Every championship team seems to have at least one standout moment. One specific play that won a game or shifted momentum in a paramount way. Without that one play, the accomplishments of the entire season diminish greatly.
Sometimes, the significance of that moment is known – like Auburn returning Alabama’s field goal attempt for a touchdown last year. You knew instantly that Auburn won the SEC West on the last play of the regular season finale.
But sometimes that moment happens, and the magnitude of its impact is not known until much later...
Mississippi State finished the 1940 season undefeated with a 10-0-1 record and a victory over Georgetown in the Orange Bowl. But the 1941 campaign brought many questions.
The strength of the 1940 team was the defense that held opposing running backs to 1.2 yards per carry and only 1 rushing first down all year. The defensive line was highlighted by four star-studded seniors who would all be gone in 1941 - Hunter Corhern, John Tripson, Guy McDowell, and All-American Buddy Elrod. Add in the departure of quarterback Harvey "Boots" Johnson, and there were many doubters.
The 1941 season opened at home on September 27th, and 13,000 fans packed Humphrey Stadium (then, the name of our football stadium) to see the Mississippi State College Maroons take on the Florida Gators.
Early in the first quarter, Florida QB Tommy Harrison drove to the Miss. State 15 yardline, only to find that State’s new defensive line was just as stout as the last. Anchored by lone returning starter Bill Arnold, the defense held the Gators without a score.
The rest of the first three quarters were offensively unimpressive with neither team able to put points on the board. The Maroons were able to move the ball but were unable to score due to four lost fumbles. Meanwhile State's new-look defense was taking shape and kept Florida out of the endzone, holding the Gators to just 49 rushing yards.
With Florida punting out of their own endzone late in the fourth quarter, State finally took advantage. The Maroon's lone superstar, junior running back Blondy Black, stood at midfield and prepared for a return.
That moment I was talking about earlier? This is it.
Black received the punt on the Gator 42 yardline and reversed field twice, zig-zagging behind "splendid downfield blocking" en route to the game’s only points. The 6-0 lead was all State needed, and the Maroons held the lead and began the 1941 campaign 1-0.
But Black’s game-winning punt return took on greater significance as the season progressed. The 1941 Maroons finished the season 8-1-1 and claimed the SEC Title with a 4-0-1 conference mark, ahead of 3-1 Tennessee. Without that punt return, we may not currently have a banner hanging outside Davis-Wade Stadium commemorating the 1941 SEC Champions.