Charlie Conerly exemplifies athletic excellence and service to the country in the state of Mississippi
Charlie Conerly was a stand-out football player for Ole Miss and the New York Giants, and served in the Marine Corps. during World War II
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Charlie Conerly was born and raised in Clarksdale, MS. He was a stand-out for the Wildcat football team and received a scholarship to play football at the University of Mississippi.
Conerly first attended Ole Miss in 1942, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he put his college football career on hold, and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“He went to the recruit depot in San Diego and was a heavy machine gunner. We didn’t know that,” said Lulu Maness, the administrator at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, and Conerly’s Goddaughter. “He went to Guadalcanal for the initial offensive landing in Guam.”
Conerly fought in the Pacific Theater, and saw action in the Battle of Guam, where he nearly lost his life.
“A good friend of his, named Paul Fugate, told the story that they went out to get out some enemy and that Charlie’s rifle was shot out of his hand,” Maness said. “He kept the clip that the bullet hit, because it saved his life. We had seen the clip that was hit but we never knew the story until Paul Fugate told us. He said they shot it out of his hand. He would have been dead.”
After serving in World War II, Conerly returned to Ole Miss, where was named and All-American and All-South in 1947, All-SEC in 1946 and 1947, and the Rebels won the SEC Championship in 1947. During his time in Oxford, Conerly set the NCAA records for completions (133), passing yards (1,367), and consecutive passes without an interception (61).
After a successful college career, Conerly was drafted by the Washington Redskins, but before he ever suited up for them, was traded to the New York Giants, where he played from 1948 to his retirement in 1961.
With the Giants, Conerly won NFL Rookie of the Year in 1948. He was named to the All-NFL team in 1948, 1957, and 1959, and was the Player of the Year in 1959. The Giants won the NFL Championship in 1956.
As of the end of the 2022 season, Conerly ranks third in career passing yards, behind Phil Simms and fellow Ole Miss graduate Eli Manning. He ranks top five in multiple other statistics, including passes completed (4th), passes attempted (3rd), passing touchdowns (3rd), fourth quarter comebacks (2nd), and game-winning drives (2nd).
Conerly died in 1996, at the age of 74, in Memphis.
Maness remembers her relationship with Conerly fondly.
“He and my daddy were best friends from the age of five,” she said. “My grandfather taught Charlie to drive, they were inseparable all their life, they went to business together too. He was a great guy, we loved him like another father.”
Conerly, and his wife, Perian, never had any children, so they treated Maness and her siblings like their own kids. One year, she went with Conerly to Giants training camp.
“When I was five, I went to New York with him and I got to go to Bear Mountain with him for camp,” she said. “I had a ball and just kept saying I didn’t want to come home. I think they had to drag me to the plane to come home.”
Maness said not many people know a lot of stories about Conerly, because he wasn’t a very outgoing person.
“He was very quiet, nobody could get a good interview out of him,” she said. “I remember one time Rick Cleveland, in one of his articles, said he got to play golf in a tournament and he was paired with Charlie and he thought, ‘I’ll just get the greatest stories.’ Well, he never said anything.”
Maness believes Conerly’s quiet nature is a factor in his exclusion from the NFL Hall of Fame.
“I just say if the people that voted on the Hall of Fame would ever talk to Perian, she knew every story,” she said. “She knew everything, and she was the one who knew it all, and all that. But, he’s never going to get in, and we understand why.”
The same year Conerly died, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame opened, and the Conerly Trophy was awarded for the first time. The trophy is given to the top college football player in the state of Mississippi.
Delta State running back Tregnel Thomas was awarded the inaugural Conerly Trophy, and since then, notable winners include Duece McAllister, Eli Manning (twice), Patrick Willis, Dak Prescott (twice), and A.J. Brown.
“He was Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler, led his team to a national championship, there’s quite a few other things they say during the Conerly presentation,” Maness said. “He exemplified all the accolades that could have been won.”
Of the long list of incredible athletes to come from the state of Mississippi, there may not be anyone who exemplifies athletic excellence and service to the country like Charlie Conerly.
Maness expressed her gratitude for Conerly, and all the other veterans who have served the country, and given their lives to protect it.
“There’s so many that we have their stories on our kiosk about all these guys that went to war, and it’s important because we can’t forget what they did for us,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, we would be speaking German right now, I mean, really and truly, it’s just amazing. It’s absolutely amazing what they did, and we thank them for it.”
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