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Archie Manning fondly recalls 1969 season and Sugar Bowl appearance

Archie Manning fondly recalls 1969 season and Sugar Bowl appearance

It’s been 46 years since the Rebels traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to play in the Sugar Bowl, but legendary Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning still gets excited about that season. In a recent media teleconference, Manning looked back fondly on his 1969 Rebels’ team that concluded the year with a Sugar Bowl appearance, telling The Rebel Walk and other media: “we had a good football team at the end of that year.”

A look back at the 1969 Ole Miss Rebels

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Archie Manning led his Rebels to the 1970 Sugar Bowl. (Photo credit: Jack Cofield)

Heading into the 1969-70 season, Ole Miss was favored to win the Southeastern Conference Championship largely because of the swift running, tackle-breaking Manning, who made equally spectacular plays with his throwing arm. But the Rebels suffered unexpected losses to Kentucky, Alabama, and Houston along the way. However, as long as No. 18 Manning was under center, Ole Miss remained one of the nation’s most exciting teams to watch.

Huge late season wins help Rebels overcome early losses

Following those losses, the Rebels regrouped and were able to defeat unbeaten Georgia (26-23); shut out third-ranked unbeaten Tennessee (38-0); defeat an unbeaten LSU team (26-23); and go to Starkville and defeat Mississippi State (48-22) in the Egg Bowl to end the regular season.

Sitting at 7-3 and ranked No. 13 in the country, Ole Miss waited patiently to see where its name would fall among the New Year’s Bowl games. As the dominoes were falling, Notre Dame agreed to play Texas in the Cotton Bowl, while Missouri was set to play Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

That left the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans to be decided, and LSU seemed to be the frontrunner to play at home in Louisiana. But as it turned out, LSU wanted to travel for the holidays and play Texas in the Cotton Bowl, a game which was played in Dallas, Texas.

Sugar, Sugar for the Rebels

The cover of the game program from the 1970 Sugar Bowl between Ole Miss and Arkansas. (Photo credit: Sugar Bowl Archives)

The cover of the game program from the 1970 Sugar Bowl between Ole Miss and Arkansas. (Photo credit: Sugar Bowl Archives)

A breakdown in communications from the Tigers’ athletic department would ultimately leave LSU out of the trip to Dallas. The Sugar Bowl committee had to move forward with the bowl process and selected the Rebels to take on Arkansas. The Razorbacks’ high-powered, fiery offense, led by junior quarterback Bill Montgomery and wide receiver Chuck Dicus versus the most exciting player in America in Manning seemed to be just the ticket to get fans outside of their homes for three hours. And indeed it was, as 82,500 fans made the trip and watched as the Rebels defeated the Razorbacks on January 1, 1970.

Manning looked back on the process that took place to make that game happen. “In those days, the Sugar Bowl wasn’t so much about whether you won the conference; it was about the lobbying going on between the athletic departments, coaches, and the Sugar Bowl committee,” he said. “There weren’t many bowl games in those days.”

Ole Miss head coach John Vaught felt a win over both the Vols and Bulldogs would propel his Ole Miss team into the 36th annual Sugar Bowl, and he basically promised the team a spot in New Orleans if it defeated Tennessee and finished off Mississippi State at the end of the season.

That is exactly what occurred. “We were excited,” said Manning of his team’s mood at the time. “We came into the Sugar Bowl with a 7-3 record, and we were playing the loser of the highly-touted Arkansas-Texas game that year,” Manning said. “We honestly felt like Arkansas was the better team, probably as good as any team we had played that year, too, except Houston.”

Archie Manning, big plays help Ole Miss win the 1970 Sugar Bowl

Manning clearly remembers how the first half of the 1970 Sugar Bowl against Arkansas went as Ole Miss vaulted to an early lead on the scoreboard following a 69-yard touchdown run by Bo Bowen and an 18-yard touchdown run by Manning down the right sideline.

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Manning finished the game with 273 yards and one touchdown on 21-for-35 passing. (Photo credit: Sugar Bowl Archives)

Ole Miss went into halftime up 24-12 over the Razorbacks, who had 24 first downs at the break. The Razorbacks ultimately closed the gap in the second half with a 35-yard field goal from Bill McClard and Montgomery’s six-yard TD pass to fullback Bruce Maxwell. The Ole Miss lead was cut to 27-22.

Outside of Cloyce Hinton’s 36-yard field goal in the second half, the Rebels did most of their damage in the first period, ultimately needing only a stop from their defense to clinch the win.

Glenn Cannon, part of the Ole Miss secondary, had already picked off Montgomery early in the fourth quarter, when in the final two minutes of the game, Cannon landed a furious hit on Dicus, who fumbled the football at the 25 after the completed pass from Montgomery. Cannon hopped on the ball to secure the 27-22 win and the Rebels’ sixth Sugar Bowl victory. 

Arkansas’s Montgomery threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns on 17-for-34 passing. Manning finished the game with 273 yards and one touchdown on 21-for-35 passing. He also added one touchdown and 39 yards rushing. 

Manning: “That could very well be my best year ever in football”

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Archie Manning was named MVP of the 1970 Sugar Bowl. (Photo credit: Sugar Bowl Archives)

The win over Arkansas was the Rebels’ fourth win over a top-10 opponent during the 1969-70 season. Both programs amassed 954 yards of total offense in the game.  Manning earned All-America and All-SEC honors as well as finished third for the Heisman Trophy.

“That could very well be my best year ever in football,” said Manning, who was named MVP of the Sugar Bowl after accounting for 312 of his team’s 427 yards of offense. “It was one of the most enjoyable years. I always told my kids, ‘you live to play in big games’. We probably played in more big games that year than certainly anytime in my college days and maybe anytime.”

Manning and family excited about Rebels playing in 2016 Sugar Bowl

In 1971, Archie Manning was drafted No. 2 overall in the NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints and moved his family to New Orleans, Louisiana. After playing 14 seasons with the organization, Manning was asked to join the Sugar Bowl committee, and he has been a part of the bowl game for over 25 years.

Manning and his family have long hoped the Rebels would make their way back to the Sugar Bowl. That long wait is now over as Archie’s No. 12 Rebels (9-3, 6-2 SEC) are on their way back to the Big Easy to play the No. 16 Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) on Jan. 1 (7:30 p.m. CT, ESPN) inside the Mercedes Benz Superdome.

“The Manning family is really excited as is the entire Sugar Bowl organization,” Manning said. “Also, I think the entire New Orleans community, the South Louisiana community, and the people who support the Sugar Bowl are excited about having Ole Miss and Oklahoma State this year.

“We are extremely happy and are looking forward to a fun time.”

About The Author

Courtney Smith

Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men's basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.

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