Sept. 16, 2009
Commodore History Corner Archive
The outlook for the upcoming 1915 Vanderbilt football season was bleak. The Commodores were coming off a losing record of 2-8, the first under head coach Dan McGugin, and second in the school's 25 years of playing football.
To add to this bleakness was the fact that Vanderbilt returned 10 experienced players from the previous year, which meant inexperienced freshmen would be a key to the team's success. And success they did have.
McGugin built his 1915 squad around a brilliant 130-pound junior quarterback in Irby "Rabbit" Curry. In the line was Josh Cody a dominating two-way sophomore tackle that was a fierce tackler and dominating blocker. Vanderbilt was a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association and facing a 10-game schedule.
The Commodores established a team record that season not equaled today. They scored a grand total of 514 points in 510 minutes of actual playing time, thus ranking them as a legitimate "point-a-minute" team. Vanderbilt averaged 51 points a game.
Vanderbilt racked up 459 points before being scored upon. The team recorded seven shutouts to open the season. These victories include Tennessee Normal (MTSU), 51-0; Southwestern, 47-0; Georgetown, 75-0; Cumberland, 60-0; Henderson-Brown 100-0; Mississippi, 91-0 and Tennessee, 35-0.
The Vols were the first real test for the Commodores that came to Nashville as the SIAA defending champions and loaded with confidence. In the book by Fred Russell and Maxwell Benson "Fifty Years of Vanderbilt Football" the Vols defeat is given this summary: "They were swamped, 35-0 as Curry and Bob Turner ran wild. The Rabbit got away for 50 yards the only touchdown of the first half. In the third quarter, Johnny Floyd ripped off 47 yards and Hubert Wiggs took it over.
"Then Turner entered the game and his first run was 35 yards to the six-yard line, where Wiggs again scored. The next time he sprinted 60 yards himself for the `touch' and the last score came on a 20-yard dash by `Cutter' Northcutt, Curry's substitute. The victory was beclouded by a most unfortunate spine injury to Bennett Jared, who died a few months later."
The Tennessee game placed the Commodores at 7-0 and unscored upon until the next week. A trip to Charlottesville, Virginia to face the University of Virginia was next on the schedule. The high-flying Commodores were overwhelmed, 35-10 by the Cavilers. Curry ran for 80 yards and scored a touchdown on a fumbled punt. Cody booted a 20-yard field goal for the only other score for the Commodores. Vanderbilt could only manage five first downs in the contest.
Next was the Auburn game, which McGugin at been pointing to since before the season. The game was played in Birmingham on Rickwood Field. Birmingham's Rickwood Field (built in 1910) still exists today and has been certified as the oldest ballpark in America. It was home to the Birmingham Red Barons of the old Southern Association for decades until 1987.
Vanderbilt jumped out to a 17-0 lead on a rain-soaked field. A Curry pass to captain Russell Cohen opened the scoring with the PAT. Cody personally took over from that point. Described in "Fifty Years of Vanderbilt Football:" In one of the greatest exhibitions of punt covering ever seen, he (Cody) smothered the receiver every time, recovering two fumbles, one across the goal line for a touchdown. Then, in the last ten seconds of play, Cody dropped kicked a three-pointer from the 33-yard line. Zerfoss and Friel punted splendidly. Curry's generalship was superb, and late in the game the Gold and Black line rose as one to throw back three Auburn charges on the five-yard line."
The final game of the season for the 8-1 Commodores was on Thanksgiving Day in Nashville against rival Sewanee. At stake entering the game was the SIAA championship. A shutout over the "Men From the Mountain" would complete the SIAA schedule of being unscored upon.
"Fifty Years of Vanderbilt Football" describes the season finale: "What a thriller it was! Thoroughly outplayed the first two quarters as Capt. Dobbins and Hek Clark led the Tiger attack, intermission found the Commodores behind 3-0 due to `Red' Herring's field goal from the 20-yard line. Dan McGugin took the boys over by Engineering Hall for a little talk.
"They came back flaming, but the start of the fourth quarter saw the score still 3-0. Then a sustained drive got underway that ended with `Dough' Ray plunging touchdownward from the four-yard line. That pulled the stopper out of the bottle. Lipscomb and Cody blocked a punt and Pud Reyer recovered on the five-yard line. Again Ray went over. Zerfoss skirted end for 26, Curry followed with a 34-yard dash and a third touchdown.
"Little Rabbit was battered and bruised from terrible pounding, but he generated enough steam for the top run of the day, 80 yards for a touchdown with Josh Cody clearing his path, then limped to the bench amid the most tumultuous demonstration ever given a Commodore hero. The final count, 28-3, and another SIAA championship."
During the season Curry accounted for 118 of Vanderbilt's season total of 514 points. Seven out of eight newspapers voted the SIAA championship to the Commodores. The Atlanta Constitution declared it a tie between Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. Curry (unanimously), Cohen and Cody were named All-Southern.
In 1975, the team's manager James G. Stahlman of Nashville hosted a 60th reunion for the weekend of the Georgia game. Stahlman was a member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust and longtime supporter of Vanderbilt athletics. Of the 21 lettermen form that 1915 team, eight were still living and seven were present at the reunion.
Attending the reunion were Russell Cohen, Henry K. Ray, Hubert Wiggs, Kent Morrison, Alfred Adams and Dr. Tom Zerfoss. Dr. George Reyer of El Paso, Texas could not attend due to an illness. Rabbit Curry died in World War I during an airplane dogfight over Chateau Thierry. He was buried in his home state of Texas.
The group would attend a pregame luncheon at the Belle Meade Country Club and gather at the Vanderbilt-Georgia game to be recognized at halftime. Fred Pancoast's 1975 Commodores lost to Georgia that day, 47-3, but ended the season with a 7-4 record. Sometime while on the Vanderbilt campus, the aged athletes strolled over to the Engineering Hall to locate the spot they stood while recalling McGugin's halftime talk with Sewanee.
John Bibb of the Tennessean in reporting on the 1975 reunion wrote about Stahlman: "This same 1915 team was heading for Memphis to face Ole Miss. The team was undefeated (5-0) and unscored on. Somewhere near Dickson, Tenn., the Commodores' train was halted and forced to sit for hours while crews worked to clear a freight train wrecked ahead on the tracks.
"As student manager, part of Stahlman's duties was to attend the various needs of the individual players. As the day wore on, it became apparent the Commodore players faced the distinct possibility of no lunch. The dedicated Stahlman, departing the idled train made a forage into neighboring orchards and returned with pocketful of apples--noticeably green, but to the hungry football players, quite delicious. The next afternoon, Vanderbilt's quick-stepping Commodores, hurried past Ole Miss, 91-0."
Traughber's Tidbit: This New York Times newspaper article dated November 1, 1915 reports on Tennessee's Bennett Jared's injury in the UT-Vanderbilt game: "Nashville, Tenn., Oct. 31.--Bennett Jared, the Tennessee University football player who was injured in the game with Vanderbilt yesterday, successfully withstood an operation performed this morning to remove a clot upon his seventh clerical vertebrae of his spinal column, and according to attending surgeons, has a slim chance of recovery. Young Jared is paralyzed from his neck down, although he has never lost consciousness."
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.