Billy “Dog” Brewer was nothing if not a motivator of men. His Ole Miss teams were known for winning games they weren't supposed to win.
Brewer, who died last week in Memphis, was always looking for a motivational edge. Much of what he did was “old school,” but he also was one of the first coaches to bring in a sports psychologist to work with his teams.
Much of Brewer did – including the re-starting the traditional players' walk through The Grove before home games – was well-planned. And some of it was more spur of the moment, such as during a game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge in 1986. Ole Miss was a two-touchdown underdog to the 12th ranked Tigers but found themselves locked in a titanic struggle, College Football Hall of Famer Wesley Walls remembered.
“So it's a close game and LSU has it first and goal at our one-yard line,” Walls said. “All the sudden, the referee blows his whistle and calls timeout and points at our sideline. I look over and there's Coach Brewer waving at us to come over.
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“So the whole team goes over to hear what he has to say, and I figure it's gonna be about our strategy and what to watch for from LSU,” Walls said. “But, no, Coach says, 'Guys we were in the same situation at that very same spot on the field in 1959. I remember it like it was yesterday. They had four downs to make one yard and we stopped them cold. You can do the same thing. I know you can, because I've seen it done before.' ”
You can probably guess what happened. Yes, the Rebels stopped the Tigers, turned the ball over on downs and went on to a 21-19 upset victory on ABC TV. It was the first Ole Miss victory over LSU at Baton Rouge since 1968.
Quarterback John Darnell remembers arriving at his locker that day and finding a full-page, typewritten letter from Brewer. “Coach had a letter placed in everybody's locker,” Darnell said.
Darnell has saved his all these years.
In the letter, Brewer talks about his team having a rare opportunity, one that Ole Miss hadn't had in years. He compared that day's game to the one he played in 1959. He ended the letter this way:
… “Tiger Stadium, I believe, is one of the greatest places to play, to perform, in the country. Why? The noise, the excitement, the hard-hitting, great plays, great players, clean, hard-nosed football. We must do this! We must play within ourselves, use the crowd and the crowd noise to our advantage, enjoy playing, enjoy a great contest, a one-on-one, us against them. I love a challenge. I love a fight – and, damn, boys, we got us one!!! Let's win on National TV. Let's be 6-2-1, let's continue to improve, continue to grow – and victory will be ours!!”
Now you may say that sounds hokey, like something out of a Knute Rockne movie. And I would say the score is still 21-19, and Ole Miss had the 21.
Walls remembers going back to the locker room post-game.
“Coach Brewer congratulated and then told us that there were a lot of Ole Miss fans still cheering in our little corner of the end zone,” Walls said. “He said this isn't an easy place to play or an easy place to come as a visiting fan. He said he wanted us to go back out there and celebrate with those fans – and that's what we did. I don't know how long we were out there but it was a long, long time.”
Walls also remembers when Brewer revived the walk through The Grove in 1985. “Coach told us that's what they used to do for every home game back when Ole Miss was one of the national powerhouse teams,” Walls said. “He said he wanted us to get back to that.”
The ritual has become known as “The Walk of Champions.”
Former Rebel quarterback Tom Luke, brother of Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke, remembers his first “walk.”
“I look up and see I'm walking side by side with Archie Manning, my childhood hero. If you don't think that was pretty cool...” Tom Luke said. “It gave me a feeling of pride, a feeling that we were part of something special at Ole Miss.
"It still does.”