Mississippi State University All-American football player and former Starkville Mayor Billy Stacy, known as a paragon of character and athletic talent, passed away last week at the age of 83.
Charlie Weatherly, a former executive director of the MSU Alumni Association who played MSU football alongside Stacy from 1954-1958, said Stacy was more than just a remarkable athlete.
“He was gifted with being one of the most talented athletes all around. So, that carried him a long way, but he also was so strong in character. That became real evident real soon after any of us got to know him,” Weatherly said. “He was quiet, very humble. He wasn’t the kind of guy that talked about the awards he got.”
Stacy’s reluctance to talk about his awards was by no means due to a lack of awards to discuss.
According to a press release from the MSU Athletic department, during his college career, Stacy earned three letters for football and two for track, was a two-time, first-team All-Southeastern Conference quarterback from 1956-57, was first in the nation for punt returns that same fall, received second-team All-American honors for his 1957 season and his 11.2 yards per punt return average holds fifth place in MSU career records.
After competing in the 1959 North-South Shrine game and the 1959 Senior Bowl, Stacy was a first round NFL draft pick for the Chicago Cardinals (later renamed the Arizona Cardinals), where he played for five years as a defensive back.
With a recorded 20 career interceptions, Stacy earned Pro Bowl honors in 1961 with four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The fall of 1961, Stacy garnered touchdowns on an interception return, a fumble recovery and a reception all in the same season, a feat that had not been accomplished in over 20 years and would not happen again until over 50 years later.
Stacy’s ability to excel on all areas of the football field, both offensively and defensively, is a testament to his all-around stellar athleticism.
“From ‘56 on and especially in ‘57 he led us in at least four areas. He led us in passing, rushing, he actually ran about as much as he passed, he led us in kickoff returns and punt returns, which was pretty remarkable to be leading in four separate departments. He was one heck of an athlete,” Weatherly said.
Even in high school, Stacy’s high-class athleticism was evident, said Jimmy Dodd, a former MSU football player who played alongside Stacy and competed against him in track at the high school level.
“I could tell right then he was quite an athlete. He just left me standing still,” Dodd said.
According to Weatherly, Stacy married his high school sweetheart, Pat Fitzgerald, a majorette at MSU, and they raised their three children in Starkville. Weatherly also raised his children in Starkville, and one of his fondest anecdotal memories of Stacy is coaching their sons’ little league football team together, along with several other former Bulldog football players.
“Billy and I together were coaches of the Little League Golden Eagles and for the first three games, we didn’t scratch, I don’t think we scored,” Weatherly said.
Aside from a struggling little league team, Stacy went on to excel just as much off the field as he did on it.
“We raised our families together here,” Weatherly said. “Billy became so well known as a community leader and later became our mayor. He was so involved in his church and all kinds of public relations things and good things, promoted the community, but mainly just a real strong Christian leader was what he was. And a great family man and just a tremendous guy.”
In life and in football, Stacy never shied away from a challenge.
“I’m sure there were some challenges of being a mayor of a college town, especially in Mississippi, but I imagine he faced those head on just like he would’ve done with something on the football field. He didn’t back up from a challenge,” Weatherly said.
Weatherly cited MSU’s 10-year stint of playing LSU on their home turf as an example of the success the football team had with Stacy, even when the odds were stacked against them.
“For whatever reason, Mississippi State played LSU in Tiger stadium 10 years in a row … but would you believe this? We won six of those games. In Tiger stadium. And Billy Stacy accounted for about three of those wins,” Weatherly said.
Dodd remembers Stacy throwing three interceptions in his first college appearance as quarterback, something that almost led him to quit football. However, with encouragement from his coaches, Stacy pressed on. It was a choice that made the stand-out football career that followed, possible.
Weatherly said Stacy genuinely embodied the Bulldog spirit through his perseverance in challenging situations.
“He definitely never gave up on anything. Even when we were behind in games, you could always count on him to be ready to bring us back, and if it could be done, he would normally lead us back to a winning score most of the time [but] we didn’t win them all,” Weatherly said. “He never gave up. He fought to the very end.”