(EDITORS NOTE: This is a revised version of a story that Doug wrote 10 years ago for the 50th anniversary of the 1963 Gulfport football team)
GULFPORT — As the 2023 prep state playoffs begin this week, Gulfport will host Pearl at historic Milner Stadium in the opening round of the first-ever Class 7A playoffs Friday night.
Sixty years ago, though, during the 1963 season, Gulfport High School was at the top of the prep football world in the state of Mississippi.
It was part of an amazing run for Gulfport head football coach Lindy Callahan as the Commodores posted a 54-5-4 won-loss record from 1960 through 1965.
The 1963 Commodore team may have been the best defensive team during those six seasons, holding opponents to a total of 32 points in 11 games while posting seven shutouts.
The Commodores went 10-0-1 and finished as co-Big Eight Conference champion with Meridian after the two schools played to a 6-6 tie in the Big Eight Conference championship game. Yes, they did not play tiebreakers in those days. The Commodores were voted No. 1 by the Associated Press and United Press, and were the mythical state champion.
One of the amazing things is that the Commodore varsity coaching staff consisted of only three people — Callahan, Leo Jones and Bert Jenkins. Yes, the same Bert Jenkins who coached Gulfport to seven state basketball championships. He coached the defensive backs, and wide receivers and tight ends on offense.
“We went to the pro offense with two wide receivers (that season),” Callahan said, in an interview with this writer 10 years ago while doing a story about the 50th anniversary of the same team. “I had been to a clinic in Florida. We showed that look. It was very good and was new at the time.
“On defense, we ran a blitzing defense. We played zone (pass) defense. We also changed to man-to-man because Bert Jenkins ran a man-to-man defense in basketball. We had the athletes to do that.”
Alan Jones quarterbacked the team, and it was an experienced bunch with 22 seniors. Jones ended up as team MVP. Center Mike Magee earned a scholarship to Ole Miss, guard Jerry Rosetti got a scholarship to Mississippi State while split end Dickie Dunaway, fullback Mike Lawless and linebacker Chuck Hilton headed to Southern Miss. Otto Loposser, Jones, Woody Dawsey and Ralph Simmons got scholarships to MGCCC in Perkinston.
Callahan had been a football star at Meridian High and Ole Miss. That added another aspect to the Big 8 title game.
“It was big and played up because I was going back to Meridian where I played football,” Callahan said. “I was really up for the game. It was a cold night, the wind was blowing.
“As the game was ending, we had a third-and-two, or maybe three. We had a big fullback Mike Lawless. We liked to run him off tackle. Every now and then we fake it, run outside, and the quarterback would either pitch it or keep it. We went with it (off tackle) and didn’t make it.”
In those days, Friday night was all about high school football on the Coast and in Mississippi.
“They shut the town down,” Callahan said. “There was a big sign in the middle of 25th Avenue that said, ‘Game Tonight.’
“We had such support of our town people, so much pride in our team. We tried to instill class, pride and respect in the players.”
When Gulfport beat Hattiesburg 33-7 in the final home game of the season, the Daily Herald in Biloxi reported that there were 10,000 to 11,000 fans crowded into Milner Stadium.
“I don’t know how we got that many people in there, but we did it,” Callahan said.
Gulfport would come back the next year and leave nothing to chance, going 11-0 and beating Columbus in the Big Eight title, behind players such as Gary Rayburn, Richard Salloum, Glenn Cannon and Joe Culpepper — just to name a few.
It may have been a long time ago but present-day Gulfport Admiral coaches still hear about those days of glory.
“Present-day coaches still hear about that season over a cup of coffee,” Callahan said.