by Bill Traughber
Vanderbilt has seen many great opposing coaches roam the sidelines of Dudley Field (the current Dudley Field began play in 1922) in its 116 years of football. In 1895, decades before he became a legend, Glenn S. “Pop” Warner came to Vanderbilt with his Georgia Bulldogs. However, his experience in Nashville had a controversial ending.
Warner was born in 1871 in Springville, New York. He attended Cornell University earning a law degree and becoming captain of the football team. At Cornell, he was given the nickname “Pop” because he was older than most of his teammates.
Warner was a coach at Iowa State during the first part of the 1895 season, but ended up in Athens the latter portion. Warner was displeased with the facilities at the university, the small student body and only 13 students played football. The University of Georgia began playing football in 1892 with a two-game schedule.
When Warner came to Nashville in 1895 his squad was 3-2. Vanderbilt had been playing football since its one-game schedule in 1890. Entering the Georgia contest, the Commodores were 3-3-1 with their coach C.L Upton.
The Nashville Banner gave this report of the game:
The most stubbornly contested and probably the most exciting game of the local football season was played on the Vanderbilt campus Saturday afternoon. Vanderbilt won from the University of Georgia by a score of 6-0, but the ending of the game was far from satisfactory to the spectators. Fairly speaking, the question of superiority between the two teams is still a matter of doubt, but the unsportsmanlike conduct of the visitors in withdrawing from the game chills what sympathy may have been extended them on account of the unfortunate fluke, which turned the tide against them.
The game was practically devoid of brilliant plays and yet a uniformity of excellence in individual and teamwork, which kept the battle near the center of the field, was well maintained. Vanderbilt took the ball from the center of the field to Georgia’s five-yard line at the outset, and this represented the best work of the home team. After that the injuries of several men began to weaken the line, and the aggressive play was never again so effective.
The controversial play occurred in the fourth quarter with the game scoreless. The play involved Georgia’s quarterback Edgar Pomperoy and Vanderbilt tackle William Elliott. And, of course, a referee was involved.
The Banner reported on the play:
On the second down Pomperoy took the ball in a centre play. The two teams came together in a powerful rush, and the ball was lost in the scrimmage. Presently the leather rolled out from under the struggling mass and Elliott, for Vanderbilt, picked it up. He stood still for a moment and then another player shouted to him to run. At the same time one of the Georgia players shouted: “Lookout, that man’s got the ball.” Elliott then started down the field, guarded by Johnson, but there were no pursuers. The ball was placed between Georgia’s goal posts and then bedlam broke loose.
Warner and the Georgia players protested that Pomperoy was down before the ball popped loose therefore no fumble ensued. The officials were Referee Granberry of Princeton ’85, a prominent Nashville lawyer and Umpire McRae of the University of Nashville. In these early years of sports writing, usually first names of players and officials were neglected.
The officials disagreed with Warner and his players thus allowing the touchdown for Vanderbilt. In this age of football, touchdowns were awarded four points and the conversion two points.
Unable to sway the officials’ opinion, Warner took his team off the field and never to return. Phil Connell kicked the conversion against no opposition and the game was called in the Commodores’ favor, 6-0.
The Banner also noted that, “No man in Nashville is better posted on the rules of the game than Mr. Granberry, and there is no doubt his decision was just. It was hard luck for Georgia, but by all the rules of the game Vanderbilt was entitled to the touchdown, whether any credit attached to the getting of it or not.”
The Nashville American gave this interpretation of the events:
But Mr. Warner withdrew his men from the field. To say the least of it, this action was uncalled for. Previous to this time the officials had heard every claim made by Georgia for offsides plays, holding in the line and foul interference, and in nearly every instance did they decide with the Georgia team. The fair and manly thing for Georgia to have done would have been to finish the game, and if, in the end, she felt herself aggrieved then to have filed a protest against the decision.
But one thing deserves strong condemnation, and that was the discourteous hooting and hissing of the visiting team by the irrepressible small boy. Such conduct did not proceed from Vanderbilt students.
The newspaper also reported that a Vanderbilt player named Johnson, “Played the best game he has ever played. An evidence of his vim was the fact that his sleeve was torn clear off, yet he played on with his arm bared to the breezes.”
Vanderbilt beat Sewanee in its last game to finish the season at 5-3-1. Georgia would lose to Auburn and conclude their season with a 3-4 record. The next season, the Bulldogs were 4-0 in an abbreviated schedule and Warner is credited with leading Georgia to its first undefeated season in their long history.
Warner would return to Cornell to coach football for two seasons. He gained fame by coaching the Carlisle Indian School (1899-1903, 1907-14). At the Indian school Warner coached the famous athlete Jim Thorpe.
Later, Warner coached at Cornell (1904-06), Pittsburgh (1915-23) winning two national championships and at Stanford (1924-32) to win three Rose Bowl championships. Warner retired in 1938 after five seasons at Temple.
Warner would get revenge on Vanderbilt after a 40-year wait. While coaching Temple in 1935, Warner beat the Commodores 6-3, in a game in Philadelphia.
At one time Warner was college football’s winningest coach with a 341-118-33 record. He died in Palo Alto, California on September 7, 1954.
Next week read about Vanderbilt’s All-American football player, Lynn Bomar.
Traughber’s Tidbit: A punter holds Vanderbilt’s record for the longest run from scrimmage. Bill Marinangle streaked past Alabama players on an 81-yard touchdown run from a punting position. The run occurred September 14, 1996 in a 36-26 loss at Alabama.
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail WLTraughber@aol.com.