STARKVILLE – On a freezing afternoon in 1963, Mississippi State University’s football team blocked a punt and ran it in for a touchdown at the Bulldogs’ first post-season appearance in 22 years.
MSU went on to defeat North Carolina State 16-12 in a victory remembered by many fans as “colder than a pawnbroker’s heart,” as Voice of the Bulldogs Jack Cristil described it during the radio broadcast. Coffee was freezing in the press box, and ballpoint pens wouldn’t write, Cristil later said. The temperature at the end of the game was just 15 degrees.
However, the cold didn’t stop the Bulldogs, and the 1963 Liberty Bowl continues to be one of the most memorable, special times in Bulldog football history. To commemorate the 50 years that have passed since that big win, MSU’s Bulldog Club is sponsoring a Liberty Bowl reunion before the 2013 MSU Homecoming game on Saturday [Oct. 12] when MSU faces Bowling Green State University from Ohio.
The reunion celebration will begin Saturday at 3:30 p.m., and former players, family and friends will gather in the Junction at a tailgating tent next to the Alumni Association tent in front of the Leo Seal M-Club, said Ali Reardon, Bulldog Club graduate assistant. Former players will be recognized with gifts sponsored by Columbus artist Robert “Uncle Bunky” Williams.
“We’re going to enjoy getting to know these players and hearing their stories,” Reardon said. “We’re excited to have them all coming home for homecoming. We’re keeping the tradition alive and getting these gentlemen together to show them we appreciate their time and contributions.
“Getting them together will also allow them to be part of the future of Mississippi State football,” she continued. “That future will certainly be something special, being built upon the storied past of the 1963 Liberty Bowl.”
Athletic Director Emeritus Larry Templeton agreed. He was still in high school when MSU faced NC State that freezing night, but he lived in Starkville and supported Bulldog football.
“I remember watching that Liberty Bowl,” he said. “It was certainly an exciting time and a big-time event. One big thing was how cold it was, but being in a post-season game and leading against North Carolina State on national TV was a humongous deal for Mississippi State.
“I think that team set the bar for future teams because they showed that we could compete on the national level.”
MSU scored the first touchdown of the 1963 Liberty Bowl when end Bill MGuire blocked a punt that end Tommy Inman picked up and returned for a score, according to the account published by The Associated Press. With the ensuing extra point, the Bulldogs were up 7-0 in the first quarter.
NC State punted again in the ensuing series, but MSU started with excellent field position on NC State’s 47-yard line. A few plays later, MSU quarterback Sonny Fisher ran the football in for another 6 points, though the Bulldogs missed the extra point.
In the second quarter, NC State scored one touchdown but missed the extra point. As the quarter ended, MSU kicker Justin Canale, also a guard, booted a 43-yard attempt into the wind as time expired to extend the Bulldogs lead 16-6.
Halfback Ode Burrell, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, led MSU’s ground attack, along with fullback Hoyle Granger and Fisher. Passing in the freezing temperatures was difficult: Fisher attempted only six passes. Though NC State was able to put up one more touchdown in the fourth quarter, the team could not overcome the Bulldogs, and the final score was 16-12.
Pat Watson was named Outstanding Linebacker. After the season concluded, he and tackle Tommy Neville were named All-Americans, and Bulldog head football coach Paul Davis was voted the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year.
MSU’s next bowl game appearance came in the 1974 Sun Bowl, when the Bulldogs defeated the University of North Carolina, 26-24.
Learn more about MSU’s Bulldog Club, sponsor of the 50th-anniversary Liberty Bowl celebration, at http://www.HailState.com.