Better late than never|Dottley inducted into Ole Miss alumni Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The call was one of the more awkward ones Kayo Dottley had taken in a while.

On the other end of the line, a representative from the Ole Miss Alumni Association stumbled through an apology as he tried to tell the longtime Vicksburg resident he had just been elected to its hall of fame.

“’Kayo,’ he said, ‘we’re sorry. We thought you were already in it’,” Dottley said with a laugh.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

It wasn’t difficult for Dottley, one of the most famous football players in Ole Miss history and a longtime M-Club and Alumni Association member, to shake off the slight.

After all, he said, he wasn’t aware the group even had a hall of fame.

That odd conversation aside, Dottley welcomed the honor. He’ll be inducted along with three others to the Alumni Association Hall of Fame next weekend in Oxford. It is the seventh different group to honor Dottley with induction, including the Mississippi and Arkansas state sports halls of fame.

“It’s a wonderful honor and a great, great honor to cap it all off. There’s no place I love like Ole Miss,” the 81-year-old Dottley said.

Born in Birmingham and raised in McGehee, Ark., Dottley took a long and winding road to Ole Miss. He didn’t know anything about the school and committed to Alabama in the spring of 1945. It took a visit by Ole Miss assistant coach Buster Poole in the spring of 1945 to change his mind.

“Coach Poole came through Pine Bluff and he had heard of me. He had this big, black Buick and he tossed me the keys and told me to take it for a spin. I drove all over the north half of town and picked up all my friends,” Dottley said. “I brought it back with all these people in it, and Coach Poole told me to go to the south half of town and get some more. I told him I couldn’t. I was full up.”

Poole’s friendliness convinced Dottley to visit Oxford. Dottley did, and immediately began a lifelong love affair with the school.

“The thing that hit me was how friendly everyone was. They all said hello to you,” Dottley said.

Once they saw him on the football field, Dottley was able to make even more friends in Oxford.

He was a two-time All-SEC running back and led the nation in rushing with 1,312 yards in 1949. It stood as an SEC single-season record until 1971, and still stands as the Ole Miss record. In fact, until Deuce McAllister did it in 1998 Dottley was the only back in Ole Miss history to have a 1,000-yard rushing season.

Dottley is still third on the Rebels’ career rushing yardage list. He also owns two of the top five single-game totals in school history, and three of its seven 200-yard rushing games. Like his later hall of fame induction, Dottley said he wasn’t aware of the records he was setting during his playing days.

“When I led the nation in rushing in 1949, I didn’t know it and Ole Miss didn’t know it. It wasn’t like it is now,” Dottley said. “I’m still amazed that all the great backs we had, playing 11 games, none of them made 1,000 yards.”

Dottley was fast enough to run past defenders, but also tough enough to run through them. Dottley broke his left arm twice and his right arm once in high school but never missed a game. He broke his foot playing baseball the week before playing Tennessee in 1946, but gutted it out and still ran for 100 yards against one of the best defenses of the day.

Dottley joked that a fear of legendary coach John Vaught inspired him to play more than any desire.

“He said if you can’t play you don’t need to be here,” Dottley said. “It’s amazing how quick my foot got well when they were going to ship my butt home.”

After his stellar college career, Dottley was selected in the second round of the 1951 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears. Ironically, Dottley wore No. 34 with the Bears — the same number another running back from Mississippi, Walter Payton, wore a generation later while becoming the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

Under the tutelage of another legendary coach, George Halas, he got off to a great start.

Dottley ran for 670 yards in his first season, earning the rookie of the year award and a Pro Bowl bid.

“Coach Halas and Coach Vaught were very much alike. Coach Vaught was exciting and so was Coach Halas. But where Coach Vaught had patience, Coach Halas had none,” Dottley said. “They were both football geniuses. I was really fortunate in my coaches.”

He rushed for 302 yards in his first five games in 1952, but a tragic accident cut his career short. While at a hotel in September of that year, he was run over by a valet. The driver pinned Dottley’s right leg between the front of his car and the back of another.

Dottley missed the rest of that season and rushed for only 158 yards in 10 games in 1953. Surgery to repair his injured knee gave him enough mobility to walk normally but not play football again.

So Dottley retired and moved to Vicksburg with his wife Nina, a Vicksburg native. The two had met at Ole Miss when she was a cheerleader and he the football star. The couple has been married for 60 years. They have three children, nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

“They told me about this All-American fullback from Arkansas that was going to be a hoss. I ended up marrying him,” Nina Dottley said.

Dottley earned his masters degree from Ole Miss in only four years, and upon moving to Vicksburg he became owner of a Jitney Jungle supermarket. He also worked with his father to found Dottley’s Spice.

As a child, Dottley wanted to be a boxer. His father trained fighters in Arkansas and his nickname Kayo — his real name is John — stuck after one he knocked down one of his dad’s heavyweights in the gym. He was also a track and basketball star in high school. Today, even at the age of 81, he hits the golf course two or three times a week.

It’s football that everyone remembers him for, though, and reminders of his brief career are everywhere. Pictures of him with Bears greats like Halas and George Blanda line the walls of his home. More than a dozen scrapbooks with yellowed newspaper clippings are stacked in a spare bedroom.

“This is the last one,” he says with a smile as he opens one that’s half-finished.

On a dresser, two helmets — one from Ole Miss, another from the Bears — quietly sit. Tucked behind a lamp on a nightstand is his SEC most valuable player trophy from 1949. All of the mementoes are reminders of a time long ago, and a place that will live forever in Dottley’s heart.


Contact Ernest Bowker at