By Annie Rhoades
It was a brisk January afternoon late in the third quarter at the 1958 Sugar Bowl. Back deep in the end zone to punt for the Rebels was Ray Brown (BBA 58, LLB 62), quarterback, defensive back and punter. The ball was snapped high and with a Texas defensive end barreling down the field, Brown bolted, circled right and ran 92 yards up the field from the line of scrimmage with an Ole Miss convoy leading the way to the Texas end zone.
Touchdown, Ole Miss!
“That record still stands in the Sugar Bowl as being the longest touchdown run from scrimmage – a 92-yard run,” Brown said.
Born in Clarksdale in 1936 and raised in Greenville, Brown suffered an injury playing with a friend on a wagon when he was seven years old that could have ended any hopes of ever playing football.
“As a child I had a condition called osteomyelitis caused by a bruise to the hip bone, and there was some talk that I might not walk again or might be crippled,” Brown said. “But the doctors at Campbell Clinic in Memphis did wonderful work, and I wasn’t disabled in any way and started playing football as a little guy. At the earliest opportunity, which was junior high, I went out for the football team and went on to play varsity.”
A multi-talented athlete who led his team to win the Big Eight Championship against Natchez, Brown graduated from Greenville High School in 1954 with several appealing offers to play college football.
“Most high school recruits don’t already have a favorite school when they become a candidate for a scholarship, and many of them have several options to go to different colleges and universities,” Brown said. “Ole Miss kind of became my favorite choice during my senior year. They were having some success having been to a couple of bowl games, and I wanted to be a part of that success.”
A member of Sigma Chi Fraternity, Brown began taking courses in the business school with a major in accounting. A talented baseball player as well, Brown was a part of the Rebels’ 1956 SEC Champion and College World Series baseball team, but his main passion was Ole Miss football.
“Freshmen couldn’t play varsity football back then, and I remember that year the varsity team went to the Sugar Bowl and lost to Navy,” Brown said. “Well that kind of stuck with the coaches and others that we had been to the Sugar Bowl and lost. I played varsity football the next three years, and at that time the players played what we called both ways – we’d play on offense, and then when the ball changed you’d play defense. Coach Vaught had recruited well, and over those three years we had a lot of success.”
After defeating Memphis near the end of the 1957 season, the Rebels received another bid to play in the Sugar Bowl.
“We came into the dressing room at Memphis, and there was a Sugar Bowl representative,” Brown recalled. “Coach Vaught called us together to receive the invitation, and we all shouted, ‘yes we want it! We’ll take it!’”
Fresh on the minds of coaches and players alike was the loss to Navy at the 1955 Sugar Bowl.
“Coach Vaught took the position that this is all business,” said Brown. “He said we took it a little lightly against Navy, so we didn’t go down and spend a week on the coast in New Orleans preparing for the game. We went the shortest time possible and took part in the promotional festivities. We got ready, and when we met Texas we beat them pretty good 39-7.”
It was during that game that Brown not only set the record for the longest touchdown run from scrimmage in Sugar Bowl history, but also became the only player to be selected MVP by unanimous vote from all 116 media voters.
“It was something,” Brown reminisced. “I was at the big post-game banquet celebration when it was announced, and I was just totally overwhelmed. I thought, wow, being the only unanimous selection might do it for me. We had some great players on that team – Jackie Simpson (BSHPE 61), who was an All-American guard, Gene Hickerson (58), who went on to be an all-time pro hall of fame lineman with the Cleveland Browns, Billy Lott (58), Roy Reed (BS 58) and some others. It was a pretty good team.”
Brown’s football career didn’t end there. He was drafted to the Baltimore Colts in 1958 where he played three years as safety and punter helping lead the team to two NFL World Championships in 1958 and 1959.
“I always aspired to play pro football,” said Brown. “Very few get to do it, but that’s sort of the dream.”
While playing pro football in Baltimore, Brown managed to find the time to pursue a law degree through Ole Miss by completing a portion of his coursework with the University of Maryland Law School.
“Once I got my pro contract I applied and enrolled in law school at Ole Miss,” Brown said. “Over the next three years I took courses in Oxford and Maryland. I would go to classes in the morning and practice with the team in the afternoons. In the spring I would come to Oxford and take courses at Ole Miss. After my third year of pro football I had hurt my knee and wasn’t really sure about how well it would work out, so I decided to get on with my law career and not go back to pro football.”
Brown became the first Ole Miss law graduate to be appointed to serve as one of nine law clerks in the U.S. Supreme Court. After serving in D.C. for a year, Brown returned to Mississippi and began practicing law in Pascagoula.
“What I did and enjoyed the most was litigation,” Brown said. “I enjoyed going to court. I don’t believe you’ll find a successful jury trial lawyer who doesn’t enjoy standing before the jury and selling your case. It’s kind of a high you experience when it’s going on – kind of like athletics when you think about it. You get prepared, you play the game, and when the game is over you start getting ready for anther one. Win or lose you have those same emotions.”
Among his many accolades, Brown was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, the Ole Miss Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 2000, the M-Club Hall of Fame in 1988 and served as president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association from 1991-92.