MC

Mississippi College

Backyard Brawl Rivals Become Friends

August 22, 2012

More than a half century ago, John Legg and Cliff Rushing butted heads as fierce rivals in the Backyard Brawl.

A Mississippi College Choctaws running back, Legg and Rushing, an outside linebacker for the Millsaps Majors, were not exactly best buddies in the 1950s.

Today, both Clinton residents are genuine friends who love to reminisce about one of the best college football rivalries in the Magnolia State.

“That was the game of the year for us,” says Rushing 75, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps with two tours of duty in Vietnam. “No other game was as intense.”

The retired chairman of the Mississippi College Chemistry Department, Legg, 75, summed it up quite nicely. “It was a rough game,” says Legg, a 160-pounder who recalls scoring a touchdown against the Majors.

Part of a new film documentary called “The Grudge Match,” Legg joined Mississippi College and Millsaps alumni in early August reliving Backyard Brawl experiences, good, bad and ugly. The film is a project supported by the Mississippi Sports Council.

Among other things, Legg tells the story of how he helped a future Baptist pastor in Greenville get out of jail after he was accused of stealing beanies from Millsaps freshmen back in the 1950s.

Dr. Albert Gore, 92, a retired physician from Raymond who played halfback for the 1946 MC Choctaws, enjoys telling how he kicked five extra points in a 35-0 victory over the Majors. Fans called Sam Gore’s older brother “golden toed Gore” back then. Sam Gore is the former MC art department chairman and an internationally recognized sculptor from Clinton.

The spirited slugfest between Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College and Methodist-supported Millsaps didn’t just take place on the football field. There were fights, pranks, lots of name-calling, and much more. It got so combative that the series was halted for decades after the Choctaws crushed Millsaps 26 to 6 in 1959. The series resumed in 2000 with a record NCAA Division III crowd of 13,800 on hand at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson.

As both colleges prepare for the 2012 Backyard Brawl on the Millsaps campus, Legg and Rushing, both Drew, Mississippi natives, have much to talk about, with bragging rights on the line again. “We enjoy teasing each other,” says Rushing, a Clinton High alumnus. “We are not enemies.”

Today, the series stands at 31 wins for Mississippi College to 13 victories for Millsaps. There were also and six ties between the two Jackson area schools. Opening the 2012 season on the road, MC seeks to make it four wins a row. Fans have seen close games in recent years, with the Choctaws escaping with narrow wins of 47-44 in 2009, 27-23 in 2010 and 33-27 in overtime at Robinson-Hale Stadium in 2011.

Back in the 1950s, a number of the games were also tight. Millsaps and MC fought to a 0-0 tie in 1956 and the teams also went scoreless in 1958. In 1953, under longtime coach Stanley Robinson, MC won 20-19 after losing by a point the previous year.

Meeting at a campus luncheon with some of the notable Backyard Brawl alumni, President Lee Royce says the annual football showdown with Millsaps is huge. “There is no game our alumni care more about than beating Millsaps.”

A former star quarterback with the Choctaws, Adam Shaffer agrees. “It’s the biggest game of the year. It’s always our No. 1 rivalry,” says Shaffer, a petroleum engineering graduate student at LSU.

Choctaws Coach Norman Joseph sees the Backyard Brawl as an important rivalry that always gets players and coaches fired up. “It’s the opening game of the year and we want to get started in a good way.” For MC, one new twist is starting the game with a rookie quarterback taking his first varsity snap.

While the Backyard Brawl won’t generate national buzz like Alabama-Auburn or Florida-Florida State, it still gets alumni pumped and conversations going.

“It’s a rivalry that’s helped both schools,” says Dr. James Parkman of Clinton, a 1948 MC graduate who later coached football and track at his alma mater. “Both get a lot of mileage out of it.”

Telling the story of the Backyard Brawl from the 1940s through the present day, “The Grudge Match” is due to be released in August 2013.

Tickets for the Backyard Brawl are $10 in advance and $15 at the gate. For more information, contact Missa Turman of the MC Athletics Department at 601.925.3341 or turman@mc.edu.

Photo: Dr. John Legg, a Mississippi College graduate, and Cliff Rushing, a Millsaps alum, both played in the Backyard Brawl in the 1950s.