The legendary Mississippi sportswriter Rick Cleveland wrote once about the “toughest football coach ever” in former East Mississippi Junior College coach Bull Sullivan. Today, I would like to introduce my “toughest football player ever” nominee. He was from the small town of Heidelberg. His name was Terry Rowell. Terry, who passed away earlier this month, was a legend in high school football in this part of the state. He was known for his toughness on and off the field. He was a gifted player in high school playing for the Oilers of Heidelberg. He grew up an Ole Miss fan, but when Alabama head football coach Bear Bryant called in December of 1967 to offer him a scholarship, Terry said, “I could not tell the Bear no.” Rowell was only about 5-10 and 170 pounds in high school, but Bryant loaded up on great athletes of all sizes. He liked to sign quarterbacks and fullbacks and have them switch positions when they arrived in Tuscaloosa. Terry was a powerful running back in high school, but Bryant switched him to defensive tackle because of his quickness and his toughness. He was so tough that when he was playing for Alabama he was in a traffic accident and was thrown from the vehicle and still made practice two hours later.
Terry played in the famous 1969 nationally televised Alabama win over Ole Miss and Archie Manning, but his most famous game was when Alabama upset USC, 17-10, in Los Angeles in 1971. The year before, Alabama had been run over and embarrassed by Sam Cunningham and USC in Birmingham. Bama fans were restless after two straight 6-5 seasons entering the 1971 season. Many Alabama fans thought Bryant was washed up as a coach. So the season opening win over USC was considered the rebirth of Alabama football. Most of the credit for the win went to Bryant for unveiling the wishbone offense that night. Bryant swore his team to secrecy for all the preseason practices as he installed the wishbone offense. The offense surprised USC by scoring 17 points in the opening half, but true credit might have gone to Rowell and the Tide defense that night. Rowell stepped up big time in the game.
“They did embarrass us at Legion Field, and several of their [USC] players were laughing at me because of my size,” said Rowell several years ago. Terry made nine solo tackles and six assists, caused an interception, and recovered a fumble in the win. Not a bad night for the any 180-pound defensive tackle going up against men almost 100 pounds heavier. “I don’t think any of those USC players made fun of me or any other Alabama player that night.” That game changed Alabama’s fortune as they went 10-0 in the regular season and ended the season ranked second in the country. They did lose (38-6) to No. 1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Night as Rowell, playing at 168 pounds, played his toughest game against maybe the most talented college football team ever. Terry’s remarkable performance that year helped turn Alabama’s fortunes for the next ten years, as they were some of the greatest in Alabama football history. Terry was named to the All-SEC team in the 1971 season. Rest in peace, Terry.
Bad Week in Mississippi Football
Ole Miss (3-5) lost a winnable game. The Rebels offense sputtered, but the OM defense shined against Texas A&M. The open week is much needed in Oxford. MSU (3-4) lost to a super LSU team and gifted quarterback Joe Burrow. This Saturday at 11 a.m. a trip to College Station is on the agenda. Southern Mississippi (4-3) lost the turnover game and the game to La. Tech. Next is a trip to winless Rice in Houston this Saturday.
Jackson State (2-5) needed overtime to overcome Mississippi Valley, 31-28, while Delta State (4-3) held of West Alabama, 14-7. Millsaps (4-3) and Belhaven (2-6) both fell while Alcorn and Mississippi College had the week off. Jackson State will be on ESPNU this Thursday night (6:30 p.m.) against Prairie View.
The New Orleans Saints improved to 6-1 with maybe their most impressive win of the season, a 36-25 decision of the Chicago Bears.
Dale is a Waynesboro native and has been writing sports since 1973. Contact Dale at firstname.lastname@example.org