Thanksgiving Day 1958 contest helped establish generous gift to Southern Miss

Published 2:11 pm Friday, November 24, 2023

By Southern Miss Athletics

HATTIESBURG — When one thinks of Thanksgiving, their mind immediately envisions the one day each year which brings family and friends together to celebrate their blessings and allows them to be grateful for all the good in their lives.

Yet, thanksgiving can also be described as an expression of gratitude. It is that very thing that John Austin Dickey provided for the Southern Miss football team following his death in 2002 after what can be described as a life-changing event.

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That event took place when Dickey and Southern Miss first crossed paths – incidentally on Thanksgiving Day of 1958 – 65 years ago today.

The-then Mississippi Southern College was trying to wrap up a perfect season with a Thanksgiving Day contest at Tennessee-Chattanooga. The “Southerners” were 8-0 and ranked No. 1 in the UPI National Small College Football poll.

Dickey, who was 16 at the time and in the stands for the game, witnessed a late four-play, goal-line defensive stand – led by the group of Hugh McInnis, John Russell, Joe Battaglia, Richard Johnston, Jim Taylor and Bob Yencho – all from the one-yard line in cold, icy temperatures in holding off the Moccasins to preserve a 20-13 victory.

The win over UTC that day helped establish Mississippi Southern as national champions, their first of two, for the school. The second national championship came four years later in 1962.

It also led Dickey, who never stepped foot on that Hattiesburg campus in his lifetime, to describe to friends and family about the “scrappy performance” by his newly adopted team from south Mississippi.

From that day on, Dickey monitored Southern Miss’ athletic successes from afar, watching the Golden Eagles perform on television in both football and basketball, and keeping up with scores of Southern Miss games in newspapers.

Despite his limited contact with Southern Miss, Dickey’s devotion to the university’s football team, born from attending one football game, inspired him to faithfully set aside money in savings that he planned to will to the university for football scholarships.

Dickey passed away in 2002 at age 60, but his support of Golden Eagle football will continue in perpetuity as he left over $180,000 for football scholarships following his death.

Dickey, who never married, worked in the shipping division for Cutter Laboratories in Chattanooga.

After learning of the donations years ago, Johnston, who played both center and linebacker for the 1958 team and was a team captain, was overwhelmed by Dickey’s gift to the football program and was quoted just after his death.

“Gee wiz, for a guy to be that impressed (with our team) and do something like he did, to know that our performance motivated someone to do something like this…is just tremendous.”

In August of 2004, in a proclamation, Dickey was named an honorary member of the 1958 national championship team.

This weekend, the team celebrates its 65th anniversary during the Golden Eagles final game of the season against Troy. Game time is set for Saturday at 11 a.m., and the team will be recognized during the game.