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Strangely enough, Oxford had been relatively quiet the week of the game. On the neat, tree-lined campus the students seemed to be having trouble working up a good hate against The Bear and a couple of pep rallies failed to rally much pep. A morale-boosting panty raid (that's right, sir, they still have panty raids at Ole Miss) accomplished little more than the arrest of 10 fraternity men.
In the athletic offices, however, the mood was serious. Coach Johnny Vaught, a no-nonsense fellow even in his lighter moments, had been unhappy with his team's sluggish performance in a narrow 20-17 escape from Kentucky the previous Saturday. In addition, Alabama's surprising 46-15 victory over Florida had impressed him. All last week he and his staff spent 12 hours a day plotting and watching films and otherwise getting ready for Alabama. Vaught brushed aside talk about last year's game ("That has nothing to do with this one," he said) and scoffed at the notion that the Crimson Tide, which had a 19-1-1 record against Ole Miss since 1910, had the Rebels' number. "No, no, I don't believe in that foolishness," said Vaught one afternoon during a pause in the preparations. "Block and tackle, that's what it's all about. If you knock people down you can move the ball."
Vaught was finding it more difficult to divert the focus of the football world's attention. He frowned and banged a stubby hand on the top of his desk as he said, "It's not that it's hurting us or Archie or the team," he said. "It's just an inspiration for the opposition. Anything you say is just more stuff for their bulletin board. We've had enough articles. What we need to do is to win some games."
Later that afternoon Manning was lying on his bed in the room he shares with Linebacker Bill VanDevender. His game against Kentucky had been only average ("Boy, the mail sure dropped off this week," he said, smiling), and now he was staring at the ceiling and thinking. "I haven't had good games statistically; I'm not even in the top 10 in total offense. But that doesn't bother me. There are not too many games you play like the one we had with Alabama last year, where you have a real offensive battle the whole game.
"I'm looking forward to Alabama. They play good hard football, just like we do. It's difficult to say how the game will go. I think both defenses will work harder. It could end up 0-0, and wouldn't that be something?"
Archie laughed, then rubbed his right thigh. In the Kentucky game he had pulled a groin muscle and it had bothered him all week. He had not run in practice, and his injury was the best-kept secret in the South. "I don't know if I'll be able to run full speed," said Archie, "but I think I'll be all right. I've been throwing as well as I ever have."
Before a game Manning usually looks unconcerned, but last week he was excited. On Thursday he was so absorbed that he almost forgot it was his fianc�e's birthday. He remembered in time to give her a dozen roses. "I've never seen him like this," said that young lady, Olivia Williams, a brunette who does nothing to diminish Ole Miss' reputation as the champion Miss America school. "Even before the Tennessee game last year he wasn't this fired up. Why, I think he wants to hurt somebody, and that's not like Archie."
Meanwhile, in Tuscaloosa, Archie had other admirers. A student group sold buttons (WRECK THE REBEL RABBLE) in the union. Pictures of Manning hung on the bulletin board in the Tide's athletic dorm (the "Bryant Hilton").
"Archie beats you in so many ways," said Bryant with a sigh and a sniffle. "He dominates a college game more than Namath did." Bryant had suffered with a head cold all week. He felt so lousy, in fact, that during practice he sat up in his tower on a folding chair instead of prowling about the field as he usually does. But of more concern to Bryant than his health was the fact that his best receiver, George Ranager, was still bothered by a knee injury suffered in Alabama's opening 42-21 loss to USC. And then, during Thursday's practice, a tackle pulled the wrong way and banged into Quarterback Hunter's right shoulder, his throwing shoulder. On Friday morning the injury was diagnosed as a separation and that evening, after the Tide had flown to Jackson, it was announced that Hunter would not be able to play. It hardly looked like an Alabama week, and wasn't.
Like last year's game, this one had several heroes, most of whom wore the white jerseys of Ole Miss. Tailback Randy Reed gained 99 yards and caught two touchdown passes. Wingback Vernon Studdard also caught a scoring pass and made the most exciting play of the game. It came in the second quarter after Alabama's Richard Ciemny had kicked a field goal to pull the Tide up to 14-3. Taking the following kickoff a yard deep in his end zone, Studdard started up the middle, cut for the left sideline, zigged once and zipped down the field for a 101-yard touchdown. "The outside man came in," said Studdard, "so I went for the sideline. I'd much rather go where there's nobody than into a crowd."