RIP: Billy Stacy, Hall of Fame football player, but you never would have learned it from him

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When you hear “Drew, Miss.,” and “quarterback” in the same sentence, you think Archie Manning. Right?

Yes, of course.

Billy Stacy understood.

“I was that other quarterback born in Drew,” he once told me during a round of golf.

Stacy, an All-American quarterback at Mississippi State and an All-Pro defensive back in the NFL, died Tuesday at his home in Starkville following a long illness. He was 83.

Rick Cleveland

And if you met him, you know you never would have learned about his athletic achievements from him.

Says former Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton, who grew up a Billy Stacy fan in Starkville, “He was as humble a guy as you would ever know to have achieved all he achieved.”

Part of the reason Stacy is not associated with Drew is that he grew up and played his high school ball in Winona.

Billy Stacy was a big guy who could really run.

Says Archie Manning, “I always thought Billy Stacy was from Winona. My daddy always talked about him because my daddy was a huge Billy Stacy fan. Winona played in the same Delta Valley Conference we played in. My daddy saw him play in high school and then was a big fan of him when he played at State and in the NFL.”

Here’s what you need to know about Billy Stacy to know how great a football player he was. In the spring of 1959, the same spring he graduated from State, he was the third overall pick in the NFL Draft by the then-Chicago Cardinals. (Manning was the second pick of the 1971 draft. What are the odds? Two guys from the same tiny Mississippi Delta town, both chosen in the top three picks.)

At State, Stacy was a second team All-American as a quarterback and defensive back. In 1957, he led State to a 6-2-1 record and a No. 14 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. Those Bulldogs won at Alabama, at Florida and at LSU. They lost one-score games to Tennessee and Auburn and tied Ole Miss 7-7, knocking Johnny Vaught’s Rebels out of a tie for the SEC Championship.

Stacy played college ball at 6-feet-1 and 195 pounds, huge for a quarterback in those days and bigger than many of the linemen who blocked for him. Even at that size, he was most often the fastest guy on the field.

And, as good as he was in football, Stacy might well have been better at track.

“Jerry Simmons was State’s track and field coach back then” Templeton said. “Jerry used to say that if Billy Stacy concentrated on track, he could have been an Olympic champion in the hurdles. He was that gifted.”

Bailey Howell, the basketball great, was a classmate of Stacy’s and for a short time a teammate.

“I went out for track one year,” Howell said. “They wanted me to try high jumping. I went to one meet, at Vanderbilt, and that’s what I remember most about Billy Stacy. He was so fast to be a big guy. He was like a one-man track team. He competed in several events and won most of them.”

Stacy signed with the Cardinals and became one the NFL’s top defensive backs for five seasons. He made All Pro and played in the Pro Bowl in 1962.

Young NFL fans may remember current NFL star J.J. Watt made the headlines and highlight shows five years ago with the stunning achievement of scoring touchdowns on a pass reception, a pass interception return and a fumble return in a single game. The last player to do that before Watt?

Billy Stacy, more than half a century before.

Friends talk about Stacy’s good nature and willingness to help others. He served for years as the executive director of the Mississippi Sheriffs Boys and Girls Ranch. And, from 1985 until 1989, he was the mayor of Starkville.

Stacy was inducted into the Mississippi State Hall of Fame in 1970, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1979.

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Services for Billy Stacy will be Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, at 11 a.m. at Calvary Baptist Church in Starkville.