One of the most loyal supporters of The University of Southern Mississippi
football program never even stepped foot on the university's campus.
But what the
late John Austin Dickey of Chattanooga, Tenn., described to family
and friends as a "scrappy performance" by the team on
a cold, overcast Thanksgiving Day in 1958 against the University
of Tennessee-Chattanooga was enough to make him as loyal as the
most die-hard graduate.
was sitting in the stands that day at Chattanooga's Chamberlain
Field, enduring the icy temperatures while watching the then-Mississippi
Southern College football team take on the hometown UT-C Moccasins.
It was the last game of the season for the "Southerners,"
who were looking to wrap up an undefeated season against the Mocs.
with a growing mixture of awe and admiration, Dickey witnessed a
dramatic game-saving, four-down goal-line stand in the fourth quarter
that preserved MSC's victory, a 20-13 win that earned the school
the first of two College Division National championships.
in denying the Moccasins' comeback left an indelible impression
that team from the time he saw them," said his sister, Helene
Dickey Champlin of Athens, Ga. "He thought they were so gutsy,
the way they were just determined they weren't going to let Chattanooga
score there in the fourth quarter."
From that day
on, Dickey would monitor Southern Miss' athletic successes from
afar, watching the Golden Eagles (students adopted a mascot change
in the early 1970s) perform on television in both football and basketball,
and keeping up with scores of Southern Miss games in newspapers.
limited contact with Southern Miss, Dickey's devotion to the university's
football team, born from attending one football game, inspired him
to faithfully set aside money in savings that he planned to will
to the university for football scholarships.
just about everything he ever made to put in for that scholarship,"
Champlin said. "We (family) always bought him things we knew
he wouldn't get for himself, because if you gave him money, you
knew it would go into the savings account. It took a lot of sacrifice,
but he wanted to do it. I would say he was pretty devoted."
Dickey passed away at the age of 60, and after nearly half a century
of carefully squirreling away every nickel and dime he could spare,
his support of Golden Eagles football will continue in his absence
in the form of a gift of more than $180,000, the combination of
savings, bonds and an annuity.
Dickey, who never married, worked in the shipping division for Cutter
Laboratories in Chattanooga. Champlin said her brother didn't own
a car, lived in an apartment and didn't use credit cards. "He
wouldn't go into debt," she said.
wasn't a real high-profile person," Champlin said. "He
was real shy. He wasn't a big talker."
Born Aug. 31,
1942, in San Francisco, Dickey was the son of the late Capt. and
Mrs. Ivan N. Dickey. He graduated from Chattanooga High School and
attended Austin Peay College. Besides Champlin, Dickey is survived
by another sister, Cynthia Dickey Belvin of Chattanooga and a brother,
Michael Dickey, also of Chattanooga.
included watching sports on television, varying from football to
basketball to golf. However, football was always his favorite sport,
Champlin said, and the only team whose success he concerned himself
with was Southern Miss. "That was the only one he was ever
really gung-ho for," she said.
Like most teams
in the 1950s, it wasn't unusual for a football player to play on
both offense and defense, and such was the case for Richard Johnston,
who started at center and linebacker for the Southerners that day
in 1958 against Chattanooga. Consequently, Johnston was in on the
play in the fourth quarter that led to the infamous fumble, but
at linebacker he also helped lead the charge on defense that prevented
Chattanooga from cashing in on the miscue.
exchange on the snap at MSC's one-yard line between Johnston and
quarterback George Sekul inspires some good-natured ribbing between
the two former teammates to this day.
me of fumbling the ball, and I tell him I'm not sure who fumbled
it - that was the bad news," Johnston said, "but the good
news is that in four downs, we held them out of the end zone."
In his role
as a team captain, Johnston was responsible for relaying the defensive
signals. "I called for a Gap-8, or goal line defense,"
he said, and Johnston and his teammates proceeded to stave off the
manager for the 1958 team, has documented the history of that season
and other Southern Miss football milestones. "We had led the
small college poll the whole season, and they (UT-C) were in the
top 10, ranked sixth, when we played them," he said, also recalling
that the Moccasins were led by All-American quarterback John Green,
a native of West Point, Miss.
he and his teammates and the MSC coaching staff knew UT-C, which
had earlier in the season stunned in-state rival University of Tennessee
with a 14-7 win, would be unreceptive hosts. "We knew they
wouldn't be some pushover," he said. "We didn't think
(because of being undefeated) we would be granted a win automatically."
overwhelmed upon learning of Dickey's gift to the football program.
for a guy to be that much impressed (with our team) and doing something
like he did, that's just spectacular," he said.
player on that team, to know that our performance motivated someone
to do something like this...is just tremendous. I wish he were alive
today so I could personally thank him."
Athletic Director Richard Giannini said Dickey's donation is "an
extraordinary gift from an extraordinary individual." He said
the scholarships will bear Dickey's name, as well as honor the 1958
team, and be awarded to a football player who "makes an extraordinary
contribution to the team."
unfortunate that we never had the opportunity to know him,"
Giannini said. "We'll be indebted to him for his kindness and
Southern Miss development officer in charge of planned giving, said
the gift from Dickey is unique. Samel assisted in handling the donation
to the university "Individuals have their own sense of who
they're going to leave their money to and how they're going to do
it," he said, adding that a large number of people who give
to the university are not graduates.
can include us in their estate plans," he said. "It's
easy to do and doesn't cost the donor anything."
the legendary Thad "Pie" Vann, MSC was enjoying one its
best seasons in school history in 1958. Victories over "major"
colleges North Carolina State (26-14), the defending Atlantic Coast
Conference champion, and Virginia Tech (41-0) highlighted the campaign.
who played both offensive and defensive guard on the 1958 MSC team,
has fond recollections of Vann, who was inducted in the College
Football Hall of Fame in 1987. Vann served as head coach at the
school from 1949-1968. Mississippi Southern football teams were
sometimes referred to as "The Vann Men" after their coach.
something special," Taylor said of his former coach. "He
just knew how to relate to people."
loyalty to Vann and to the rest of the coaching staff provided them
with the motivation to keep Chattanooga from scoring a game-tying
touchdown, Taylor said.
(coaches) had faith in us, and we wanted to live up to that,"
he said. "We were thinking, 'when that ball snaps, we're going
to push them (Chattanooga) back, they're not going to come this
Like a lot
of other coaches and athletes, Taylor recalls Vann as being unabashedly
superstitious. Vann had received a Stetson as a gift from one of
the Texas schools MSC faced, which Vann decided was good luck since
the team was winning after he was given the hat.
From then on,
Taylor said Vann would carry the hat with him during games, but
never wore it because "it didn't fit him real good."
Vann gave Taylor
the hat at the end of the season, which Taylor still has in his
possession. "I guess he thought I wanted to be a cowboy or
something," Taylor said, laughing.
Miss assistant coach Jack Thomas was on the sideline in Chattanooga
that day, and remembers the Southerners as having phenomenal depth
at every position, but more importantly, a fierce commitment to
play above our heads," said Thomas, who coached the MSC offensive
and defensive lines, and went on to serve as an assistant coach
at Texas A&M, Hardin-Simmons and Baylor University. "We
just had a bunch of good players who wanted to win some ball games."
comes back to Hattiesburg to rejoin the team for reunions. "They
were as good if not better than any team I was ever associated with,"
Miss head coach Jeff Bower said Dickey's description of the team
as "scrappy" is a signature tradition of the Golden Eagles,
one Bower hopes his team will continue to uphold, including in this
year's Liberty Bowl against Utah. "It's been that way here
for a long time, not only playing physical football, but playing
with a lot of character," Bower said. "That's just Southern
she wishes her brother was still around to enjoy the success this
year's Southern Miss team had. "He would be thrilled about
them being Conference USA champions and going to the Liberty Bowl,"
she said. "In fact, he'd probably go to the game."