Harper Davis Field - Millsaps College Majors
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.86
Harper Davis Field Millsaps College Jackson, MS 39202
Year Opened: 1920
Millsaps College is a small private Methodist college located north of downtown Jackson, in the historic Belhaven neighborhood. The college is small by most standards with an enrollment of just over 900 students. Millsaps opened its doors in 1890 when Confederate veteran Major Reuben Webster Millsaps donated $550,000 and the land for the university. Named after Millsaps, the Majors compete at the Division III level in the Southern Athletic Association, and with their enrollment of 900 are currently the smallest school in the conference.
Since first fielding a football team in 1920 the Majors have accumulated a record of 380-356-14 (.516). In the 1920s and 1930s the Majors regularly scheduled match-ups with Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and LSU. Millsaps has posted two undefeated seasons (1980 & 2008), three D3 playoff appearances (1975, 2006, & 2008), and six conference titles, with the most recent one being in 2009. The Majors originally competed as a D3 independent before joining the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference in 1989. Difficulties in travel distances led Millsaps and six other members of the conference to leave in 2012 and form their own separate conference, the Southern Athletic Association (SAA).
The Majors currently compete on campus at tiny Harper Davis Field. Named after former Mississippi State and Green Bay Packer Running Back, Davis was also Millsaps' all-time winningest coach, who coached the Majors from 1964 to 1988. The stadium was originally known as Alumni Field, and football has been played on the site since 1920. There wasn't much to the tiny field until 2004 when it was upgraded and renamed after Harper Davis, with the addition of a 3,000-seat grandstand, eight-man working press box, and a newly installed artificial turf surface.
Food & Beverage 1
There are two tables set up under tents as soon as you enter the main gate; one is the concessions stand and the other sells a small selection of various Millsaps Majors gear. The concessions stand sells the basics like hamburgers, hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn, and everything is under $5. Canned soft drinks are sold for $1. The burgers and hot dogs are cooked fresh on a large grill outside the main gate.
The concessions are fairly limited, but cheap at the same time. However, I would recommend getting something to eat at one of Jackson's many restaurants.
The atmosphere is pleasant; outside the stadium there is a small number of fans tailgating all throughout campus. The campus itself is a very scenic campus, with many of the buildings being over 100 years old. There are civil war cannons, a clock tower you can climb, and you can also visit the tomb of the college's founder Major Millsaps. If you’re into history, I highly suggest walking around the campus before the game. The stadium is kind of in a secluded area on campus, right next to the Hangar Dome, which houses the Majors basketball team and the school's recreation and fitness center. There's a large fountain outside the gate with one main entrance into Harper Davis Field. There is another entrance into the stadium from the basketball arena, but the football teams use the arena for their locker rooms, so they use this entrance on game days.
The Hangar Dome is a part of Maurice Hall Activities Center, which houses the school's fitness and recreation facilities. Inside the building is a beautiful hallway lined with an impressive display filled with trophies, banners, programs, old game balls, etc. from all the past athletic feats at Millsaps. You can view football artifacts dating back to the 1920s, and you can view former quarterback Juan Joseph's Conerly Trophy. Joseph, a former CFL and Arena Football quarterback, won the award in 2008; the prize is given out annually to the best college football player in the State of Mississippi. Past winners of the award include Deuce McAllister, Eli Manning, Patrick Willis, and Dak Prescott.
The field faces north and south with the main stands being located on the west side of the field. The east side stands consist of 3 sets of temporary metal bleachers that extend about 15 rows up. The stands on the west side are metal bleachers as well but extend only 5 rows back, with the seats in the middle being purple chair back seats. There is a small press box with a pretty cool looking observation platform for filming games. The scoreboard is located in the south end zone, while trees and the practice fields take up the view in the north end zone. The big stadium off in the distance to the north is Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, home of the Jackson State football team.
Millsaps’ campus is located in a mostly residential area north of downtown. While there is nothing within walking distance of the college, just a short drive north will take you to the Fondren District – located near the Ole Miss Med School, this is Jackson’s nightlife area, and you will find numerous restaurants and bars on this one block strip, my favorite being Fondren Public. You can play all sorts of games such as bocce ball, corn hole, shuffleboard, and over-sized jenga, as well as multiple board games so this bar has a really cool feel to it. There are numerous other bars and restaurants located in Fondren as well, however, such as Pig & Pint (known for its BBQ), Walker’s Drive Inn, Babalu Tapas & Tacos, and Sal & Mookie’s Pizza. But another bar in the area I suggest checking out is Brent’s Drugs – from the outside it looks like a regular pharmacy, and with the soda fountain inside it’s very reminiscent of 50’s style diner. However, in the back there is a speakeasy style bar that was used during prohibition – it’s a very interesting bar that gets pretty packed at night.
There are also numerous bars in the downtown area as well, a couple of miles south of campus, such as Hal and Mal’s, Fenians, and Old Tavern on George Street. In addition, Underground 119 is a cool underground blues bar located in downtown. However, the downtown area is not exactly the safest area, so use caution when walking here after dark.
Lakeland Drive is located about a mile north of Belhaven’s campus and you can find all the usual chain restaurants and lodging in this area. For attractions, I recommend checking out the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, which is a very nice interactive museum that doesn’t get too packed during the week, and you could spend hours just walking through all the different exhibits located in the museum. The Hall of Fame is located on Lakeland Drive, right next to historic Smith-Wills Stadium, former home of the Minor League Jackson Mets/Generals and the current home to the Belhaven baseball team.
The Majors are averaging about 1,700 fans per home contest this 2019 season, which is down from the 2,300 fans they averaged last year. This is about on par with what most of the other schools average in the Southern Athletic Association.
Many of the students at Millsaps stay on campus, and Millsaps has a pretty big Greek life program for a such a small school, so many of the students show up on game day. There is not an assigned student section, but there were a large number of students sitting on the east metal bleachers at the game of this review.
The atmosphere in the west chair back bleacher section is much more relaxed, with a bit of an older mix of alumni and players' parents. The fans here seem very knowledgeable and into the game; there is not a large tailgating scene but there are several fans sitting on the berm in the north end zone.
Millsaps’ campus is located north of downtown Jackson, just west of I-55 in the Belhaven neighborhood of Jackson. The college is located in a residential area of town, a couple of blocks west of another school named Belhaven University; the Blazers are D3 as well and share a fierce rivalry with the Majors.
When coming to the campus, the Woodrow Wilson Drive exit off I-55 is your best bet; just take rush hour traffic into account, as the interstate tends to back up especially on the north side of downtown, so plan accordingly. The campus can be easy to miss as it is pretty small, but just follow Woodrow Wilson Drive until you get to the State Street intersection.
Because of the size of the campus, finding a parking spot can be difficult. There is a small parking lot located right outside Harper David Stadium, but it fills up quickly because so many students live on campus. Instead you can park across the street or you can park in the campus parking garage on the south side of campus – just take State Street until you get to the Park Street intersection, and the parking garage is on the right.
Return on Investment 3
General admission seating is $5; the GA seats consist of any seats on the metal bleachers on the east and west sides. To purchase tickets for the 300 or so chair back seats on the west side the cost is $10. Factor in the concessions prices and a beautiful setting on a beautiful campus, and I consider this a good return on investment – Harper Davis Field is kind of an underrated venue, and one that not a lot of people know about.
A play that some consider the greatest play in sports history happened at Harper Davis Field on Oct 27, 2007. Late in the fourth quarter, with Millsaps leading Trinity College 24-22, Trinity would get the ball back on their own 40 with two seconds left on the clock. What would proceed next would make the 1982 Play between Cal and Stanford, and the 2003 River City Relay between the Saints and Jaguars, look like “conservative play-calling”. Trinity College quarterback Blake Barmore would complete a short pass up the middle to receiver Shawn Thompson; Thompson would lateral the ball to another receiver Riley Curry. The ball was then lateraled 14 more times between 7 different players, en route to the 61-yard touchdown and the 28-24 win for Trinity College. The play was dubbed the Mississippi Miracle and was voted ESPN's 2007 Pontiac Game Changing Play of the Year, as well as nominated for the 2008 ESPY Award for Play of the Year. In addition, the 15-lateral play has the record for longest time for an individual play in football history – it lasted 62 seconds from the time the ball was snapped until it finally crossed the goal line (you can see the video of the Mississippi Miracle below).
The Majors were also coached during this time period by former Alabama head coach Mike DuBose, who coached at Millsaps from 2005 to 2009. Also, from 2006 through 2008, the New Orleans Saints used Millsaps College as their training camp home, and practiced at Harper Davis Field. In fact, some could argue that the Drew Brees-Sean Payton era began right here at Millsaps, as the two would join the team for the 2006 season. You can also still walk around the old soccer practice field on the north side of campus, and still find old tackling dummies bearing faded Saints logos. During the 2006 pre-season the Indianapolis Colts came to town for a series of pre-season scrimmages against the Saints at Harper-Davis Field; they would meet up that weekend in an official pre-season game across the street at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Field. It would be the only time in his career Peyton Manning would play a game in the city of Jackson, and it would mark a Manning's return to Jackson for the first time since Archie dominated so many Egg Bowls here in the 1960s. Though some may not realize it, there is a lot of big time college football history that happened in Jackson.
Millsaps has two main rivals; Mississippi College from nearby Clinton and Belhaven University from just down the street. The rivalry with Mississippi College, nicknamed the Backyard Brawl, originally stretches back to the 1920s – the two teams met up every year (except during World War II) for 39 years until the series was discontinued in 1959. The rivalry was a fierce, heated rivalry where students would often cause extensive damage to each other’s universities. In fact, the reason the series was discontinued in 1959 is because there was rumor that students from Mississippi College broke into Major Millsaps tomb on campus and stole his body. However, the series was restarted in 2000, and the two teams began meeting every year across the street at The Vet, which at the time was the largest stadium in the state.
Another fierce rivalry for the Majors is their neighbors from right down the street, the Belhaven Blazers. Though the two schools have been playing each other for years in different sports, it wasn't until 2014 that the two schools would face each other in football for the first time. Nicknamed the Riverside Rumble, the atmosphere definitely increases a notch when these two teams meet up. Both teams usually start off the season facing one another, and both teams are currently tied at 3 wins apiece as of this season.
Another extra for the number of college football games one could attend while in the area. Millsaps, Belhaven, and Jackson State's football stadium are all located within blocks from each other. I recommend checking the schedule for when all three teams play on the same day, which happens at least once or twice a year. On my most recent visit I was able to check out a noon game at Belhaven, walk two blocks and watch the Millsaps game at 2:30, and then walk across the street to watch the Jackson State Tigers play. You could also venture about 30 minutes west to see Mississippi College play in Clinton, or drive 90 miles south to catch Southern Miss play in Hattiesburg.
Football in the South in huge, and when most people think of football in the South they think of the SEC. In Mississippi most people think of either Ole Miss or Mississippi State. However, much like its neighbor and rival to the east Belhaven, there remains a nice little football stadium off the beaten path, on a nice, quaint little campus. If in Jackson on Saturday in the fall I definitely recommend a trip to Harper Davis Field.