In 1935, Harold “Tommy” Thompson was the typical wide-eyed freshman on the then-Mississippi State College football team.
A native of Egypt, a small town in northeast Mississippi, he had no plans of attending Mississippi State, but his athletic talents caught the eyes of two people scouting talent for the Maroons football team. However, Thompson’s learning curve was steeper than most.
“I told them I didn’t know anything about football, all I know is baseball,” Thompson said. “They said, ‘Don’t you worry about it, we’ll teach you.’ I never saw a football game until I played in the first one. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.”
During one game, Thompson earned the nickname “Wrongway” after picking up a loose ball, returning it the wrong way to the MSU 10-yard line. Fortunately for the Maroons, Thompson was tackled by his roommate, Edward W. Scott Jr., a future Air Force brigadier general.
Now 100 years old and living in Denver, Colorado, Thompson can still vividly recall the time he spent in Starkville over 80 years ago. For Thompson, the fond memories of MSU have evolved over time, much like the campus itself. Since his graduation from MSU in 1939, Thompson’s family tree has grown full of Bulldogs as many kids and grandkids have attended the land-grant university. Even now, one of his grandsons is enrolled at the university, and others plan to follow.
For this younger generation of Bulldogs, Dudy Noble means the state-of-the-art baseball stadium that bears his name. However, for Thompson, the late Bulldog baseball coach and athletic director was a “best friend.”
Thompson said two of his interactions with Noble had a significant impact on his life. In fact, without Noble, Thompson would likely still be going by “Harold.”
“The first time Dudy Noble ever saw me, he asked what my name was,” Thompson said. “I told him my name was Harold. He said, ‘Harold? Forget Harold, your name is Tommy from now on.’ It’s been that way ever since.”
Later, when Thompson was struggling with academics and wanted to return home to Egypt early in his college career, a happenstance intervention from Noble kept him on the path toward a degree.
“I was on my way to catch a bus and go home, but Dudy Noble just happened to see me,” Thompson explained. “He convinced me to stay and I was able to make it through all my classes.”
As Thompson got the hang of football and classes, he thrived socially at MSU. He picked the biggest room he could in the famed Old Main Dormitory, which became a social hub for his friends. He helped organize school dances, bringing in big bands from Chicago to fill Perry Cafeteria with music. He didn’t join a fraternity but he did form his own social club.
Thompson graduated from MSU with a degree in business. His career stints included repairing airplanes in Memphis, Tennessee, during WWII. Then, after returning to Egypt with his wife, Rosemary, a 1976 graduate, he started a Jeep dealership, an auto repair shop and a general store. Later in life, he ran a large company that manufactured pants in Okolona and worked for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture.
Although the Mississippi State coaches and players have changed continuously over the decades since he left MSU, Thompson has been a regular fixture at Bulldog football games. On his 100th birthday, he received an autographed football from current MSU head coach Joe Moorhead, who was hired 79 years after Thompson’s last game in maroon.
At the family party, the cake was dedicated to “our football hero” and featured a sketch in the icing of a college-aged Thompson wearing his No. 8 jersey.
Thompson said the secret to living to 100 is to “live a clean life and have fun.”
He proudly recalls having a lot of fun during his time at State. He has encouraged the generations after him to have the same fun he did at MSU, which will help the Thompson family tree continue to grow Bulldog branches for the next 100 years and more.
By James Carskadon, Photos submitted