young, energetic head football coach at Loyd Star, near Brookhaven. He was trying to build some football enthusiasm in what was traditionally basketball country.

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“We started slow that season,” Burns said “We were 3 and 2 through five games and were about to play a really good Bogue Chitto team that was 5 and 0.”

Opossums were — and are — plentiful in Lincoln County. Then-Loyd Star assistant coach Ricky Smith knew several folks who hunted opossums so he and Burns hatched a plan. Before game week started on Monday morning, Smith hung several dead possums on the goal posts at the football stadium. He hung another in the courtyard at school.
The blame was placed squarely on Bogue Chitto.

“We just felt like we needed something to fire our kids up,” Burns said. “And, you know what, it worked.”

Bogue Chitto led 7-0 into the fourth quarter before Loyd Star scored late, went for two and earned an 8-7 victory.

“It was huge for us at the time,” Burns said. “We let those possums hang for three or four days until they were really ripe,” Burns said. “Then we cut ‘em down and put them under the visiting stands at the football stadium. I can’t imagine the Bogue Chitto fans appreciated it much.”

And thus was born the Possum Bowl.

Three years later, there was a Possum Bowl Trophy. Both towns got into it. Still do.

They played the Possum Bowl again last Friday night. Loyd Star won it 55-0 to keep possession of the trophy topped with a gold-plated opossum and to raise this question: Was Bogue Chitto playing possum?

No, of course, they weren’t. This is just one of those years when Lloyd Star has a senior-laden, much more talented team than Bogue Chitto, says current Loyd Star coach Adam Cook.
“We just had ‘em out-matched,” Cook said.

There were no dead possums involved this year, Cook said, unlike two years ago when Cook and his coaches say they found dead possums all over the field the week of the Loyd Star game.

“I kind of thought something might happen this year, but when I left my office at 2 a.m. Friday morning to go home and try to get some sleep, there was a Lincoln County sheriff’s car in the parking lot, so maybe that’s why,” Cook said.

Long-time Brookhaven sports writer Tom Goetz chuckles when he talks about the Possum Bowl, and he’s seen a few.

“It’s been a great rivalry for a long time,” Goetz said. “Both sides have had a lot of fun with the possum part of it. They used to serve possum burgers at the game. There was even a Possum Bowl queen for a while.”

Ah, yes, the Possum Bowl queen and here’s the best part: The Possum Bowl queen, way down in conservative Lincoln County, smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, was always a guy.

That’s right. The week of the Bogue Chitto game, the Loyd Star football players would dress in drag for a beauty contest judged by teachers and coaches.

Current Enterprise-Lincoln coach Books Burns knows all about it. He played tight end and quarterback for his daddy, Roe, and twice entered the Possum Bowl queen pageant.

“I had a sister who loaned me her dance recital outfit,” he says. “It was a little tight on me but it stretched out. It was funny, really. All these guys, dressed in dresses and with make-up on.”

And was the dancer’s outfit a winner?

“Nah, I got edged out,” he said. “First runner-up. But we did win the game that year.”

In the Possum Bowl, that’s the most important part.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@msfame.com.