Vandy's gridiron Rhodes Scholars

Nov. 23, 2011

Nashville sports historian Bill Traughber has recently written another book, Vanderbilt Football: Tales of Commodore Gridiron History. The 160-page paperback book can be ordered on for $19.99.

Commodore History Corner Archive

Editor's Note: This story previously ran in the October issue of Commodore Nation.

The Rhodes Scholarship has been recognized as the oldest and most prestigious postgraduate award for the study at the Oxford University (Oxford, England). It is administered and dispersed by the Rhodes Trust that was established in 1902 by the terms in the will of Cecil John Rhodes. The recipients are chosen from an application, which is based on their academic achievement and moral fiber.

Two former Vanderbilt football players, and one-time teammates, were among the first to be accepted into the honored program. John J. Tigert (1901-03) and Bob Blake (1903-07) became members of the All-Southern team with their exploits on the football field. Both were halfbacks while Blake also played at the end position.

Tigert was born in Nashville and earned his high school diploma, with honors, from the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. While at Vanderbilt, he was a prominent athlete participating in football, basketball, baseball and track. Tigert graduated from the university in 1904 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

His selection as a Rhodes Scholar would be the first from the state of Tennessee. Tigert would find time in Oxford to continue his athletic competitiveness in tennis, cricket and rowing. He completed his Master of Arts degree at Pembroke College in 1907. Upon his return to the United States, Tigert taught at Central College in Fayette, Missouri. At age 27, he was named as the President of Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro in 1909.

With a career in education his desire, Tigert accepted a position at the University of Kentucky as a professor of psychology and philosophy. He kept his ambition for sports while serving as the university’s athletic director from 1913 to 1917. Coaching would be part of his college experience with additional duties as the Wildcats’ men’s basketball coach (1913), women’s basketball coach (1911-17) and football coach (1915-16).

Tigert’s coaching records include 5-3 in men’s basketball, 10-2-3 on the gridiron and 23-4 with women’s basketball. In 1921, President Warren G. Harding appointed Tigert as the U. S. Commissioner of Education. He would serve seven years that continued into the administration of Calvin Coolidge.

In 1928, the Florida Board of Control hired Tigert as the President of the University of Florida and continued his interest in athletics being responsible for the construction of a football stadium on campus (Florida Field) in 1930 that seated 22, 800. He aided in the founding of the Southeastern Conference in 1932 with Florida as one of 13 members.

While maintaining his position as Florida’s president, Tigert would serve one term as SEC president (1934-36) while implementing grant-in aid to college athletes. Tigert resigned his presidency at Florida in 1947 after 19 years and worked as a consultant on education for the Government of India. He taught philosophy at the University of Miami until 1959 and died in Gainesville at age 82 in 1965.

Tigert was inducted into the Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as an “Honorary Letter Winner,” and the main administration building on campus is Tigert Hall. The National College Football Hall of Fame added Tigert to its honorees in 1970.

Blake was born in Cuero, Texas, in 1885 and was Vanderbilt’s first athlete to earn 16 letters in the short history of the university. He participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track. After leaving Vanderbilt, he won his Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. In 1910, Blake was awarded a law degree and returned to Vanderbilt for one season as an assistant football coach for Dan McGugin.

These are letters of recommendation that were submitted on the behalf of Bob Blake to the Rhodes Scholarship Committee:

Written by W.E. Beard City Editor of the Nashville American, March 18, 1908:

“Robert E. Blake, who is a candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship from Tennessee, has expressed the opinion that a few words to the Commission from me, as a former employer of his, might be of some service to him in securing the appointment, and at his suggestion I address you.

“Mr. Blake was employed as a reporter on this paper during the summer of 1907, during his vacation. I had known him personally several years and he had done some work at the University for us and the offer was made to him, without request, to work as a reporter during the summer. He worked energetically, faithfully and intelligently, his daily hours being from 1:30 pm to 1 am, and his week seven days long.

“He had a reporter’s full work to do and he did it so satisfactorily that he could have the first vacancy on the reportorial staff of the American to-morrow, or I believe upon any Nashville paper for that matter. He left the paper with every man on it his friend and with the outstanding, among whom he had been thrown his well wishers, so far as I have heard. In other words, he amply proved ability to make his way in the world on his own merit.

“It might be worthy of note in this connection, that though the hours of his work were somewhat demoralizing to the accepted ideas of good health and good morals he left that work for perhaps the best record of an individual player upon the Southern football field.

“I hope this may be of some service to him in carrying out his ambition to go to Oxford, and I feel assured that few states will send representation of so high a character of manliness and worthiness.

“Hoping the Commission will accept this in the spirit that it is written.”

Written by R.D. Dozier, fellow Vanderbilt student March 18, 1908:

“In reply to your letter of March 16, asking for a statement in regard to Mr. R.E. Blake’s standing among his fellow students, I should like to say that his popularity is due to his possessing in a marked degree those strong qualities which always appeal to men. In the first place he is a clean man, without which no student can win and maintain the respect of his fellows.

“In the second place he is an athlete and this has been one great factor in making him popular, but Bob Blake would have been a popular man if he had not been an athlete. In the third place he is interested in and takes an active part in every phase of college life. In the fourth place he has maintained himself well in scholarship, while not a brilliant student, he has, in my opinion, made a record above that of the average student.

“Hoping that these statements from a fellow student will be of service to him in securing the appointment to the position for which he is a candidate.”

Written by Finis K. Farr, Office of Worthy Grand Master, Kappa Sigma Fraternity March 23, 1908:

“Knowing of the candidacy for the Rhodes scholarship of “Bob” Blake, Vanderbilt, I write to you concerning his influence with other young men as seen in his fraternity life. As a general officer of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity for some years, it has been a part of my duty to observe the working of the chapter with which Blake has been connected.

“It is not too much to say by the weight of his personal character and the power of his will, Blake has molded and directed the Chapter of which he has been a member. Some of you, no doubt, are in a position to know that he has shown the same power in college life and in athletic affairs, and that he has always exercised it with wisdom for good.

“When the conditions governing the selection of Rhodes scholars were made public, some years ago, it seemed to me that men fulfilling those conditions would not be easily found. The selections made from other states in a few cases of which I have had some knowledge have borne out this impression. I believe that in Blake we have a very fine example of the type of character for which Rhodes seems to have intended that we should seek. A man with few enemies and many sincere admirers, his selection would, it seems to me, place the stamp of your Committee’s approval upon a manly character fully worthy of it.”

After his admission to the Tennessee Bar, Blake practiced insurance law in Nashville until 1919 whereupon he moved to St. Louis to operate a wholesale silk company until he became general counsel for International Shoe Company in 1921. He held a position as a board of directors until his return to private practice in 1950.

Blake was founder and first President of the St. Louis Crime Commission, chairman of the 1947 St. Louis Citizens’ Tax Commission and head of the Governmental Research Institute. In 1906 Bob had two brothers, Dan and Vaughn that were his Commodore teammates. A fourth brother, V. Weldon Blake, played on the 1903 Vanderbilt team as a substitute.

Legendary sports writer and Vanderbilt graduate Grantland Rice once said about Bob Blake, “he was the only halfback who never lost a yard around right end.” Blake died in 1962 at age 77.

The photo accompanying this story is from the 1903 Vanderbilt football team. Bob Blake (left) and John Tigert (right) were Commodore teammates that would earn Rhodes Scholarships.

If you have any comments or suggestion you can contact Bill Traughber via email at



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