Mississippi College Salutes 1979 Choctaws Football Team
August 23, 2013
Mississippi College seniors led the way as a potent Choctaws football team captured their first Gulf South Conference championship in 1979.
It was a year when the nation stayed focused on the fate of 63 Americans taken hostage in Iran, Democrat Jimmy Carter served as the president, USA gasoline prices averaged a mere 86 cents per gallon, and McDonalds introduced the Happy Meal.
Back then, the MC Choctaws wrapped up a successful 10-3 season with a road loss to eventual national champ Delaware in the NCAA Division II semifinals before a huge regional TV audience.
On September 7, more than 40 players from that extraordinary Mississippi College team and several coaches will return to the Clinton campus to be showcased at halftime ceremonies as MC opens the 2013 season against Millsaps. Kickoff is 7 p.m. for the Backyard Brawl at Robinson-Hale Stadium.
As part of the reunion, former players will tour the Clinton campus, and take part in tailgating on the Quad starting at 4:45 p.m. The visitors will walk with members of the 2013 Choctaws team to the stadium before MC battles their metro Jackson rivals that Saturday evening.
Former MC Choctaws tight end Gene Smith is anxious to reconnect with teammates he’s not seen in more than 30 years. “We had a lot of seniors on that team that got things going. That group jelled,” he said. “We were in a good league (the Gulf South Conference), and were at a great place to go to school. I’m really looking forward to this get-together.”
The general manager of Fiber Vision in Columbia, Smith is a former assistant football coach at Division I schools including Southern Miss, Houston, Arkansas and Mississippi State. The Petal resident knows football talent and says the 1979 team was blessed with strong players.
After defeating the University of North Dakota 35-15 in the first NCAA Division II playoff game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, the Choctaws lost a 60-10 blowout to the Blue Hens of Delaware. It was among 300 wins for Delaware’s legendary coach Tubby Raymond.
“It was not our best outing. They (Delaware) were a cut above other Division II teams,” Smith said. Delaware’s starting quarterback, Scott Brunner, later played with NFL teams like the New York Giants. But MC’s squad also featured dynamic players like backup fullback Major Everett who landed in the NFL.
Voted into the MC Sports Hall of Fame in May 2013, Smith will join ex-teammates like Carl Menist, Chuck Crosby, Wad Paris, Michael Kincaid, Brad McNealy and Jimmy Price at the Sept. 7 game.
“I’m interested in seeing the guys,” says Robby Mahaffey, 53, a former offensive lineman on the Choctaws 1979 squad.
A Brandon resident, Mahaffey vividly remembers when the Choctaws knocked off the University of North Alabama 17-10 to win their first GSC crown. The game was unforgettable. So was the pre-game meal for MC players on the UNA campus in Florence.
“We were inside eating our pre-game meal when somebody doused our uniforms with water,” says Mahaffey, a former Pearl High standout who works at Southern Farm Bureau. “We had to dress in wet uniforms.”
Wet uniforms or not, the Choctaws were led by solid coaches. In 19 seasons from 1972 to 1990, head coach John Williams logged 124 wins, 78 losses and four ties. Terry McMillan, one of his assistants in 1979, served as the Choctaws head football coach from 1991 through 1999.
“Coach Mac was great – he brought a lot of energy and was well prepared. He would get you ready,” Mahaffey said.
Reflecting on that amazing season, McMillan noted the Choctaws 17-7 opening win over nemesis Jacksonville State got things off to an impressive start. “It gave us the confidence we could compete. I thought we had a good shot to have a good season.”
The 1979 season saw Mississippi College bounce back after the previous year ended poorly. In 1978, the Choctaws lost the final five games against Ouachita Baptist, Nicholls State, Southeastern Louisiana, Troy State and North Alabama to finish with a 5-5 record.
In 1979, the Choctaws defeated four of the five same teams, and were 27-19 victors over GSC rival Delta State. Other MC triumphs that year were over GSC foes like Henderson State, Southern Arkansas, and Livingston University (now West Alabama).
“We dominated out opponents until we met Delaware who was much larger and stronger than we were,” says Jim Turcotte, a 1979 Choctaws player and former Clinton High kicker.
“We started the 1979 season with optimism, but had no idea how far we would go in the pre-season,” says Turcotte, MC’s vice president for enrollment management and dean of students. “As the season progressed, it was apparent we had the talent to go far.”
Photo: Steve Johnson and Janet (McMurray) Patterson pose for the 1979 Mississippi College football media guide.