Old RCB foes reminisce at banquet

Published 11:00 am Friday, August 17, 2012

The memories of the first Red Carpet Bowl game in 1962 still resonate.

The game’s organizing committee celebrated 50 years of the Red Carpet Bowl with a banquet honoring the participants of the inaugural contest Thursday at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

Few of the players and the coaches from Vicksburg’s Cooper High and Columbus Lee who played in that historic game — the hometown Greenies won 13-6 — thought it would be the beginning of an enduring tradition.

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Former Cooper High coach Gene Allen, who coached in the first game and is the only living member among the game’s founders, said the key to its longevity was being flexible and changing with the times. A strong relationship with the Mississippi High School Activities Association, which was represented at the banquet by its director, Don Hinton, helped.

The RCB started as a postseason bowl game and moved to the preseason in 1992, following the advent of the MHSAA’s playoff system a decade earlier.

“We didn’t have any idea that the success of the Red Carpet Bowl would’ve lasted this long,” Allen said. “But because of good leadership, we kept up and made good friends with the Mississippi High School Activities Association. They in turn, when they made changes in their bylaws, we were alerted to make changes and be in good standing.”

Among those in attendance Thursday were the coaches for the 1962 Red Carpet Bowl, Columbus Lee’s Billy Brewer and Allen. They had played against each other in high school, and both knew the pairing of their teams would be a great matchup.

The Greenies, who won the North Division of the Big 8 conference, were smarting from a 26-13 defeat at Biloxi and needed one more game to complete their season. Lee was 8-1-1 and coming off a win in the Cream Bowl.

The result was a chilly game — temperatures were in the 40s at kickoff — that lived up to expectations.

Cooper’s Wayne Roberts scored the first touchdown on a 33-yard pass from halfback Harvill Weller, and George Lee added another score on a 1-yard keeper.

Lee’s touchdown came on a 98-yard pass from Bill Eastman to Mike Depta in the fourth quarter. It’s still the longest pass play in RCB history.

Even though he lost the first RCB, Brewer — who later coached at Ole Miss — has always had a soft spot for Vicksburg. He’s impressed with how long the game has stayed relevant.

“Vicksburg has always had a special place in my heart and I have many friends here, and it’s unbelievable what this group has done with this Red Carpet Bowl.”

The best thing for all involved Thursday was reminiscing with familiar faces and catching up on lost time.

“The good thing is we recognize each other and we’ve had a lot of good hugs and good conversation,” Allen said.