University Of Southern Mississippi

1977-81 Golden Eagles
(Authentic Reproduction)




A new helmet design accompanied a new 1977 season that brought a rebound to 6-6. The shell was black with three-quarter-inch gold flanking stripes and the decal on each side was reminiscent of a previous one. The USM gold lettering had an eagle, a Golden Eagle, superimposed over the USM, and the black facemask made for an intimidating appearance. While fans were pleased, there was some question how an obviously talented squad could defeat SEC teams like Ole Miss, Auburn, and Mississippi State yet lose to Cincinnati, North Texas State, and Arkansas State, despite the latter two teams’ solid records in ‘77. Losing the final two games dashed hopes for a big year too, although defeating both Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the same season was cause for celebration. The offense was inconsistent and in time starting quarterback Jeff Hammond gave way to Dane McDaniel though Honorable Mention All American Ben Garry completed his career as the primary weapon. His 1134 yards in 1977 gave him a total of 3595 and allowed him to walk off to the Baltimore Colts where he played for two seasons, as the all time leading rusher for USM and any other of the state’s colleges. He ran behind a line led by tackle Eric Smith and guard Amos Fowler who stayed with the Lions from ’78 through 1984. The defense had some breakdowns but was on the field a lot. Linebacker Clump Taylor made 134 tackles, Anthony “Stoney” Parker was solid up front at tackle and was credited with 111 tackles, Monster/rover Mike “Crazy” Crenshaw won the Mississippi State game with late heroics, and young Hanford Dixon showed great potential in the secondary.

1978’s self-proclaimed “Nasty Bunch” defense, named after new defensive coordinator Jim “Big Nasty” Carmody, had few weak points and eight starters returning from the ’77 squad. They often pulled the inconsistent offense out of the fire to the tune of an improved 7-4 record. Linebacker Clump Taylor led with 148 tackles, Parker contributed eighty-four before playing for Saskatchewan for a season, and tackle J.J. Stewart added another 120. DB’s Hanford Dixon, a 179 pound ball of fury, had four interceptions with great support from “Crazy” Crenshaw. Dane McDaniel replaced Jeff Hammond at quarterback by the season’s third game, and while Raymond “Tiko” Beal and newcomer Sammy Winder could not match the departed Ben Garry’s impact at running back, they were adequate. Hammond returned to Southern Miss as a retired Major General to man the Athletic Director’s position for 2012 and ‘13. A last second field goal by Ole Miss cost the Eagles that game but they defeated Mississippi State 21-17 and three other close wins at 10-7, 17-16, and 13-10 indicated that they had the toughness to play with anyone. Southern Miss proved to be “State Champions” in 1979, defeating Ole Miss 38-8 while rushing for 256 yards, and Mississippi State 21-7. Running from the I-Formation, backs Sammy Winder gained 749 yards and Ricky “Sweet Pea” Floyd had a new school record, rushing for twelve touchdowns. Dane McDaniel held on to the starting quarterback spot until the mid-point of the finale against Arkansas State when he was spelled by frosh Reggie Collier who would become one of USM’s all time greats. Tight end Marvin Harvey was the primary target with eighteen receptions but once again, it was defense and The Nasty Bunch rather than the offense that got the headlines. Clump Taylor completed his career at linebacker with Honorable Mention All American status and 510 career tackles. Tackles Gary Ivy and J.J. Stewart, who played in the Senior Bowl, were outstanding, while once again, Hanford Dixon led the secondary. The 6-4-1 record was very close to being much better with the 20-19 controversial defeat by Tulane, as was reported, ending as “the officials sprinted for their cars.”

In 1980 Coach Collins brought it all together in a rousing 8-3 year that was completed with a 16-14 Independence Bowl victory over McNeese State. The 6-0 start earned the Golden Eagles their first Top Twenty national ranking since entering the Division 1 classification and included victories over both Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Southeastern Conference best Alabama provided the 42-7 fall to earth and two weeks later Auburn did the same 31-0. However, the team held up and the Nasty Bunch Defense again stood out, finishing third in the nation in pass defense behind the leadership of DB Dixon, and tenth in overall defense. The stars were many with Dixon, a First Team All American and Browns first round draft choice the leader. Linebackers Rom Brown and Cliff Lewis stood out, with Brown’s 125 tackles leading the team and Lewis had three years with the Packers. Defensive end George “Too Tall” Tillman was an Honorable Mention All American. With fifty-five sophomores on the squad it was no surprise that the team leader and quarterback was one of them and Reggie Collier passed for 1268 yards and ran for another 464. The big gun was junior rusher Sammy Winder who led the nation in scoring with his 120 points and twenty touchdowns. His 998 ground game yards clearly outpaced Sweet Pea Floyd but the latter’s 382 was a key contribution, with both running frequently behind center Jamey Watson. Winder’s athletic eleven yard run and high jump over an Ole Miss defender, a hurdler’s maneuver that brought his body into the end zone, gave the Golden Eagles the leading and eventual winning score over their rivals and became known as “The Dive.”  Tight end Marvin Harvey gained some All American notice and spent 1981 with the Chiefs, while wide receiver Mike Livingston caught twenty-three passes.


As a three sport star at Theodore High School in the Mobile, Alabama area, Hanford Dixon stood out. As a former track, basketball, and football star entering the University Of Southern Mississippi, it wasn’t certain he would stand out due to his 6’, 170 pound stature. However the highly confident Dixon took it upon himself to let people know he was preparing to be a starter and he lived up to the self-promotion, starting as a freshman and intercepting a pass in his first college game. He built upon that, finishing the 1977 season with forty-four tackles and two interceptions. By the time his career at USM ended, he had made 188 tackles and earned a reputation as a buzz-saw that would take on anyone. He had nine interceptions, a relative limitation brought on by the reluctance of opposing teams to throw towards his side of the field. A Sporting News First Team All American as a senior, Dixon became the Cleveland Browns first round draft choice in 1981 and had a terrific professional career, earning All Pro status three times and being named to three Pro Bowls. Many experts believe he should have received the same recognition earlier in his career but was hampered by the Browns’ underachievement. Paired at cornerback with Frank Minnifield, Dixon entered the 1984 training camp with the pronouncement that the team’s defensive linemen would chase opponents as “dogs chase cats” and encouraged them by barking at his teammates. Minnifield joined him and thus was born the Dawg Pound, the area of the Cleveland stadium that housed the dog-mask wearing crowd that barked their heroes to greater performance. Minnifield and Dixon have been recognized as one of the NFL’s best ever pair of cornerbacks and Dixon remains the best seen at Southern Miss.

If the Golden Eagles had coalesced into a nationally recognized squad in 1980, ’81 was another step up the ladder of success with a regular season record of 9-1-1. The Nasty Bunch continued its great work, achieving national rankings of seventh against the pass, first against scoring having given up but eighty-nine points, and number five in total defense, even though former defensive coordinator Jim “Big Nasty” Carmody left to coach the Buffalo Bills defensive line. Defensive linemen Rhett Whitley and “Too Tall” Tillman and backs Bud Brown and Bruce “Juice” Miller led the charge allowing the squad to crack the top twenty-five in the nation’s final overall rankings and it was linebacker Greg Kelly that led the unit with 131 tackles. Quarterback Reggie Collier finished ninth in the Heisman voting based on his status as the first collegiate quarterback to both rush and pass for more than 1000 yards in each category and a 58.3 completion percentage.  Against Texas Arlington the offense rolled up 630 yards with Collier responsible for 298 on his own. Running back Sammy Winder finished a storied career with 1029 rushing yards before having a solid career with the Denver Broncos, with back-up assistance from Ricky “Sweet Pea” Floyd who went to the Browns camp. Louis Lipps stepped into the bright lights although wide out Don Horn who averaged 15.8 yards per reception, Mike Livings, and tight end Raymond Powell, were favorite targets. A 19-17 Tangerine Bowl loss to Missouri did little to hurt the Golden Eagles growing reputation as a national power but losing Bobby Collins in early January to Southern Methodist was unexpected. Collins 48-30-2 record at USM was built upon solid defense and tough play against big time opponents and he would do a great job at Southern Methodist University until deciding to retire from coaching once caught up in the major NCAA scandal at SMU after the 1986 season.


In discussing his professional football career with a Sports Illustrated writer, running back Sammy Winder described himself as “…a tough, hard-nosed player who gave his all on every play. I think I helped my team succeed.” He could just as well have been talking about his USM career, going from unheralded walk-on who was redshirted in 1977 to the program’s career rushing and touchdown scoring leader. There was little about his arrival from Madison-Ridgeland High School to predict his record setting prowess. He improved annually at Southern Miss and truly broke out in 1980, rushing for 996 yards while leading the nation in scoring with twenty touchdowns. He helped the Golden Eagles gain prominence with an 8-3 record and their first appearance in a Division 1 bowl game. Winder’s 1981 performance that included 1029 rushing yards and spurred the team to a 9-1-1 season with a Tangerine Bowl appearance against Missouri, boosted his career marks to 3114 total rushing yards with thirty-nine TD’s and 736 rushing attempts. This elevated him to his status as a member of the USM Team Of The Century and Athletic Hall Of Fame. Playing with the Denver Broncos from 1982 through 1990, the 5’11”, 203 pound ball of power was named to two Pro Bowls and accumulated 5427 yards and thirty-nine touchdowns on the ground and another 1302 yards and nine touchdowns on receptions. He lead the AFC in scoring in 1987 and throughout his pro career punctuated each score with his “Mississippi Mud Walk” celebration to the delight of fans. After his retirement from the Broncos he entered the construction business with his brother in their hometown of Ridgeland.

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