Hunter Corhern and John ‘Spic’ Tripson were roommates. Trudging through the cold and mud in their three-piece suits with bags in hand, the pair ambled up to the train car waiting to take them away from their gray-skied home and off to a world of beaches, night clubs, exotic food and extravagant parties.
Corhern was an All-American, team captain and much-feared member of the Mississippi State football team. Tripson did a little of everything for his Bulldogs (called the Maroons at the time), serving everywhere from the defensive line to kicker.
Together, they were on the way to make history, key players in what was then and may still remain the greatest season in 100-plus years of MSU football. The first and only undefeated season in the school’s record books, the 1940 season culminated in a train ride to Miami, Florida, and a date in the 1941 Orange Bowl with the Georgetown 11.
Led by SEC Coach of the Year Allyn McKeen and multiple all-conference and All-American players, the Maroons were welcomed like heroes when their train finally arrived in South Florida. Parades, plural, were thrown in their honor. Beauty queens were aflutter at their sight. Beaches, pools and restaurants were cleared and prepared for their enjoyment.
When they stepped off the train, Corhern and fellow All-American Buddy Elrod strode up to the band trumpeting their arrival and borrowed two of their instruments to give them a try. Little did Corhern know at the time, when he grabbed a tuba, that 60 years later his grandson would be taking off his shoulder pads at halftime of his high school football games to play the tuba with the marching band every Friday night.
The festivities continued by night, but by day, State and Georgetown were in the throes of strategery, building their plans to beat one another and doing so under the heaviest veils of secrecy. Reporters were granted no access to practice, for fear word would leak to the other side. Interviews were kept short and surface level.
The mutual respect turned out to be warranted as both sides came out with somewhat equal shares of bumps and bruises.
Later on, when the game had been played, the All-American lineman Elrod was seen to casually take a drag from a cigarette as he talked with reporters.
“I’m too limp to say much,” he began. “Georgetown was the toughest outfit we played all season.”
In the hours before those words, it was a defensive battle that day in Miami, one riddled with big hits from players and questionable decisions from referees, or so say the papers. Only 21 points were scored, and it was roommates and Corhern and Tripson who combined for the most important six of them.
Two minutes before the game began, the American Legion carried a giant orange onto the field, and out of it stepped the Orange Bowl Queen, officially setting the field for the game to begin. Tripson kicked off for the Maroons to start the clock ticking down.
The Hoyas stalled quickly and were forced to send the ball downfield on a punt, giving the Maroons their first scoring try. First down, a four-yard run up the middle. Second down, the runner dropped for a loss of three. Third down, punt. Again with the ball, Georgetown’s offense failed to move against a defense which had been so secretly preparing for them all week. Back and forth punting ensued a bit longer.
Finally, one of those Maroon punts pinned the Hoyas at their own 12-yard line. On first down, Elrod dropped the runner for a one-yard loss. On second down, the runner gained the yard back. But just the one, no more.
Standing on his own three-yard line, Joe Daniels waited for yet another snap to come his way on what was turning out to be a busy afternoon for the Hoya punter. This punt, however, wasn’t the same. Of all the punts that day, and there were plenty more after, this was the one unlike the rest, the one that changed the game.
The roommates Corhern and Tripson were stationed on opposite sides of the defensive front. When the ball was snapped, as always, they jumped forward, attempting to force their way forward. This time, however, the All-American Corhern found the right spot and burst through the Georgetown line, sprinted as much as a lineman can and dove forward as Daniels dropped the ball down to his foot to be punted.
As leather ball leapt up from leather cleat, Corhern’s left hand swiped through the air like a gigantic bear paw and knocked the ball off its intended course. Corhern fell to the ground as Tripson watched the moment from feet away. Having just shed his blocker, Tripson completed the play his roommate had started, snatching the ball out of the air and stepping straight into the endzone, scoring the first points of the game and giving his Maroons a lead they would never lose.
Mississippi State went on to win 14-7, scoring once more on a goal-line run by tailback Billy Jefferson later in the first half.
When the last seconds finally ticked away, 16 Maroon seniors walked off the field for the last time. Many of them would go on to trade shoulder pads on football fields for military uniforms on battlefields as the war whisked them away from home not long after, sent overseas to fight for their country.
Perhaps that reality had something to do with it, but those men were unwilling to say goodbye and commit Miami solely to their memories. MSU extended their stay for a short while, enjoying their success and the rewards it brought in South Florida.
Eventually, however, the celebrations were ceased. Corhern and Tripson loaded the train once again and when they finally returned home, weary but proud, a crowd of 1,000 awaited and welcomed them as they stepped off the train car and back on the ground of their campus.
A special Orange Bowl edition of The Reflector, the school paper, was printed to commemorate the game. A note inside read:
“The extra edition of The Reflector is herby dedicated to the greatest team ever produced at Mississippi State. The boys carried the school through its first undefeated season. Thanks to the coaches and the boys who played the game.”