Mississippi State University

1947 - 48 Bulldogs
(Authentic Reproduction)




Founded in the tradition of the land grant colleges throughout the nation, Mississippi Agricultural And Mechanical College accepted its first enrollee in 1880 and began the duty of preparing “gentleman farmers” schooled with an emphasis in the areas of agricultural and mechanical arts. Because the college’s founder Stephen D. Lee was a former Confederate lieutenant general, there was also an emphasis on the military traditions and procedures he had learned at the United States Military Academy, with the Cadet Core a key piece of the college patchwork. Expanding the curriculum and focus of the school, it was renamed Mississippi State College in 1932, and grew into Mississippi State University by 1958. With the largest veterinary school in the nation and a highly respected department of engineering, Mississippi State has long overcome any academic inferiority complex that may have existed when making comparisons to in-state rival Ole Miss. Football success has not come as easily although the Bulldogs have produced numerous star players and the occasional outstanding team, with the 2014 edition the most successful in history relative to national ranking throughout the course of a season. The athletic teams have worn the monikers Aggies, Maroons, and Bulldogs with each enhancement of its academic status although references to “Bulldogs” can be traced back to long before the nickname became official. With a succession of live bulldog mascots appropriately named Bully, the MSU football teams, during good years or bad, maintained a reputation for tough and tenacious play.

Mississippi A&M’s first football team took the field in 1895 and though they lost both of their games, football became an official part of the school experience. A winless 0-4 season followed in 1896 and an outbreak of Yellow Fever and participation in the Spanish American War by the majority of the student body who were military cadets, scuttled football until 1901 but the Aggies or Farmers were able to defeat Ole Miss. Through a succession of coaches and with membership in the Southern Conference and then as a founding member of the Southeastern Conference in 1933, the teams played middle-of-the-road football, winning and losing at a more or less equal rate. With their charter changing the name to Mississippi State College in 1932, the accepted nickname became the Maroons, reflecting their official school colors but it wasn’t until the hiring of head coach Allyn McKeen in 1939 that they became widely known and respected. The ’38 season had ended with a player revolt leading to the February 1, 1939 resignation of head coach Dr. Emerson Nelson. In addition to being aloof and not relating well to his players, his attempted introduction of gold uniforms was taken as an insult by most of the MSC family. Highly recommended by Tennessee’s famed General Robert Neyland, former Vols star Edgar Allyn McKeen was hired. An outstanding end and guard, McKeen also captained the basketball and track teams, and was the university’s light-heavyweight boxing champion. He coached successfully at what became Memphis State University in 1937 and ’38 before taking the reins at Mississippi State. He established himself quickly, going undefeated with a 10-0-1 record, posting an Orange Bowl win, and winning SEC Coach of The Year honors in 1940 and followed up in ’41 with an 8-1-1 mark that included the SEC Championship. The manpower shortages caused by The Second World War brought a cancellation of the 1943 season and a lost opportunity for a team that McKeen believed would have been his best. His 8-2 squad of 1946 was also outstanding despite the absence of key players still bound to the military. In ’47, most of the players were introduced to the maroon Riddell RT plastic helmet and these were worn through ’48. 1947’s 7-3 mark included a loss to Ole Miss and the team dropped to 4-4 in ’48 despite the excellent play of running backs Harper Davis and Tom “Shorty” McWilliams. Perhaps the first Maroons star of national prominence, McWilliams tallied 1808 career rushing yards, playing as The Southeastern Conference Most Valuable Player and Second Team All American as a freshman in 1944, before playing for the U.S. Military Academy’s great 1945 squad. He returned to State for the ’46, ’47, and 1948 seasons and was a four-time All SEC performer. McWilliams played for the AAFC Los Angeles Dons in ’49 and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1950 before a knee injury ended his career. He was later inducted to numerous local Halls Of Fame and the MSU Ring Of Honor.

McKeen proved wise in hiring future coaching notables Bowden Wyatt and Murray Warmath as his assistants who according to some experts, “turned out some of the best lines ever seen in the South.”  All three men were products of Tennessee and Neyland’s “Tennessee System” and Single Wing Offense. Despite obvious success, there was growing criticism from some circles that the team “should have done better” and that the squad’s offense and defense needed to be “modernized,” most notably with a switch to the T-Formation. Almost a victim of his own previous success, McKeen’s two consecutive losses to Ole Miss and the mediocre 4-4-1 record of ‘48 were enough to have him removed as head coach. He went on to complete his legacy with induction to the Mississippi Sports Hall Of Fame, had a successful business career and for thirteen years was the Director of The Blue-Gray Game.

If interested in any of these Mississippi State helmets please click on the photos below.