1962. It should have been the most glamorous year in Ole Miss football history, as the Rebels went undefeated. But for reasons off the field, it was the university's most tumultuous year. And ESPN's latest edition of its 30 for 30 series explains why.
"Ghosts of Ole Miss," written and narrated by ESPN.com writer Wright Thompson, delves into the only undefeated season in Ole Miss football history.
But 1962 was also the year riots erupted at Ole Miss when James Meredith desegregated the school, an event that might very well have shut down the university if it hadn't been for the football team's success.
Actually, "Ghosts of Ole Miss" appeared to be an odd choice for the series. Although very much a story worth telling, the events at Ole Miss took place well before ESPN was born. But being the 50th anniversary of Ole Miss' best football season, it was a perfect time to tell the story and was aided by the fact that Meredith and several members of the team are still alive.
Any good documentary brings up facts many (if not most) people are unaware of. For one, Thompson includes a major event that lead up to the riots. Governor Ross Barnett had made a secret deal with then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to admit Meredith into Ole Miss. But it was applause the governor received at an Ole Miss-Kentucky game in Jackson that season when he stated the school's institutions would remain segregated that persuaded him to change his mind.
"Ghosts of Ole Miss" does a great job of using audio and video from the events of autumn 1962 to catch the mood of the campus. Government officials can be heard trying to plead with Governor Barnett. Also, a strength of the documentary was the interviews conducted with Ole Miss students (and football players) from that year.
However, the documentary should have made much better use of James Meredith. He's interviewed at several times during the piece, but I would love to have heard him talk about why he decided to apply to Ole Miss, more about his opinions about the riots and about his life as a student in Oxford.
In addition, "Ghosts of Ole Miss" focused too much attention on Thompson in the beginning, who described at different points the views of race in Mississippi.
But "Ghosts of Ole Miss" is a fascinating look into a university and state that has never escaped its past. The end of the documentary briefly details some of the changes that have taken place at the university.
Thompson said it was a very difficult story to tell. I'm glad he did.