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November 13, 2009

"The Darkest Chapter" Ends In Victory Over Auburn

There have been two major scandals that have shaken the UGA football program in its history; both are hardly discussed, if at all, in the football annals of the school.

The second and last one, the 1962 Wally Butts-Paul “Bear” Bryant game-fixing scandal, was called the most shocking sports story “since the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series.”  Butts was eventually exonerated of any wrong-doings and won a libel suit despite overwhelming evidence against the former-Bulldog coach.

Beginning with a newspaper article written by famed sports writer Grantland Rice (Photo: Tennessee Society for American Baseball Research) more than 100 years ago, UGA football's first scandal left the Red and Black without a conference, coach, and captain.

Despite the obstacles, Georgia defeated Auburn in 1907 for its most meaningful football victory, at the time, in the program's short history.

1907 SEASON:  After a season-opening victory over Dahlonega to begin its 16th campaign of playing football, Georgia was embarrassed at home on Herty Field by Tennessee, 15-0.  This result enraged a number of UGA alumni and Athens businessmen and was the beginning of, according to author John Stegeman, "the darkest chapter of the history of Georgia football."

A win over Mercer and a tie against Alabama followed but these games seemingly did not matter to the agitated alumni and businessmen.  What was desired was a victory over Georgia's chief rival, Georgia Tech.  The message was clear--the Red and Black had to defeat its neighbors to the west.

NEW ADDITIONS:  Following the loss to Tennessee, under immense pressure, Georgia head coach W.S. "Bull" Whitney, in his second season at the helm, decided to reach out and receive some help to please the unsatisfied.  Whitney arranged for several football players from elsewhere to join the Georgia squad.

The Red and Black's new players did not participate in games three and four but without fail suited up when Georgia faced Tech in front of 6,000 spectators at Atlanta's Ponce de Leon Park.

In the second half, Georgia trailed 10-6, having scored its touchdown on a run by halfback "McDuffy," one of the team's new additions.  The Red and Black had a couple shots at victory towards the end of the game but came up short and lost to Georgia Tech for the fourth consecutive season.

GRANTLAND RICE:  Over the next two weeks, Georgia split games against Clemson and Sewanee and its record stood at an even 3-3-1 heading into the season finale against Auburn on Thanksgiving.  However, first, the Red and Black would have to face Grantland Rice and the infamous scandal.

Rice, a one-time writer for the Atlanta Journal, scribed in a mid-November edition of the Nashville Tennessean:
The stunt [of adding new players] perpetrated by the University of Georgia in her game against Tech sets a new limit [of violations]. ... The evidence has been turned over to us from several sources ... Coach Whitney used at least four ringers, and probably more, in that Atlanta conflict. ... And now the secret is out.
Rice also mentioned Whitney suspiciously held a secret practice prior to the Georgia Tech game where no one from the outside was allowed to witness.  The Georgia head coach also waited until the last possible moment to bring his players onto the field and did not give a pre-game lineup to the press until just before the kickoff.

Interestingly, UGA's football media guide notes Coach Whitney would not reveal his lineup until just before kickoff because he was merely "very superstitious."  Perhaps he was superstitious of getting caught trying to use illegal players.

Rice went as far as identifying the "ringers."  The four or five individuals were former stars who had played at either Syracuse, Georgetown, or a professional team in Savannah.

Soon after the loss to Tech, these players got out of town and headed northeast, claiming later they had received $150 plus expenses for their efforts in the Georgia Tech game.

By the time Rice's article was printed, Whitney too had left for the northeast to Schenectady, New York.  On his trip home, he told a reporter that the players had been "furnished" to him, which he accepted, because of the much-needed win over Georgia Tech.  Although Whitney admitted he "was in error," he denied paying the players.

After an investigation, Georgia was kicked out of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (S.I.A.A.) and "Bull" Whitney was barred from coaching again in the South.  Captain Kyle Smith was suspended for the final game against Auburn while assistant coach Branch Bocock, who would be Georgia's head coach in 1908, was ordered to watch the season finale from the stands only; although he was allowed to accompany the team to Macon for the Auburn game, Bocock was not permitted to coach them.

THE GAME:  The odds were certainly stacked against Georgia entering its final game of the 1907 campaign.  Auburn sported a 6-1-1 record, including a win over Georgia Tech, and an overwhelming favorite to defeat the Red and Black at Macon's Central City Park on Thanksgiving Day.

On a rain-soaked, muddy field freshman quarterback and future Georgia head coach George Woodruff  kept the Red and Black in the game during the first half, ending in a scoreless tie.

Frustrated in being shutout, Auburn took to the air in the second half.  By 1907, passing the football had only been allowed in the game's rules for one year and there were certainly restrictions:
"One foreward pass legalized behind the line if made five yards to the right or left of center.  Ball went to opponent if it failed to touch a player of either side before touching the ground. Either team could recover a pass touched by an opponent. Limit one pass each scrimmage down."
With approximately 14 minutes remaining in the contest, Auburn's Tom McClure dropped back 10 yards and floated a pass that was batted to the ground by Georgia guard Harry Harmon.  Defender Jim Lucas retrieved the free ball around midfield and began sprinting towards Auburn's end zone.

Lucas was caught by McClure close to the goal line but, with aid from teammate Woodruff, was dragged for the final foot over the line for a Georgia touchdown.  Cliff Hatcher's conversion was successful and the Red and Black eventually won in a 6-0 upset (a touchdown counted for five points until 1912).

Having been reinstated back into the association, Georgia finished in third place of 11 teams in the final S.I.A.A. standings; not too shabby for a squad ending its season in scandal and without a captain or coach.

The 6-0 win over Auburn in 1907 is considered Georgia's most significant victory in its first 18 seasons and 113 games of playing football until 1910.  From the November 29, 1907, edition of The Atlanta Constitution:
Without a regular coach, and Captain Kyle Smith out of the game, the Georgia team went into the fray badly handicapped, but a grittier eleven has hardly ever represented the University of Georgia.

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