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Griffing, Leggett coming home to go into Hall

Earl Leggett, left, and Glynn Griffing talk after being introduced as part of Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2002. Leggett, who starred at Hinds, LSU and the NFL, has moved back to Raymond. Griffing, who starred at Ole Miss, is from Culkin.The induction ceremony will be in Vicksburg on April 12. (The Vicksburg Post/AP)

[08/110/01] JACKSON Glynn Griffing has been eligible for the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame for nearly 40 years.

Turns out, it was worth the wait.

The former Ole Miss star, who was MVP of the 1963 Sugar Bowl and Senior Bowl, will get to come home to Warren County to be inducted.

The ceremony for the new class of inductees will be in Vicksburg, a few miles from where Griffing grew up and starred for Culkin Academy, on April 12.

“That will be a real treat,” he said Thursday after the eight-member Class of 2002 was introduced at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. “I had a lot of friends from Vicksburg call and congratulate me. A lot of old high school teammates and family will probably be there.”

Joining Griffing in the hall’s 40th class are former Ole Miss teammate Ralph “Catfish” Smith; ex-Hinds Community College and NFL star Earl Leggett; George Sekul, who quarterbacked Southern Miss to a national title and coached Gulf Coast to state and national juco titles; Verlon Biggs of Jackson State and the NFL; former JSU athletic director T.B. Ellis; tennis player Carolyn Henry and volleyball coach and player Samye Johnson. Ellis and Biggs are being inducted posthumously.

Griffing is looking forward to the induction ceremony. Not for the personal adulation, but to tell people more about the 1962 Rebels, who overcame adversity and went 10-0 to give the university and state something to cheer for during a time of turmoil.

“I don’t know if any of the players have ever really talked about what went on then,” he said, referring to the riots on campus when James Meredith integrated Ole Miss.

“(The football team) was … a positive thing for the state at a time when everything that was being said about us was negative. It was a lot bigger accomplishment than most people realize.”

He remembers having to practice in Hemingway Stadium “with 30,000 101st Airborne troops watching.”

“It just upset the whole routine,” he said. “For the coaching staff to hold that team together, much less go undefeated … it was incredible.”

He handled the strife in stride. He had his breakout game the week the tension was at its highest.

“We weren’t sure we were going to get to play,” he said of the Houston game his senior year. “They were telling us to get ready to go to Houston to play.”

He threw four TD passes, all in the first half, as the Rebels drubbed the Cougars 40-7 in Jackson.

“It was unreal how we came together,” he said.

Earl Leggett, who starred at Hinds Community College, LSU and the NFL, is also a member of the HOF’s 40th class. The Jacksonville, Fla., native retired as an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins in March 2000 and returned to Raymond, where he lives with his wife, the former Bobbie Wroten.

“It’s become home,” he said. “All (four) of our kids were born there.”

He wound up there in 1951 because he “had a choice of going to Korea or going to Hinds,” he recalled. “I didn’t have to be too smart to figure that one out.”

He went to school at Hinds High for two years, then entered the junior college.

In his four years there, the Eagles went 35-3-1, including a 13-7 win over El Camino of Torrance, Calif., in the “Little Rose Bowl” in Pasadena.

It was the first time Leggett had flown. But his most vivid memory of that game is the numbers. Hinds had just 13 players while the California team had three times that many.

“We played against three teams out there,” he said. “They were just trying to wear us down.”

Leggett was an all-SEC tackle during two disappointing seasons at LSU, but was a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears in 1957. He played for the famed “Monsters of the Midway” defense for nine years. He met up with Griffing in the NFL championship game in 1963, which the Bears won, 14-10.

“I remember that we hurt (quarterback Y.A.) Tittle and I was glad to get him out of there. We wanted the rookie in there,” he said, referring to Griffing. “But it wasn’t a runaway.”

After a stop with the Los Angeles Rams, Leggett finished his 12-year playing career in New Orleans, then started coaching. He was head coach at Hinds before going to Nicholls State and Texas Christian as defensive line coach before going to the now-defunct World Football League.

In the NFL, he coached defensive lines for 24 years, with stops at Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Denver, New York and Washington. He was with two Raiders teams that won Super Bowls (1981, 1984) and he coached in a third Super Bowl when the Broncos lost (1990).

But his most memorable football moment came last year, when he was asked to introduce Howie Long at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. Leggett drafted and coached Long at Oakland.

“That was my most emotional moment in football,” Leggett said.

Leggett spent a week at Long’s place in Montana last month.

“I actually walked up on a bear out there,” he said. “I gave him his space.”

Griffing couldn’t get away from Bears either.

He remembers the day they met in the title game. It was 4 degrees at Wrigley Field, but the heat was on him.

“Tittle was hurt, so I was just supposed to run basic stuff,” he recalled. “I decided I could throw … all three of their linebackers got to me at the same time.

“They had a great defense,” he said, adding that two interceptions of Tittle set up both Chicago touchdowns.

Griffing was a top candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year, but he never played another season in the NFL. He now resides in Jackson and is president of Glynn Griffing and Associates, an insurance company.

His high school and college days were much brighter. He was 10-0 in his senior seasons at Culkin and Ole Miss, where he had to wait his turn behind All-Americans Jake Gibbs and Doug Elmore.

“Coach (Johnny) Vaught signed 14 quarterbacks the year before I got there,” Griffing said.

Not playing was frustrating, but he made the most of his time when he did play.

“It’s easy to get discouraged,” he said. “When you do get in, you have to go in relaxed. If you’re trying to show up somebody, you won’t do well.”

Griffing threw for a then-Sugar Bowl-record 242 yards in a 17-13 win over Arkansas in 1963. At Culkin, he threw 49 touchdown passes while going 26-4 is three years as quarterback.

“He made me a great coach,” said Erwin Baylot, his high school coach. “I just got out of his way.”