Photo by Southern Miss Athletics

Southern Miss plays at No. 2 Alabama Saturday and it reminds me of one of the highlights of my sports writing career and one of the biggest wins in Southern Miss history.

I was in my second year of covering Southern Miss athletics for The Clarion-Ledger. The Golden Eagles started the 1990 season with a 12-0 victory over Division II Delta State and played without star quarterback Brett Favre, who was involved in an automobile accident on July 14. Next up for Southern Miss was a visit to No. 13 Alabama on Sept. 8 in Birmingham and the debut of Crimson Tide coach Gene Stallings. Favre made a surprise start and led the Eagles to a 27-24 upset victory. Southern Miss coach Curley Hallman got a victory over the coach who recruited him to play at Texas A&M. The late Butch John, one of our columnists, and I combined to write a front page story, a column, a game story and two more stories along with stats and charts of the game. We ran what we called back in those days a double truck, two full pages of stories, photos and graphs about the game. It was one of the highlights of my 10 years of covering Southern Miss. This was first part of my game story:

Southern Mississippi gave Bear Bryant a loss in his final home game in 1982.

The Golden Eagles gave Gene Stallings, the so-called next Bear, the same treatment Saturday in his debut.

USM 27, No. 13 Alabama 24.

Said USM senior quarterback Brett Favre: “(USM) Coach (Curley) Hallman always tells us, ‘Don’t get on the bus if you don’t think we can win.’ We kept knocking on the door and we finally got in.”

Or kicked it in.
         Jim Taylor kicked a 52-yard field goal – the longest of his career – with 3 minutes, 35 seconds left to send the majority of the 75,962 fans at Legion Field home disappointed.

Taylor’s kick spoiled Stallings’ first game after replacing Bill Curry. Stallings played under Bryant at Texas A&M and coached under Bryant at Texas A&M and Alabama.

The victory was special for Hallman, who played under Stallings at Texas A&M and grew up an Alabama fan in Northport, Ala., five miles from Tuscaloosa.

“It was a very big win for us,” Hallman said. “They won 10 games last year and Alabama ranks as one of the Top 10 programs in the history of college football.”

In 1981, Reggie Collier led the Golden Eagles to a 13-13 tie with the Southeastern Conference champion Crimson Tide at Legion Field. In 1982, Collier produced a victory over Alabama, a 38-29 win to end the Crimson Tide’s record 57-game home winning streak. It was Bryant’s final game at Tuscaloosa

Favre, who has broken almost every Collier record at USM, was instrumental in Saturday’s win.

The senior quarterback made a surprise start and completed 9 of 17 passes for 125 yards. It was Favre’s presence, not necessarily his performance, which helped USM to its upset.

‘I didn’t make any big plays,” said Favre, who played for the first time since a July 14 automobile accident and Aug. 8 intestinal surgery. “I didn’t do anything great. But I moved the team up and down the field. I wanted this team to win. The other guys did a great job.”

“Having Brett in the game gave us more confidence than we had before,” said USM junior tailback Tony Smith, who ran for 62 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, returned three punts for 41 yards and two kickoffs for 30 yards.

“His starting came as a surprise to me. But everyone was pumped up. He has been to battle before and led us to many victories. This wasn’t any different.” 

It was a lot different than last year when Alabama defeated USM 37-14. Big plays killed the Golden Eagles a year ago. They were the back-breakers for Alabama Saturday.

USM took advantage of four Crimson Tide turnovers, including three interceptions. Senior free safety Kerry Valrie intercepted two passes, one for a 75-yard touchdown. Simmie Carter also intercepted a pass in the the fourth quarter.

“I thought Southern Mississippi deserved to win the football game,” Stallings said. “We mishandled punts, we fumbled, we threw interceptions for touchdowns. When you do that, you’re going to lose the game most of the time.”

Southern Miss lost at Georgia 18-17 and at Mississippi State 13-10 the next two weeks, but won six of its next seven games, including a 13-12 upset at No. 15 Auburn to finish the regular season 8-3. The Eagles lost to North Carolina State 31-27 in the All-American Bowl in Birmingham. Hallman was hired by LSU after the regular season and offensive coordinator Jeff Bower coached the bowl game.

Favre was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons, then traded the next season to the Green Bay Packers where he had a Hall of Fame career. 

Alabama lost its first three games, but won seven of its last eight to finish the regular season 7-4. The Crimson Tide lost to No. 18 Louisville 34-7 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Stallings coached at Alabama from 1990-96 and won the national championship in 1992 when his team went 13-0 and defeated Miami in the Sugar Bowl.