It was Christmas Eve and Valerie Johnson of Richland was spending it with family. The men were talking football, which normally would not have interested Valerie, who doesn't care for the sport.
"I've had three boys who played high school football, and I went to their games," she'll tell you. "I know two things about football. When our team has the ball, I yell, 'Go!' When the other team has the ball, I yell, 'Get 'em!' That's all I know."
But the Christmas Eve talk turned to the Sugar Bowl and that got Valerie Johnson's attention.
"What is this Sugar Bowl y'all talk about?" Valerie asked.
Brother-in-law Jim McClendon, Richland's fire chief, explained that the Sugar Bowl is an important college football game played every year around New Year's Day. Last year, he said, it determined the national champion.
"I've got an old watch that has Sugar Bowl on it," Valerie said. "My grandmother gave it to me years and years ago. Said my grandfather had found it."
Jim McClendon said he'd like to see it, so Valerie went and got it out of the drawer where she has kept it all these years. Sure enough, it was a 1953 Sugar Bowl watch, and McClendon figured it must be worth something. They got out a magnifying class and studied the inscription on the back. McClendon thought it said: "E. Montgomery, tackle, Ole Miss vs. Ga. Tech."
Turns out, he was only slightly off.
So Jim McClendon told his buddies at the firehouse about the watch, and Tommy Malley, who was on that shift, said he knew of a man named Montgomery, who had lived in Cleary Heights, who had played football at Ole Miss long ago.
With further research they found that Charles Montgomery, who goes by Chuck, played at Ole Miss from 1949 until 1953. And that Chuck Montgomery now lives in Ackerman.
McClendon, a huge Ole Miss fan, reached Montgomery in Ackerman and started quizzing him about his Rebel days and asked if he had played in the 1953 Sugar Bowl. Montgomery said he had. So then McClendon told him about the watch.
"Oh my God!" Montgomery said. "That's got to be my watch. I lost it over 30 years ago."
It was — and is. The inscription "C. Montgomery" looked just like "E. Montgomery" because of a small scratch.
"I never thought I'd see that watch again," Montgomery said. "Please, please let me buy that watch."
Montgomery said he'd lost it in a scuffle late one night in the parking lot of the old Edgewater Landing at Ross Barnett Reservoir where he worked as the club's manager. Valerie Johnson's grandparents found it the next morning when they came in from fishing. The grandmother gave it to Valerie.
So McClendon called Valerie Johnson last week with the news about Chuck Montgomery and asked what she wanted to do.
"It's his watch," she said. "The right thing to do is give it back."
And she did so Monday, bringing 75-year-old Chuck Montgomery, who was a three-year starting tackle for the Rebels, to tears.
So many memories rushed back: Of the huge 1952 victory over Maryland, which led to the Sugar Bowl bid. Of the crowd of 82,000 fans at old Tulane Stadium to watch the first nationally televised football game. Of a controversial call that cost the Rebels dearly in a 24-7 loss. Of Coach John Vaught. Of so many dear teammates, some of whom have passed away. Of the Sugar Bowl banquet at the old St. Charles Hotel, where Montgomery and his teammates were awarded the prized wrist watches.
And of a life Chuck Montgomery says has turned around since that night in 1973 when he lost the watch.
"This watch means the world to me," he said, choking on his words. "I was living a bad life back during the time I lost it. I believe I was being punished. I thank God for changing my life and giving it back to me."
Chuck Montgomery planned to watch the 2005 Sugar Bowl Monday night. He planned to pull for Auburn, he said, despite Tommy Tuberville.
And, yes, he said, he would wear his watch more proudly than ever.