It was late November 1980, and quarterback Reggie Collier had just led his University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles to an 8-3 record that included wins over Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
Much to the delight of Collier and his teammates, the fruits of their labors would be rewarded with an extension of their season in the form of a bid to the Independence Bowl, the university’s first postseason invitation in more than 20 years.
“There was a lot of excitement,” Collier said in reflecting on the team’s invitation to play in the Shreveport, La., game against the Southland Conference champion McNeese State University Cowboys. “We knew we had an opportunity to get there, and it was a real honor to get the invitation and a great opportunity to showcase the football program and the university,” he said.
The Golden Eagles won the game in dramatic fashion with a last-minute touchdown run by tailback Mike Woodard to take a 16-14 victory over the Cowboys, Southern Miss’ first bowl victory in five tries. Collier would lead the team to the Tangerine Bowl the next year against Missouri, with the Golden Eagles narrowly losing 19-17.
The Golden Eagles played in two Sun Bowls and two Tangerine Bowls in the 1950s. Collier said he’s proud he and his teammates were the ones that ended the long drought of bowl appearances.
“It wasn’t really until years later that I understood the magnitude of it, that we were setting the benchmark for what we wanted to do, to elevate the program and go to bowl games every year.”
Collier, who now serves as coordinator of athletic development and community relations for the Southern Miss Eagle Club, recalls the excitement and scheduled events for players and fans leading up to the bowl, which included opportunities to meet their opponents face-to-face before the battle on the field.
“We had a lot of pregame events, barbecues and banquets, and we got to know the guys from McNeese,” he said. “It was pretty cordial leading up to the game, there were no problems but there was a little bit of trash-talking. That’s always a part of it.”
For this year’s Southern Miss squad, a bowl invitation is a sweet reward for a four-game winning streak that salvaged what would have otherwise been a season to forget, after the Golden Eagles’ record stood at 2-6 following their 36-30 loss to Memphis Oct. 25.
“We’re extremely excited to be in the New Orleans Bowl matched against a quality opponent like Troy. It’s a reward for our players for the way they fought back to win the last four games, and another opportunity for our fans to see their team play again this year,” said Southern Miss head football coach Larry Fedora.
The meeting with Troy marks the 19th time the Southern Miss football team has participated in a bowl game and the 13th time in just the last 20 years. It will be the eighth time the two schools have squared off on the gridiron, with Southern Miss leading the series 6-1. The Golden Eagles won the last meeting, a 42-19 victory in Montgomery, Ala., in 1977.
What’s Collier’s advice for this year’s Golden Eagles squad as they take part in the pre-game festivities and prepare to take on the Trojans? Savor the moment. “Sometimes we take life’s experiences for granted, so I would tell the guys to enjoy this, to appreciate every aspect of this opportunity. I hope it’s another in a long string of bowl games for us.”
Former Southern Miss quarterback Reggie Collier led the Golden Eagles to their first bowl game in more than years back in 1980 against McNeese State University in the Independence Bowl. (Photo courtesy of Southern Miss Sports Information)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.