MSU game in Houston evokes memories for Starkville fans

August 30, 2013 9:43:07 AM

Scott Walters - [email protected]


Mississippi State University will open its football season Saturday in Houston, Texas, with a contest against No. 13 Oklahoma State University. 


Jack and Brenda Collins will be making the trip this weekend to Reliant Stadium. Season ticket holders for more than three decades, the Collins have added a lot of road trips to their schedule now that both of them are retired. This particular weekend, two other families will be join them in a large caravan heading to Houston. 


Travel arrangements will be slightly different than when Jack Collins made his first trip to Houston in 1965. Freshly out of college, Jack Collins and a few of his buddies attended the first-ever college football game in the Astrodome where Mississippi State defeated the University of Houston, 36-0. 


"Everyone was excited because the Astrodome was like the first indoor place to watching a sporting event," Collins said. "It was a new idea and a new concept, so everybody was pretty wide-eyed. Obviously, stadiums have come a long way since then. 


"I remember going to the game more than a lot of others because it was the first time to play indoors like that. It was a new experience." 


The game, played on Sept. 18, 1965, was just the second college game playing in the facility. Tulsa had beaten Houston, 14-0, there a week earlier. 


Late in the MSU victory over Houston, Bulldogs' back-up quarterback Bill Buckner entered the contest and threw two touchdown passes, the first TD passes ever thrown at the Astrodome. 


Johnny Buckner -- younger brother of Bill Buckner and one of five Buckner brothers -- attended the game as an 8-year-old. 


"He had a great career," said Johnny Buckner, who is now the pastor at New Horizons Fellowship Church in Starkville. "I remember people shouting out 'Buckner, Buckner, Buckner' to get him in because they loved to see him throw." 


Bill Buckner was a high school classmate and longtime friend of former MSU athletic director Larry Templeton. The two went to Starkville High School together. There was a brief parting of the ways when Buckner played and starred for two seasons at East Mississippi Junior College. Templeton, who was a student worker in the athletic department at MSU, helped recruit Buckner back to play at MSU. 


"Bill was a standout athlete," Templeton said. "He had a great career at East Mississippi. That is why there was a lot of excitement when he came to MSU." 


Buckner threw 47 touchdown passes in two seasons under the legendary East Mississippi coach Bob "Bull" Sullivan. Prior to the 2011 national championship team, the 1963 Lions were considered the school's best team. 


After one season at MSU, Buckner transferred to Delta State University to complete his career. Buckner earned team MVP honors at Starkville High, EMJC and Delta State. 


Buckner joined the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year. Previously, he was inducted into the Mississippi Community College Hall of Fame, the Delta State Hall of Fame and the East Mississippi Community College Hall of Fame. 


"Bill had tremendous arm and had a great career on many different levels," Mississippi Hall of Fame executive director Rick Cleveland said. "The first touchdown (at the Astrodome) is just part of his lore. And after his playing career, he kept giving back to the game. That is quite a compliment to the type of person he was." 


Buckner, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia, was taken in the 1967 National Football League draft by the Atlanta Falcons. His professional career included leading the Huntsville Hawks of the Continental Football League to division championships in 1968 and 1969. 


Buckner's 20-year coaching career included stints as a head and assistant coach in both high school and junior college. Buckner coached at Starkville High and Kosciusko High, before later becoming head coach at both East Mississippi and Hinds Junior College. The coaching career also included stints at MSU and Delta State. 


After his coaching career ended, Buckner spent 25 years as the state director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. With the assistance of legendary Delta State baseball coach Boo Ferriss, Buckner helped organize the original FCA chapter on the MSU campus. 


"I was tickled to death for him (about his selection to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame)," Templeton said. "It's a big honor for him and his family." 




Follow Dispatch sports reporter Scott Walters on Twitter at @dispatchscott.

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter