Mississippi State University

1973-77 Bulldogs
(Authentic Reproduction)




Bob Tyler had lived a rather normal childhood in small Water Valley, Mississippi until the age of thirteen when his father was accidentally shot and killed while cleaning his gun. Young Bob lost interest in school and most other things, dropped out, and seemed aimless. Dating the school superintendent’s daughter, and with the encouragement of his brother who returned from World War II, he regained interest in school and football. Though a squad standout, his past truancy caught up with him and ineligible to play as a high school senior, he instead helped to coach the junior high school squad. After graduation he held a number of physically demanding jobs and served as a military policeman at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He returned from the service, coached the junior high school team he helped as a high school student, and then moved on to coach the Water Valley High School varsity. Although he did not play football while attending college, he attained a physical education degree and a Masters Degree from Ole Miss, with a teaching certificate, met a number of well known college coaches at various coaching clinics and eventually became one of the most successful coaches within the Mississippi high school ranks. At Meridian High School he was 38-0-1! He was tapped to work for Johnny Vaught at Ole Miss as receivers coach and quickly proved his worth. The favorite to succeed Vaught, Tyler instead coached for Bear Bryant in an 11-0 1971 season, moving to the offensive coordinator position for MSU in ’72. His organizational ability made him the obvious choice to become the State head coach for the 1973 season. Tyler introduced a new maroon shell, a white MS decal on each side, and white identification numerals on the rear of the shell. A formidable recruiter, Tyler immediately brought in a number of very good players. The team improved to 4-5-2 but more importantly, there was a definite change in attitude. Rockey Felker missed almost half of the season with a broken thumb and then a broken leg but still found end Bill Buckley often enough for the latter to set school season reception and touchdown reception records. Melvin Barkum who had moved from quarterback to tailback proved versatile, and primary ball carrier Wayne Jones set most of his school record 1865 career rushing yards in this one season with an 1193 yard pickup in ’73, a single season MSU mark. The 3755 team total yardage aggregate was also a school record. The defense was changed from a Split Six to a 4-3 alignment and even with five sophomore starters, did well with All SEC defensive end Jimmy Webb in the forefront. Steve Freeman at cornerback and Jackie Calhoun at linebacker won rave reviews as did punter Mike Patrick who finished second in the nation.

Despite the team record-setting offense the previous season, Tyler, losing offensive coordinator Ray Perkins to the Patriots as their receivers coach, scuttled the passing heavy offense and installed the Veer Formation with immediate positive results. 1974 marked a high point of enthusiasm as the Bulldogs went 9-3, defeated Ole Miss handily by a 31-13 score, and won the Sun Bowl by a 26-24 margin over North Carolina. The staff began to hand out small award stickers that were affixed to the front of the players' helmets, a practice that would continue throughout the remainder of Tyler's stay at MSU. Two opening victories were followed by a 29-13 loss to Florida which included the additional indignity of having the cheerleaders’ van go into a ditch in Alabama. The ship was righted however with four consecutive victories until an end of the year slump dropped the Bulldogs down a bit. Still, finishing with their first victory over LSU in eleven seasons, a 31-13 beat down of Ole Miss, and the Sun Bowl trophy brought a great spike in team confidence. Quarterback Felker was named to a number of All American teams and was the SEC Player of The Year as conference total offense leader, while running back Walter Packer was First Team All SEC by virtue of his six-plus yards per carry, ably backed up by freshman Dennis Johnson. All Conference guard Sam Nichols was the key lineman they often ran behind. Both running back Wayne Jones and receiver Bill Buckley were drafted by the Jets. Emphasizing speed in recruiting, the defense was fast and aggressive with All American defensive end Webb again leader of the band and with terrific assistance from noseguard Harvey Hull, a Second Team All SEC choice, and Steve Freeman again an effective defender in the secondary. Webb was a first round draft pick of the Forty Niners, played six seasons with them and one with the Chargers before becoming a veterinarian specializing in the care of rare cattle. Freeman played in the NFL from 1975 through ’87, all but his final year with the Bills, finishing with the Vikings, with ’83 an All Pro effort. Punter Patrick stayed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent punter for four seasons but unfortunately passed away at the age of fifty-five.


Often referred to as “The Ambassador of Mississippi State University,” Rockey Felker is as closely associated with MSU as any athlete before or after him. An All State player out of Brownsville, Tennessee who was tutored by his father Edwin “Babe” Felker, an assistant on the high school staff, Rockey played through injury, established himself as an offensive force as a junior, and led the Bulldogs to a huge 1974 season his senior year. Named as the Southeastern Conference Player of The Year and to some All America teams, Felker set most of the passing related school records that have, decades later, still left him in the top ten of most categories. His personality, described by teammates as “steady, consistent, and humble,” allowed him to be a role model and example to his peers. He eschewed pro football with the Cincinnati Bengals and served as a receivers and running backs coach at MSU for three years following graduation, and then set off on life as an assistant at Texas Tech, Memphis State, and Alabama before being named as the Bulldogs head coach in 1986 at the tender age of thirty-three. His lifetime dream job started off well with a 6-1 beginning, but sagged to a 6-5 finish. Having taken over during another down cycle in MSU football where their facilities, financial ability to compete, and recruiting had been an obstacle to winning, Felker’s next four years tallied out at 4-7, a disastrous 1-10, and two consecutive 5-6 seasons that cost him his job. He returned to the life of an assistant coach, serving as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator for two separate stints, separated by the same job at Arkansas. Jackie Sherrill, who had replaced Felker as head coach in ’91, convinced him to return in an administrative role and Felker has been at MSU since, fulfilling positions ranging from recruiting and high school liaison to serving as an on-field assistant. His ’74 season remains a high point to Bulldog alumni and the exemplary way in which he has always represented his alma mater has made him a popular and trusted figure with current players and staff.

The 1975 season began badly with a number of off-season issues. In March at the annual SEC meeting, artificial noisemakers were banned from all conference events. Ringing the cowbell as a State tradition is usually traced to the late 1930’s when the Maroons had representative teams. Upon defeating Ole Miss, a cow supposedly wandered onto the field and was considered to be “good luck.” Thus for a while, State students would bring a cow to the games but this was phased out in favor of bringing only a cowbell. The time honored tradition was said to irritate some opposing coaches more than others, especially influential, established coaches like Auburn’s Shug Jordan who complained loudly and long about the issue. This was followed by a probation period and the ineligibility of defensive tackle Larry Gillard and defensive back/return man Richard Blackmore as ordered by the NCAA. Blackmore was deemed guilty of taking ten dollars from a coach to buy food. Gillard had received a one-third discount at a local clothing store, both unaware that he bought at a discount and a discount that was offered to all other MSU students. It was also alleged that Gillard was the recipient of illegal cash payments from a coaching staff member while on his recruiting visit to campus. Coach Tyler and AD Shira, refuting the allegation of a cash payment and believing that the clothing discount available to all students was not an illegal inducement or benefit, were successful in getting a local court injunction allowing Gillard to play. The two year ban on television appearances and bowl bids would stand in addition to the loss of scholarships. University President Giles, outraged at the NCAA ruling, resigned his position in protest. Thus, Gillard did play through the ’75 season. The year’s 6-4-1 record with a lone SEC victory over LSU was a bit of a let down but the Bulldogs were establishing themselves as a solid unit. Tailback Walter Packer gained more than 1000 yards but was left off of the All Conference team. Fullback Dennis Johnson and quarterback Bruce Threadgill lost time to injury, with one of Threadgill’s back-ups being Johnny Booty who later became a highly successful high school coach at Evangel Christian High School in Louisiana and whose sons played collegiate and pro football. The offensive line played well behind First Team All SEC center Richard Keys, guard Sam Nichols, and Tackle Jim Eidson who spent much of his career playing both ways before settling in at offensive tackle where he was a second round draft pick of the Cowboys. He was part of their 1976 Super Bowl team but was diagnosed with a spinal cord condition after suffering an injury in a drill against Ed Jones in ‘77’s camp. He was successful in the real estate business and established a scholarship in the name of former MSU and pro player Tom Goode who was his offensive line coach at State. Offensive lineman Chuck Brislin stayed with Calgary of the CFL during 1976. The defense was tough with Gillard of course at defensive tackle, Ray Costict as First Team All SEC and Calvin Hymel, both undersized whirlwind linebackers, and leading tackler Harvey Hull at nose guard. A bonus transfer from Tampa University which dropped football was kicker Kinney Jordan who hit a number of big time field goals. As one publication noted, “Winning is rapidly becoming a habit at Mississippi State.”

Unfortunately, the 1975 season closed on a black note. Charles Shira, who had served MSU as an assistant in the early 1950’s, returned as head coach and athletic director in 1967, and did an enviable job in the latter role after the 1972 season despite being able to offer fewer resources and amenities to athletes relative to his SEC counterparts, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on November 20 and died on January 2, 1976. The Shira Complex was named after him and he was lauded for the effort he gave to the university. Had Mississippi state been bowl eligible, they would have had their pick after the 1976 season, dominating most of their opponents with defense in a super 9-2 season. Not that the 3800 total yards generated by the offense was shabby in a new, simplified Wishbone attack, but it was a core group of defensive players, led by Second Team All America selections Harvey Hull at nose guard, Stan Black at safety, and linebacker Ray Costic that led the way. Perhaps most impressive was Costict, the 200 pound linebacker who had opened the pipeline to Coach Tyler’s recruiting in Moss Point (MS) High School, and finished his career with a school record 467 tackles and the 1976 SEC Defensive Player Of The Year Award. He later played three years with the Patriots primarily as a special teams standout nicknamed “Little Backer”  and the ’83 season with the USFL Generals while Black spent ’77 with the Forty Niners. Hull made a second best to Costick 454 career tackles and was drafted by the Oilers but placed on injured reserve the week prior to the ’77 season opener and released. Hull was inducted into the Mississippi State Sports Hall Of Fame and is a member of the State All Century Team. Both Gillard and Blackmore who were the targets of the NCAA investigation contributed as starters. Threadgill was versatile enough to lead the new attack with Walter Packer, who finished his Bulldog stint as the all time school rushing leader and then spent the ’77 season with the Bucs and Seahawks. Clarence Harmon, and Dennis Johnson helped to carry the Wishbone rushing load. Harmon was with the Redskins from ’77 through 1982. Center Keys and guard Sam Nichols completed four years of playing next to each other, both later entering the MSU Sports Hall Of Fame with Nichols going on to a distinguished career in the U.S. Army and rising to the rank of Brigadier General. Center Richard Keys had some hard luck, making it to the final cut in the ’77 Falcons camp, entering the 1978 camp season with the Chargers, being traded to Buffalo where he suffered a shoulder injury in the pre-season, going to Denver in ’79 where he required knee surgery, and finally, being unable to make it with the Detroit Lions. He enjoyed a fine business career serving with Puckett Machinery for twenty-eight years until his early demise. Despite being on NCAA probation, the squad finished as high as twentieth in some end of season polls.

With eleven starting seniors returning and six starters on the squad from Moss Point High School, there was a feeling of closeness and confidence going into the ’77 season. It started well at 2-0 and with 469 yards in offense rolled up against eventual Rose Bowl champion Washington. Beset with disciplinary problems and coaching staff unrest, four mid-season losses brought a switch from the Wishbone to the I-Formation. Beneficiary of the new scheme was quarterback Bruce Threadgill who proved he could pass, completing his career with 3927 total yards, leaving him just behind all-time leader Tommy Pharr. This earned him a draft pick entry into the Forty Niners camp and a year with them before going to Calgary of the CFL from 1979 through ‘82. Dennis Johnson who had spent his time at State as both a tight end and running back also left as a “number two man,” finishing with 2284 career rushing yards, just behind Walter Packer. He continued in his role as running back and tight end with the Bills in ’78 and ’79, with the Giants in 1980 and ‘81, and in the USFL in ’83 and ’84. James Jones and James Otis “Hoss” Doss, who was the third best kickoff return man in the nation as a freshman, proved to be SEC caliber runners and the new attack uncovered good receivers in freshman Mardye McDole who caught twenty-seven passes, Robert Chatham, and the coach’s son, Breck Tyler who was also an accomplished hurdler and high jumper. The defense sagged at times although tackle Larry Gillard finished his career strongly despite remaining in the center of the NCAA difficulties. He was drafted by the Browns and later became a pastor. Henry Davidson held up his duties in the secondary and freshman linebacker Johnie Cooks who started the final three games put everyone on notice that he would be a star. Tyler headed into 1978 intent on improvement from the disappointing 5-6 record.


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