Ole Miss went undefeated in 1962. But that isn't even what many remember that season for.
In 1962, James Meredith made his debut for Ole Miss, becoming the the first African American not only to play at Ole Miss, but to attend Ole Miss.
And he wasn't welcomed with open arms. Instead, he was welcomed with violence and rioting, to the point where President John F. Kennedy had to send backup to campus to put a stop to it.
ESPN's latest 30 for 30 documentary, Ghosts of Ole Miss, explores that emotional season and everything that came with it—the exhilaration that accompanies an undefeated campaign, as well as the turmoil that accompanied the civil rights movement and Meredith's personal journey with the Rebels.
The film, directed by Fritz Mitchell, perfectly weaves the exhilaration and the heartbreak, according to ESPN Films vice president and executive producer Connor Schell. He told IndieWire.com in a press release:
Ghosts of Ole Miss will shed light on a significant time in our country’s civil rights history while weaving in a sports story not familiar to most. Fifty years later, the topic resonates with all Americans and we are proud to showcase such an important story as part of the 30 for 30 series.
According to the press release, Ghosts of Ole Miss will include interviews with James Meredith, other players from the legendary 1962 team and students who were present for the rioting.
The timing of the documentary is especially significant right now, in light of the on-the-field struggles Ole Miss is currently facing. During a year in which the SEC is the most formidable conference in college football, the Rebels are far from intimidating at 2-2 in conference play, 5-3 overall.
Still, that is a vast improvement over 2011, when Ole Miss went winless in conference play and 2-10 overall, losing seven straight games to close out the season. The Rebels haven't been decent since a 9-4 season in 2009—and even then, they went 4-4 in SEC games.
This documentary serves dual purposes. It brings to mind the Rebels' only undefeated season in school history, which is the kind of magic Ole Miss fans need to recall right about now, when the team is in the midst of the types of struggles a storied SEC program isn't accustomed to enduring.
But it also brings to mind the fact that football isn't everything, and winning isn't everything. The most exciting, most accomplished season in Ole Miss history has been permanently overshadowed by the dark and devastating social issues that occurred simultaneously.
It's not often that football brings about a life-or-death situation—which it did in 1962, when there were two fatalities in the Ole Miss riot—but this was one of those times. And yet, in the end, an undefeated season—which Meredith was a part of—served as the ultimate victory at the conclusion of a horrible tragedy.
What does Ghosts of Ole Miss teach us? That life doesn't depend on football, but that doesn't mean that football can't heal.