CHC- Sewanee Was Vandy’s First Rival10/4/2006
THE COMMODORE HISTORY CORNER
Their first football game in the autumn was against Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was not at an advantage since they began their football program the year before with just one game resulting in a 40-0 whipping of the University of Nashville (Peabody).
That first meeting was on the mountain with the Commodores winning over Sewanee, 22-0. The Nashville Banner gave this partial report on the game:
The Vanderbilt football team went up to Sewanee Saturday and defeated the mountain boys rather easily, 22-0. The Vanderbilt boys played all around the Sewanee eleven, Allen, Jones and Craig especially distinguishing themselves by their brilliant work. The honors for Sewanee were carried off by the Cleveland brothers and Blackstock.
The Vanderbilt boys were met at the Union Depot on their return at night by their fellow students and escorted them through the streets amid the wildest enthusiasm.
Today, Sewanee continues to play on that same historic field where they lost to the Commodores on November 7, 1891. The original name of the football field was Hardee Field, named for Confederate General William J. Hardee. It is the South’s oldest football field and the nation’s fourth oldest NCAA field.
Only three colleges can claim to be older. Wesleyan (Conn.); 1881, Williams (Mass.); 1883 and Amherst (Mass.); 1891, still play football on their original home fields. Sewanee has never installed lights so every home game since 1891 has been played in daylight.
Also, both schools were members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (S.I.A.A). Usually the Thanksgiving Day game in Nashville, or at Sewanee, was an influence on the outcome of the S.I.A.A. championship.
The Nashville Banner gave this report on that 1891 game played at Nashville’s Athletic Park (later Sulphur Dell):
When the Vanderbilt and Sewanee elevens lined up at Athletic Park Thursday, they were greeted by the cheers of 2,000 spectators. Half the number were ladies who wore the colors of one of the rivals. The flying colors, combined with the general spirit of enthusiasm which prevailed the air, made up a scene long to be remembered and was one well-calculated to urge the players to their utmost endeavors. The Sewanee eleven, though in a strange city, did not lack for friends. A large delegation from the mountain accompanied the boys and cheered lustily.
It was a fierce struggle all the way and a test of endurance, skill and strength in which the Vanderbilts demonstrated their superiority. Both teams averaged around 165 in weights. Sewanee showed weakness in guarding the ends and Vanderbilt was quick to grab the advantage. Gardenhire, Jones, Dortch, Barr and Sanders distinguished themselves, Gardenhire’s first touchdown discouraged the Sewanee boys mightly. Mr. Miles of Sewanee and Mr. Keller of Vanderbilt acted as referee and umpire.
The next year would belong to Sewanee. Vanderbilt opened the season on the mountain with a 22-4 loss. In this era of football a touchdown was worth four points. The game was knotted at 4-4 at halftime, but the Tigers dominated the second half. The newspapers of the day reported on a wild celebration on the mountain and that Vanderbilt was too confident and laxed.
The two teams were equally matched, but Sewanee was ably assisted by Mr. Sweat, who acted as umpire and who seemed unable to forget that he was the Sewanee coach. At critical points, while the Vanderbilts were so intent on their play that they could not hear him, he would encourage the Sewanees.
Before the two teams met again in 1893, the series was tied with each club winning twice in four games. Another two-game series was played in 1893 where Vanderbilt would claim a Southern championship.
Vanderbilt won the first game at Sewanee with a hard-fought 10-8 result. The Banner reported:
What was perhaps the best game of football ever played in Tennessee was won by Vanderbilt at Sewanee Saturday, 10-8. Each side scored two touchdowns, but Sewanee filed at both tries for the goal and Vanderbilt kicked one. The intelligent coaching both sides have had during the early part of the season was in evidence in the superior tactics used by both. They were about evenly matched.
The Vanderbilt team returned to the city Saturday night and a howling mob of students made the principal streets resound with all sorts of discordant noises. Clanking bells and blaring horns were pleasant interludes to that awful chorus of brass lungs.
Several weeks later, Sewanee was in Nashville for a Thanksgiving Day rematch at Vanderbilt. The Banner gave a report on the Commodores 10-0 victory:
For a solid hour the battle raged without the slightest show of advantage. Then Sewanee weakened and by unrelenting wedges Vanderbilt drove them down the field. That’s the story of the game. While both were fresh, neither was stronger.
But Vanderbilt had greater staying powers. Both teams were in fine trim. Sewanee stared off by rushing to the 25-yard line, but fell back and Joe Goodson soon scored on a flying wedge. Later, Nelson of Sewanee fumbled a punt which led to the second touchdown, which broke Sewanee’s backbone.
Sewanee has not played a major college football team since1949, a 6-0 home loss to Florida State. The Tigers are members of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference at the NCAA Division III level. The Sewanee football field was renamed for Benjamin H. McGee in 1977. Entering the 2006 season, Sewanee has a 253-124-11 all-time home record.
On the press box of McGee Field is the bold lettering, “Yea, Sewanee’s Right.” That is the last line of an old Sewanee cheer that dates back to the 1890’s. The cheer is, “Rip ‘em up! Tear ‘em up! Leave ‘em in the lurch! Down with the Heathen! Up with the Church! Yea, Sewanee’s Right! It is believed that the “Heathen” is possibly Vanderbilt, the heated intrastate rival. “Yea, Sewanee’s Right” is now used as an alternative motto and often shouted at the end of the University’s Alma Mater.
Shirley Majors, father of former UT player and coach Johnny Majors, is Sewanee’s all-time winningest coach. In his 21 years (1957-77), Majors built the Tigers into a small college power with a 93-74-5 record.
Vanderbilt senior linebacker Kevin Joyce’s brother (Kyle) played football for Sewanee and graduated this past spring. Kyle was also a linebacker and was named to the 2005 All-SCAC team as an Honorable Mention.
John Windham, former All-State and All-South player in high school at Brentwood Academy currently coaches Sewanee. Now entering his 11th season, Windham was named the 2005, SCAC Coach-of-the-Year. Windham played his college football at, of course—Vanderbilt.
Special thanks goes to Sewanee’s Sports Information Director, Prat Paterson, for making my September 2 visit to the Sewanee campus and the historic football field a pleasant experience for my research. Sewanee defeated Hampden-Sydney that day, 42-35.
Next week read about Vanderbilt’s 1897 football team, which was undefeated and not scored on.
Traughber’s Tidbit: Vanderbilt has belonged to three conferences. In 1893, Vanderbilt belonged to the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association until March, 1922. At that time they belonged to the Southern Intercollegiate Conference after a bitter split among the S.I.A.A members. Later the organization became the Southern Conference. In 1932, the Commodores were charter members of the Southeastern Conference.
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail WLTraughber@aol.com.