There have been tough losses in Rebel football history. There are some that are so gut-wrenching that it takes generations to get over. Billy Cannon’s Halloween Run is one of those such losses. But we have found its equal.
If you find a septuagenarian Ole Miss Rebel football fan and ask them about October 31, 1959, with a sigh they will tell you about that awful night. That night was not the night that began our rivalry with the LSU Tigers, but it solidified it.
It is a memory that continues to be relived every year Ole Miss plays LSU. It will never fail that every televised Magnolia Bowl will show the grainy footage of Billy Cannon dipping and dodging his way down the field.
But I have news for our seasoned Rebel football fans. What happened on November 7, 2015 was much, much worse. That day is only known by the now infamous down and distance that represents our sorrow, 4th and 25. No context is needed. Every true Rebel fan knows what that means.
Now, older Rebels, I must tell the tale of Billy Cannon in order to make sure that those who are younger and unaware know what happened. Please forgive me.
On Halloween night in 1959, two undefeated teams met at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The number one ranked LSU Tigers were hosting the Johnny Vaught led Ole Miss Rebels who were ranked number three.
It was the defensive battle everyone believed it would be. Back and forth all night long. 68,000 fans watched as Ole Miss score a field goal in the first quarter. It was a stalemate for the next three-quarters. Then it happened.
Late in the fourth quarter and the game seemed to be well in hand. It was fourth and 17 and Rebels punted the ball to Billy Cannon on the 11th. It was meant to go out-of-bounds. But of course it didn’t. It went straight to Billy Cannon. After evading seven tackles and 89 yards later, Cannon had sewn up the game and his Heisman Trophy win.
It’s a sore spot for Rebel fans. It destroyed a perfect season. LSU fans wrote songs about this game. This game hurts to the pit of our stomach. But it still does not compare to the travesty that occurred at Vaught Hemingway against Arkansas last year.
Unlike the game in 1959, this game was an offensive slugfest. Chad Kelly and Brandon Allen went toe to toe. The game went to overtime. Ole Miss took a 52 to 45 point lead and had managed to force the Arkansas Razorbacks to an impossible 4th and 25. One tackle or one incomplete pass would end this game. It’s over. They had to get the ball to the 15 yard line in order to get a first down. Allen passes the ball to the 25 to his tight end, Hunter Henry. Just tackle him. Just tackle him.
Henry flings the ball helplessly over his head back toward the original line of scrimmage and Razorback’s running back Alex Collins catches it. Just tackle him. Just tackle him. And somehow, inexplicably he’s able to run for the first down to extend the game. Then things happened and we later lost the game. They converted a 4th and 25 with a backwards lateral that traveled just as far and the forward pass from their quarterback.
Now I maintain that this heartache is more devastating than Cannon’s run. And here’s why:
- The outcome of the season was different. After the lose to Cannon and LSU, the Rebel football team went on to win the National Championship with a revenge win over LSU later in the year. Arkansas’ conversion of the 4th and 25 and subsequent win is the reasons Ole Miss didn’t go to the SEC Championship Game. It prevented the Ole Miss Rebels from winning a possible SEC title.
- The existence of ESPN and the SEC Network has caused Ole Miss fans to relive this game over and over again. I’m speaking hyperbolically, be it seems like the Ole Miss/Arkansas game has been on television everyday this summer. Vaught didn’t have to keep watching Cannon’s run on television. But we can watch 4th and 25 anytime we want or don’t want.
- It was more devastating because it was Arkansas. Arkansas? At least LSU was the number one team in the nation when we lose to them. Arkansas had lost a game in Little Rock to Toledo. They were 4-4 when they came to Oxford. They were no powerhouse. We should have won this game.
I have not been able to re-watch that game. The pain is still too real. I once asked ex-Rebel C. J. Johnson how often does he think about 4th and 25. He said, “That play still haunts me to this day.” Who knows what would have happened if we had went to Atlanta and won the SEC Championship? Who knows what would have happened if we could have just tackled somebody?