University Of Southern Mississippi

1973-74 Golden Eagles
(Authentic Reproduction)




Entering its first full season as the Golden Eagles, the 1973 team featured a new helmet design to celebrate the change. The Green Bay gold shell with one-inch white center stripe and one-inch black flanking stripes now featured a new black USM design that was overlaid with a fierce eagle, and black player identification numerals were placed on the rear of the shell. As a former gridiron hero, lauded defensive coordinator, and beloved figure on campus, there was perhaps less grumbling about the on-field disappointments of Underwood’s teams than would have been expected with another coach, but a good season was needed. Again, it was a Tale Of Two Seasons with a 1-4 start that was completed with a good run to a 6-4-1 finish. Georgia transfer Jeff Bower took the quarterback reins and threw for 1495 yards, posting 376 total yards against Texas-Arlington. The squad responded well to him and he established excellent rapport with tight end John Sawyer who had twenty-two receptions, and leading receiver Harvey McGee who hauled in twenty-eight passes. Doyle Orange again led the rushers with 539 yards and the Honorable Mention All American became the Toronto Argos second 1000 yard rusher in’75, his promising pro career ending with injury after ’76. He remained in Toronto in City Administration. The “other tailback” Terrance Wells spent a season with the Oilers and another with the Packers. Seven fumbles scuttled the Ole Miss 41-0 blowout loss but the defense came around late in the season behind leader and Third Team All American Fred Cook who had a fine career with the Colts, and linebacker Mike Dennery. The lesser known Dennery finished the season with 117 tackles giving him 431 for his career, leading to two seasons with the Raiders and one with the Dolphins. Eugene Bird, a Jets’ draft pick, and Doug White remained stalwarts in the secondary. On December 20, a former USM assistant coach who spent many years coaching at Ole Miss and who spent the previous two seasons as the head man at Southeast Louisiana State, Roland Dale, became the Athletic Director. He would replace long time AD Reed Green and work hand-in-hand with him during his first year on the job. Dale had turned down the Southern Miss head coaching job in ’68 but remained a popular choice for the position.


A star on and off of the football field, USM defensive end great Fred Cook is often credited with helping to ease integration of the team and campus communities. A stand-out at Pascagoula, MS Our Lady Of Victory High School, Cook was a USM sophomore star with eighteen sacks and sixty-eight tackles in ’71. Nineteen more sacks in 1972 and a huge 122 tackles gave him Honorable Mention All American status, and a Third Team All American year as a senior allowed for national recognition as one of the best defenders in the nation. As a second round draft pick of the Colts, he helped to form their Sack Pack defense, playing from ’74 through the 1980 season. In 1975 the group led the NFL in sacks and won division championships in 1975, ’76, and ’77. Cook was first team All Conference in that ’77 season and was one of the Colts’ most popular players with fans and teammates. At USM he was also among the team’s most popular members, and was voted “Mr. USM” by the student body, the first African-American to achieve that distinction.

1974 looked difficult even before kickoff due to graduation losses and an absence of home games.  As stadium construction began, all eleven games would be on the road and the Golden Eagles lost three of the first four. What had become the template for Underwood’s teams, was a streaky nature that found them losing two to four consecutive games, and then winning three or four in a row to more or less even up the season’s record. They also suffered lopsided losses to major powers with ‘74’s 52-0 defeat by Alabama as “typical,” and lost games that appeared to be “safe” in the pre-season, like the 10-9 loss to Lamar. Quarterback Jeff Bower was again effective and Captain John Sawyer remained a favorite target at tight end, playing with the Oilers for two seasons, with Seattle from 1977 through ’82, the Redskins in ’83, and finishing a ten year career with the Broncos. The rushing attack was carried by Charles “Fancy” Clancy. An effective secondary, tackle Mike Smith, and Honorable Mention All American play by 6’5” linebacker Ron Cheatham and rover Rick Gemmel held things together for a 6-5 record. After the season Underwood announced that he would step down as head coach after leading the team to a 31-32-2 record over six seasons. Most had hoped for the type of defense his mid-1960s Vandals had demonstrated, but he maintained his popularity on campus. He would always be held in high esteem for his 1970 victory over Ole Miss and was seen as a father figure and mentor by most of his players. He became an assistant at Vanderbilt in 1975 and was an exceptional linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at Auburn from ’76 through 1980.

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