The Egg Bowl and Jennings Moates

2010 November 25
by Don Hammack

I wrote this for the Sun Herald back in Nov. 2003. I managed to track down the guy who scored the winning — and only — touchdown in the 1941 Egg Bowl. A few days ago, Rick Cleveland posted his 2005 story about that game, so I thought I’d dig up the Jennings Moates story.

’41 EGG BOWL HERO REFLECTS

Gridiron glory gets a lot of play in these pages.

We write a lot of stories about what happens in games and during seasons, but there’s rarely enough time for the big picture, what happens after the glory gets relegated to history books and newspaper microfilm.

Here’s one about a player, his moment of greatest glory, his war experience and how his life unfolded after the gunfire and gridiron days were through.

Digging through The Sun Herald’s archives and the various history books about the Ole Miss-Mississippi State rivalry has been quite a learning experience. It quickly became apparent that the 1941 contest would make the cut in The Sun Herald’s top five Egg Bowls.

A Mississippi State player named William Jennings Bryan Moates scored the only touchdown in the game, and it clinched the Maroons’ only SEC championship.

The Daily Herald, a forerunner of The Sun Herald, didn’t publish on Sundays so there wasn’t a game story, per se. Instead, there was a Monday column which mentioned something not found in other history books: Jennings Moates was from Pascagoula.

That’s a local angle, so there was only one thing to do: Find Jennings Moates. Perhaps not as dramatic as “Saving Private Ryan,” but an afternoon on the Internet paid off with a key assist from MSU alumni records.

Moates is 83, lives in Morningside, N.J., and had his own World War II drama to endure, but first the football field.

The touchdown

It was 0-0 in the second quarter of the 1941 Battle for the Golden Egg. Mississippi State had the ball at the Ole Miss 38-yard line. The second-team offense was on the field with Moates at quarterback.

Moates turned his back to the line after taking the snap and gave the ball to fullback Hilliard Thorpe, who handed off to Billy “Spook” Murphy. Ole Miss stuffed Murphy at the line.

One problem for the defenders: he didn’t actually have the ball.

By the time Ole Miss realized it, Moates was streaking toward the end zone.

“That’s about all I remember — running,” Moates said. “It was just a quarterback sneak. I went right through the middle. I guess they were sleeping.”

That was all the Maroons would need in their 6-0 victory.

The war

Eight days later, MSU had won its final game in San Francisco and the team was on a train to San Francisco when somebody told them Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Moates would leave school, enlist in the Marines, find the woman he’d eventually marry, and take part in his first — and only — island invasion at Okinawa in April 1945.

Before going overseas in the Army, Moates was sent to Duke, got lonely and asked a buddy if he had somebody he could write to.

“We played football together,” Moates said. “I asked him if he had any sisters and he said, ‘I sure do. I’ve got the one I want you to meet.’ That’s the one I met; it was Margaret. We were married for 55 years.”

The marriage wouldn’t come until after he served his country, however.

Moates must have had some obvious leadership abilities, as indicated by an incident in a rice paddy just before his war took a bad turn.

“Somebody touched me on the right,” Moates said. “It was my captain. He asked if I wanted to be a lieutenant. He was going to give me a bar. I said, ‘I’ll just stay a private, thanks.’”

Shortly thereafter, something else touched his right shoulder. A Japanese sniper shot him in that shoulder “through and through,” as Moates would describe.

Back at home

He spent about six months at hospitals in Guam, Honolulu and California.

When he got back, he gained again from his gridiron experiences, marrying Margaret.

They’d settle in New Jersey, where Margaret died a few years ago but Moates lives to this day, and have four children. He lives in an assisted-living home now, and you can reach him on the phone between 4:30 and 5:45 in the afternoon, after he’s done flirting with the ladies and before dinner time.

Somehow, the interface between his hearing aid and the phone disconnected us twice during our conversation. Each time, however, the conversation picked up right where it left off.

He’s doing at 83 what some 36-year-old reporters can’t do half the time, what with short-term memory brownouts being what they are.

Moates vividly recalled a pro scout coming to see him in Starkville, where he’d returned to finish his college playing days in 1946. His dream had been to play pro football.

“When we got finished with football that season, a knock came on my door at the athletic department. It was a representative from the San Francisco 49ers,” Moates said. “He said, ‘How would you like to play.’ I said I would love to play but (he said) in high school that they’re small, in college they get a little bit bigger and in the pros, he says, ‘You can’t touch their heads.’

“I laughed. He says, ‘I wouldn’t play if I was you.’ I thought it was over and I really wanted to play pro football. He talked me out of it.

“I still have my contract from the 49ers.”

His daughter, Angela Eberle, found that contract decades later in her parents’ attic. She framed it so you can see it front and back. You can still see the amount of money they offered Moates: $5,000.

“Shaquille O’Neal wouldn’t roll over in bed for that amount,” Eberle joked, but she knows that was darn good money in the 1940s.

A toast to life

Instead, her dad moved to New Jersey where Margaret’s parents lived. He worked at his father-in-law’s construction company until he retired 18 years ago.

That’s a pretty full life. Jennings Moates has some stories he can tell, but there’s one other thing he remembered well about that day in November 1941, the day he scored to beat the hard-fighting Ole Miss squad. How do young heroes often celebrate such momentous occasions?

“I got drunk, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “You better believe it was a big deal.”

Nowadays, it’s politic to drink in moderation.

But a toast to William Jennings Bryan Moates seems in order the next time you’re out, to a life well- and long-lived.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 November 30
    Jackie Lentini permalink

    I loved reading this article about my dad, John Peter Godfrey’s uncle, Jennings Moates. What a wonderful story about a wonderful man.

    Jacqueline Godfrey

  2. 2010 December 1
    Cecilia Stringer permalink

    Thanks for the story Don. Jennings Moates was my mother’s uncle, and it was wonderful remembering his feats. Thanks again.

  3. 2010 December 1
    Don Hammack permalink

    You’re both very welcome. I really enjoyed working on that story and getting a chance to talk with Mr. Moates.

  4. 2013 February 27
    kevin doherty permalink

    i know bill i worked with him in the township of maplewood n.j. d.p.w he is a good man god bless him it was a honor to know him thank you kevin doherty

  5. 2014 October 11
    Storm Vanderzee permalink

    Jennings Moates was my grandfather. He was in fact a great man. He always knew how to make people smile. He loved to joke around with all of his family. Don I want to take the time to say Thank You for writing this article. It means a lit to me and my family. Thank You again.

  6. 2014 October 16
    Don Hammack permalink

    You’re very welcome. It was my pleasure.

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