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Alford made his mark on gridiron, AD’s office for Rebs

This is the second in a series profiling the 2003 inductees into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in a banquet on April 4 in Vicksburg. Sunday: Sue Gunter.

[3/28/03]Many people respond to their election into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame with a little shock; many are even quite surprised.

When former Ole Miss football standout and athletic director Warner Alford got the call, he didn’t know what to do.

In Florida on a business trip, he first got a call from Glen Waddle of the Jackson Touchdown Club.

“I thought he was calling to get me to a meeting,” Alford said with a chuckle. “I hadn’t been to one in a while.”

Then Jackson Clarion-Ledger sports columnist Rick Cleveland called.

“Then I thought something must have happened in Mississippi and he wanted a comment,” Alford said.

Then he found out the real reason he was among eight that will be enshrined at a banquet at the Vicksburg Convention Center on April 4.

“I didn’t know what to say, I was kind of dumbfounded,” said Alford, a star offensive lineman on the great Rebels’ teams of the early 1960s. “It was a complete shock. I’ve probably been to about 25 hall of fame banquets, but you never think it will be you.”

He added, “I was all alone, and didn’t have anyone to hug. I was looking for anyone.”

Calls to his family and then one to his greatest inspiration followed. Coach Johnny Vaught, who will be 94 in May, and Alford have been close since Alford’s playing days and that call was one of the most important ones.

Despite his deep devotion to Ole Miss, the McComb native wasn’t a big Rebels fan when he was growing up. He and his family leaned more toward LSU than Oxford, but when Vaught offered a scholarship, he jumped at the chance.

His years at Ole Miss were spent during the most glorious time in Rebel football history. He played freshman football for Wobble Davis in 1957, then joined Vaught’s varsity Rebels for three seasons and a pair of national championships.

The 1959 team earned the nickname “Team of the Decade” and the 1960 team won the Grantland Rice Trophy, given to the national championship team as selected by the Football Writers of America.

“We had unbelievable success through those years,” said Alford, who now works in the insurance business. “When I look back at those seasons and it’s hard to believe. I really think we had a coaching staff with no peers in the country. They stayed together and kept continuity in the program.”

His career included a pair of Sugar Bowl wins, a Gator Bowl win and a gaudy 29-3-1 record. He played on the same teams as MSHOF members Jake Gibbs, the late Doug Elmore, Catfish Smith, Billy Ray Adams, Marvin Terrell, Larry Grantham, Jim Dunaway, Glynn Griffing and Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat.

Smith was elected to the hall last year, but Alford had a class reunion in McComb and couldn’t make the ceremony.

He spent four years in private business in McComb and returned to the football field as an assistant coach.

Vicksburg city attorney Bobby Robinson, who was an assistant at Army when Alford was at Georgia Tech, remembered his fellow McCombian asking him for advice on how to block a staunch Duke defense.

The week before, Army had picked up on Duke’s blocking schemes and gained nearly 500 yards in total offense.

“Warner called me that Monday and asked what we did to stop them,” Robinson said. “I was just the plebe coach so I had to ask if it was OK to tell him we had picked up their calls. The coach at Army, who we called Joe Cement, said for him to wait a few days and make him sweat.

“On about Wednesday, I called and told him we picked up on their calls and told him what they were. The next week Duke beat Georgia Tech 35-0. They changed the calls.”

Robinson, who also played at Ole Miss and McComb High, said people in the Southwest Mississippi town contend Alford was the greatest football player ever to come out of McComb.

He returned to Ole Miss in 1971 with intentions of becoming a college head coach. Vaught guided him toward athletic administration and Alford spent 16-1/2 years as athletic director at Ole Miss.

“Coach Vaught was the biggest influence on my life,” Alford said. “He was like a second daddy to me.”

He was instrumental in getting women’s sports in compliance with Title IX, renovated Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and spearheaded the construction of the baseball field and tennis courts. In 1999, he was elected to the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame.

“When most people see him, they think of Ole Miss,” said Khayat, Alford’s roommate for four years at Ole Miss and very close friend. “We’ve known each other for a very long time and I have the highest regard and respect for him. This is very deserving.”