Alworth, Vaught team up after 45 years

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 25, 2002

[04/20/02]It took 45 years, but Lance Alworth finally got to play on Johnny Vaught’s team Friday in Vicksburg.

The two teamed up in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Tournament at Vicksburg Country Club.

And, unlike in their college football days, they didn’t win.

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“He had two of the finest teams of all-time while I was (playing) at Arkansas,” Alworth said of Vaught, the architect of Ole Miss’ glory days of the late 1950s and early ’60s. “They were so good, they didn’t need my help.”

The Rebels finished with two national championships during that time, but they could have used the future Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver from Brookhaven, Vaught said.

“He could have added a lot,” Vaught said. “He was an excellent golfer.”

But one of Vaught’s rules no married players forced Alworth to leave for Arkansas before he ever played a down for the Rebels. The only thing he took with him from Ole Miss was a nickname that stuck throughout his10-year pro football career.

“Charlie Flowers named me on my first day,” Alworth recalled. “I had big brown eyes, and he said I ran like a deer, so he called me Bambi.”

Alworth, who was married at 16, said his wife’s father talked them into going to Arkansas instead of signing a baseball scholarship and still playing football to skirt Vaught’s rule of no football scholarships for married players.

“We were both just kids,” he said.

As it turned out, the red carpet wasn’t rolled out for married players at Arkansas either, Alworth said. He couldn’t stay in the dorm or eat with the other players.

“I’m envious of the camaraderie they have with each other and Coach Vaught,” Alworth said of all the former Rebels in the tournament during his first trip back to Mississippi since 1988, when he was inducted to the MSHOF. “They have a great feeling among themselves.”

But he isn’t upset about the way things worked out.

“Hey, I can’t complain,” he said. “I’ve had a great life. Everything turned out wonderful.”

This time, Vaught even played on the same team with Alworth’s wife, Laura, as well as Richard Price, a Rebel great from Vicksburg.

“We would have loved to have had him,” Price said of Alworth.

So would Ralph Smith, a member of the 2002 induction class who was a teammate at Brookhaven High who went on to Ole Miss.

“Being my best friend, I was highly disappointed when he didn’t play there,” Smith said.

It’s likely Vaught’s Rebels would have fared batter with Alworth on the field than they did on the links.

They finished in the middle of the back in the 20-team field, which was won by an all-Vicksburg team.

George Morris, who went on to star for Bobby Dodd’s Georgia Tech teams between 1949 and 1952, along with Ole Miss senior Jake Dornbusch and businessman Kevin East finished ahead of the pack in the best-ball format with a 53, which converted to a 44.7 with a formula to figure in handicaps. Theirs was the only three-man team in the tournament.

They won a $750 scholarship from the VCC pro shop.

Second place went to a team highlighted by Hall-of-Famer Doug Hutton (53, 45.35); third was Alcorn coach Dave Whitney (57, 46) and fourth was Harper Davis (59, 46.3).

Dornbusch and East were last-second additions for Tyson Foods.

“They said they needed people, so Hays (Latham) called, and we said we’d play,” Dornbusch said.

East said Morris kept them in stitches, and threatened to literally.

“He said, I’ve got a knife in my pocket, and a gun in my car; if you don’t play well, I’ll cut you, then I’ll shoot you,’ ” East said, laughing.

“I got their attention,” Morris said with a laugh.

Ex-Mississippi State star D.D. Lewis, who helped lead Dallas to Super Bowl championships in 1972 and ’78, was among the other headliners in the tournament, which included Barney and Ray Poole, Willie Richardson, Bailey Howell, and Bobby Collins.

Visiting with old friends and telling stories was more of a highlight than playing golf, Lewis said.

“I’m in the fertilizer business now,” he said, adding, but a lot of these guys are spreading fertilizer.”

Ex-Rebel great Kayo Dottley, who put in plenty of hours organizing the tournament, said it was a bittersweet day.

The tournament was being played in memory of former Ole Miss star Crawford Mims, a 1995 inductee who died in April last year. Mims was Dottley’s brother-in-law.

“It makes it kind of sad for me,” he said. “We loved each other.”