The 5 Best Players Who Played In The State Of Mississippi
In NCAA College Football traditionally, we see many great players from universities located in the southern states. However, only one state can claim that it has produced the current National Football League all-time leaders in passing and receiving, plus the all-time rusher from 1984 through 2002, and that state is not Texas, California or Florida, but surprisingly Mississippi. In this article we will look back at the five best players it has produced, plus a couple of honorable mentions, and all are well known to college or pro fans. They are listed in chronological order.
In Mississippi there are six universities that play college football NCAA Division I, the first three play in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A), two play in the Southeastern Conference, the other in Conference USA; and the other three are historically black colleges that play in the Southwestern Athletic Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA). The towns and the colleges' nicknames are in parenthesis:
- University of Mississippi (Oxford, Rebels)
- Mississippi State University (Starkville, Bulldogs)
- University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg, Golden Eagles)
- Alcorn State University (Lorman, Braves)
- Jackson State University (Jackson, Tigers)
- Mississippi Valley State University (Itta Bena, Delta Devils)
Here are the best players, one from five or the six schools (sorry Mississippi State). I will try to focus more on their college resume, since their pro careers are better known:
1. Walter Payton (Running back, Jackson State, 1971-1974)
Born in Columbia, Payton was not recruited by any Southeastern Conference School in a time when most of those colleges were not integrated. Instead he joined Jackson State, an Historically Black College where his older brother Eddie (who later played in the NFL for the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings) also played as a running back. Payton finished his college career with 3,600 yards rushing for a 6.0 yard per average and scored 63 touchdowns. Interestingly, he also was the team part-time placekicker, and kicked 5 field goals and 53 extra points in his college career. In 1996, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Payton (nicknamed "Sweetness") was selected in the 1975 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears with the fourth overall pick of the draft. In his 13 seasons with the Bears, Payton had 10 seasons with more than 1,000 yards rushing (a NFL record when he retired, but two of the three seasons he missed the mark were strike-shortened season, the other time was in his rookie year), was selected to the Pro Bowl 9 times and was a 1st team All-Pro 5 times, he was twice the League's Most Valuable Player (in 1977 and 1985), he led the Bears to a Super Bowl title in 1985 and retired as the NFL all-time leading rusher (he was surpassed by Emmitt Smith in 2002, but he's still the second all-time leading rusher). He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, his first year as an eligible. Sadly, Payton died in 1999 of liver cancer. His legacy lives on, as the Walter Payton Award is given to the top player in the Football Championship Subdivision, and the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is given to the top player who excels also in his charity and volunteer work.
2. Jerry Rice (Wide receiver, Mississippi Valley State, 1981-1984)
Born in Starkville, but raised in Crawford, Rice went to Mississippi Valley State. There he got the nickname "World", because "there was not a ball in the world that he couldn't catch" and he teamed with quarterback Willie Totten to break many passing records. In 1983 had 102 receptions for 1,450 yards and caught 24 passes in a game (all NCAA records). Next season, he broke his own records with 112 receptions for 1,845 yards and 27 touchdowns. He finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy after his senior season. In 2006, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Rice was selected in the 1985 NFL Draft by the reigning Super Bowl champions San Francisco 49ers with the 14th overall pick of the draft. There he started a 20-year career that shattered every receiving record, which most of them still stand (and one full article wouldn't be enough to list all of them!). He played sixteen seasons with the 49ers, and led them to three Super Bowl championships. He was the League's MVP in 1987 and Super Bowl MVP the next season. In 2001, at the age of 39, he joined the Oakland Raiders, and helped them to reach the Super Bowl the next season. Rice finished his career with the Seattle Seahawks in 2004. He was selected to 13 Pro Bowls and was All-Pro 10 times. Perhaps his most impressive record is that he is the all-time leader in games played by a non-punter or placekicker in NFL history with 303. He also is the all-time touchdown scorer with 208. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, his first year as an eligible.
3. Brett Favre (Quarterback, Southern Mississippi, 1987-1990)
Born in Gulfport, but raised in Kiln, Favre went to Southern Miss, the only college that recruited him. Initially was thought as a defensive back, but Favre won the starting quarterback position in his freshman year, and in his sophomore year he lead the Eagles to a win in the Independence Bowl against Texas-El Paso. In 1990 he led the Golden Eagles to the All-American Bowl, and although they lost against North Carolina State, Favre was named MVP. He finished with the school all-time passing records, but most of them were broken by current St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis.
Favre was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2nd round of the 1991 NFL Draft. Seeing little action as a rookie, he was traded the next year to the Green Bay Packers, where he starred and started for 16 years. Favre led the Packers to a Super Bowl title (their first since the Vince Lombardi era), and another Super Bowl appearance, was three times the League's MVP, went to 11 Pro Bowls, was 3 times All-Pro and he holds every passing record, including . He finished his career with one season with the New York Jets and two for the Minnesota Vikings. He played in 302 regular season games (one less than Jerry Rice), including 297 consecutive starts. His records are been threatened by a player with Mississippi roots: Peyton Manning (his parents and brothers all attended Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi. Peyton attended the University of Tennessee).
4. Steve McNair (Quarterback, Alcorn State, 1991-1994)
Born in Mount Olive, McNair attended Division I-AA Alcorn State since other colleges wanted to convert him to a running back. In his senior season he ran and passed for nearly 6,000 yards and threw or ran for 53 touchdowns. He won the Water Payton Award and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
In the 1995 NFL Draft, McNair was selected third overall, at the time the highest rank by a black quarterback, by the Houston Oilers. In 1999, after the Oilers moved to Nashville and became the Tennessee Titans, McNair led them to a Super Bowl appearance against the St. Louis Rams. In 2003 he was NFL co-MVP with Peyton Manning. He played his last two seasons for the Baltimore Ravens, where in 2007 he finished his 13-year NFL career. McNair was murdered in 2009 in Nashville by his lover, but he is still considered one of the best players in Titans history.
5. Eli Manning (Quarterback, Mississippi, 2000-2003)
Manning was born in New Orleans, Louisiana due to his father's job (quarterback for the Saints at that time), but both his parents attended Ole Miss. Archie Manning (his father, who also was a quarterback for the Rebels from 1967-1970, is a living legend down there, as attested by his number 18 retired and eighteen miles serving as the limiting speed on campus. Archie was selected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and surely would have made this list if he had the fortune to be on a playoff participant in his 14 seasons in the NFL. As he couldn't be on a winning team on the pro level, we'll give Archie an Honorable Mention, and let's look on Eli:
He became the full-time starter in his sophomore season, and as a junior and senior he led the Rebels to bowl victories. He also was named the 2003 Southeastern Conference MVP, 34 years after Archie, and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
He was the top overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft and has been the New York Giants starting quarterback since the middle of his rookie year. He has led the Giants to two Super Bowl titles in his 11-year career.
Honorable Mention: Ray Guy (punter, Southern Mississippi 1969-1972)
Last, you have to include a player who, like Walter Payton, has an award named after him. The Ray Guy Award is given to the Nation's best punter each year. Guy is inducted in both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame, and revolutionized the art of punting. He also was the first punter to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft.