Lear Helped Put Ole Miss On National Football Map
By Thomas McKee
However, another great signal caller, Jimmy Lear, also helped put Ole Miss football on the national map.
Lear is being honored as a Southeastern Conference Legend at this year’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta, Ga., joining some of the greatest players to ever step on an SEC football field. In honor of his selection, Lear will be recognized with a campus salute at halftime Saturday night when Ole Miss hosts Southeastern Louisiana at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium/Hollingsworth Field.
As a 5-foot-11 signal-caller from Greenwood, Miss., Lear lettered three years at quarterback for Coach John Vaught’s Rebels, from 1950-1952. He was recognized as an All-American in 1952 and earned All-SEC recognition in 1951 and 1952.
Although considered one of the best running quarterbacks in Ole Miss history, Lear made his mark as an outstanding passer, helping the Rebels lead the SEC in passing in 1951 and 1952. He is currently 23rd on the Ole Miss All-Time passing yardage list with 1,773 career yards.
In 1988 he was inducted into the Ole Miss Athletics Hall of fame and was honored again in 1991 as he was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. He also received the Distinguished American Award from the Ole Miss Chapter of the National Football Foundation in 2005.
“It is quite an honor to be selected as an SEC Legend,” Lear said. “I was thrilled-to-death when I first heard about it.”
Lear may best be known for leading the Rebels to the program’s first-ever undefeated regular season, as the 1952 team went 8-0-2. The undefeated record earned Ole Miss its first Sugar Bowl birth in the school’s history - which ended up being the team’s only blemish, a 24-7 loss to Georgia Tech. At 8-1-2, the Rebels finished 7th in the nation that year.
His marquee victory during that remarkable season in 1952 came when he carried the No. 11 Rebels to a 21-14 come-from-behind victory over then-No. 3 Maryland, arguably the school’s biggest victory at the time.
“There was just such a huge build up to that game, after Maryland had gone undefeated the year before and upset Tennessee on its way to the Sugar Bowl,” said Frank Crosthwait, a long-time friend of Lear’s and current president of the Ole Miss Chapter of the National Football Foundation.
Coming into that game, Maryland had won 22-consecutive games, not having lost a contest since it fell to North Carolina in 1950.
Lear accounted for all three of the Rebels’ touchdowns that day, while also handling both the punting and kicking duties. He earned National Back of the Week honors for his efforts as he completed 11 of 16 passes for 231 yards and one TD, while also rushing for 44 yards on 15 carries, giving him 275 total offensive yards in the game. Going against the nation's No. 1 defense, which was allowing only 156.4 yards per game, Lear led the Ole Miss offense to 461 yards.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s Wayne Thompson summed it up best in his 1952 game recap when he wrote, “King Jimmy Lear, playing the greatest football game of his brilliant college career, led the Ole Miss Rebels to the gridiron heights here this sun-kissed Saturday afternoon…”
According to Thompson’s article, Lear leading Ole Miss to victory was the greatest college football win for any team in the state of Mississippi since 1935, when Mississippi State defeated Army, 13-7.
While Lear was the key member of that magical 1952 team, he will be the first to point out that he didn’t achieve perfection on his own.
“We had a great group of players - not just one or two - but the whole group,” Lear said. “We were all great friends as well, which was so great to be a part of. The camaraderie of the team was what made it special.”
During his time at Ole Miss, Lear did much more than just hone his talents on the gridiron. He also participated in track and field, baseball and golf. As a student, he was elected Colonel Reb by the student body, one of the highest honors for any male student at the University of Mississippi.
After his collegiate career, Lear was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in the 16th round of the 1953 draft. When his football days ended, he went back home to Indianola, where he was the headmaster at Indianola Academy. He later became an owner/partner of the Maxwell Cotton Company, a successful local business.
“Jimmy and I grew up in the Delta and have always really cared about the Indianola community,” said Crosthwait. “He is very respected and admired throughout the Indianola community.”
One of the many reasons Lear is so respected around the Mississippi Delta and the Ole Miss family is because of how humble he is. He quickly says the key to his success was his great group of teammates, and he never brags about his past. However, he does enjoy reminiscing a bit on what he and his team achieved.
“People still come up and give me compliments about my achievements, which makes all of this special,” Lear said.
The 1952 Lear-led team started a trend for Ole Miss football, as that team’s first Sugar Bowl berth in school history led to a string of seven Sugar Bowl appearances in the next twelve seasons for the Rebels.
“That undefeated season that Jimmy led the Rebels to really put Ole Miss football on the map,” Crosthwait said.
Lear will join 15 other former Ole Miss Rebels to be recognized as an SEC Legend. They include Charlie Conerly (1994), Barney Poole (1995), Coach John Vaught (1996), Kayo Dottley (1997), Archie Manning (1998), Charlie Flowers (1999), Robert Khayat (2000), Ray Poole (2001), Ben Williams (2002), Billy Ray Adams (2003), Allen Brown (2004), Andre Townsend (2005), Jake Gibbs (2006), Wesley Walls (2007) and Bobby Ray Franklin (2008).
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