Vandy students' 1897 cheer banned
Sept. 14, 2011
After the Sewanee game, all talk in Nashville was about Vanderbilt being the champions of the South. The other southern university with an outstanding season was the University of Virginia. The Cavaliers were 6-2 with losses to Navy and Pennsylvania. That university agreed to come to Nashville for a game on December 7 with a guarantee of $600, plus half of the net receipts.
Virginia alumni in Nashville sent this telegram to their alma mater, "As Virginia alumni here we strongly urge you to fulfill contract and play Vanderbilt, as no excuse exists. Otherwise Vanderbilt will publish correspondence and be awarded championship."
Virginia only brought four substitutes and journeyed 26 hours on the train that brought them to Nashville. A "huge" crowd of 2, 400 watched the game end, 0-0. The Nashville American reported, "Unquestionably it was the greatest game ever played in the South. The assaults on the line were terrific, the tackling was brutal, the entire play fierce. Only once was the 20-yard line of either team invaded. Almost immediately after McAlester kicked off, the terrors of the tandem play were displayed. This play meant to bend one side of the line so that the end, the tackle and the guard reinforced the four backs in their charges at the line. Whether the force was directed was not known."
Said Acton, "It was the best game ever played in the South. Virginia was heavier and made most of her weight, using mass plays almost entirely. Our men played a more scientific game. My team can beat any team in America of the same weight." It was said that Vanderbilt's average weight was 165 pounds.
Vanderbilt and Virginia would share the southern title. The American also reported that, "The Vanderbilt players were in a jolly humor yesterday with their miniature football pinned upon the labels of their coats. Joe Goodson, quarterback, was apparently out of training from a large ten-cent cigar he smoked, a gift of Benjamin Childers of Pulaski. `Tab' Farrell had his hair cut and other members were more or less changed in appearance."
In the Vanderbilt 1898 yearbook, The Comet, a tribute by Dr. D. R. Stubblefield was printed:
"The team of 1897 was the greatest Vanderbilt University ever put on the gridiron. They studied themselves; they intelligently utilized those things that helped to make them; they analyzed their opponents. The proof of this high praise is their unheard of record.
Hail, the team of `Ninety-Seven,
Heroes every one!
Raise their triumph up to Heaven,
For the deeds they've done!
The shared football championship must have given cause to forgive those "radical" students that earlier had the nerve to use a one-word obscenity in cheering on their Vanderbilt Commodores.
The photos attached to this story are the 1897 Vanderbilt football team and a drawing in the Nashville Banner from the 1897 Vanderbilt--Sewanee game.
Traughber's Tidbit: During the 1897 season, in the second half of the Georgia game with Virginia in Atlanta, a Georgia fullback named Richard Gammon was fatally injured on a play. The Georgia, Georgia Tech and Mercer football teams soon disbanded. The Atlanta Journal ran a headline, the "Death Knell of Football" and the Georgia legislature passed a bill to outlaw football in the state of Georgia. A letter from Gammon's mother to the state legislature asked that the bill not be passed because her son loved football so much. Georgia Governor William Atkinson vetoed that bill to ban football in Georgia.
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.
Commodore History Corner Headlines