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May 27, 2013

You Never Forget Your First Time


Chas McCarthy, Threatt Moore, Richard Von Gammon,
and the rest of the 1897 Red and Black had an easy time
with Clemson the first time the two schools ever faced off.
First off, Happy Memorial Day!  Secondly, I apologize for the infrequent posts of late, but I recently started on a new endeavor, which has taken up a good portion of my time.  For what it's worth, my new project could very well eventually involve you -- the readers of this blog -- and should launch by the end of July.  More on that at a later date...
 
Besides what's important, like remembering the men and women who served and sacrificed for our country, Memorial Day is also an annual reminder to me that the opening of another college football season is just around the corner.  Reminded early this morning, I began thinking of Georgia's upcoming season opener while pondering the series history with the team the Bulldogs will be facing. 
 
About five weeks ago, I discussed Georgia's favorable-turned-equal-turned-favorable-again series with Clemson over the last century.  Although I detailed the single game which would forever change the rivalry, I didn't mention arguably the most historic game between the two schools -- the teams' very first meeting in 1897. 
 
In a time when the Bulldogs were simply known as the "Red and Black" and the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina had formerly opened just four years earlier, Georgia and Clemson's initial meeting on a gridiron was a "first" which should be distinguished and celebrated (especially since we absolutely whipped "the Clemsons" as labeled by the Atlanta Constitution).
 
By both teams' season opener 116 years ago, football was still very much in its infancy at the two schools.  Still, having completed only five football seasons, Georgia was fresh off an S.I.A.A. championship the year before and a two-year tenure of eventual coaching legend, Glenn "Pop" Warner. 

Clemson had played in only three football games in its history and didn't even have a home field to play on.  In fact, the Tigers would not host their first game until more than a year later.  Additionally, they would host just two opponents -- perennial powers Bingham and Davidson -- in their first 23 games through 1900.  On the contrary, Georgia had what was regarded as one of the best athletic fields in the South -- Alumni Athletic Field, also known as Herty Field.  And, because they had little alternative to play elsewhere, the two teams met there for the 1897 season opener on October 10th in front of what was described as one of the city of Athens' largest gathered crowds, which primarily sat in the field's newly erected bleachers. 

Around 4 p.m., the Georgia-Clemson series commenced with the Red and Black's Richard Von Gammon kicking off to the visitors.  From there, the game would unfold much like the rivalry has over the last century-plus -- rather one-sided.  On a 110-yard field, for a game lasting just two 15-minute halves, in a sport featuring no passing, and the scoring team not kicking off, but actually receiving the kickoff, Georgia ran rampant over Clemson.  The Red and Black were victorious over the Tigers, 24-0, scoring four touchdowns (worth four points each at the time) while converting all four conversions (worth two points).
Looking more like Dracula than a football coach,
McCarthy had been one of the nation's best fullbacks 
before becoming an undervalued UGA head coach. 

In the initial Georgia-Clemson game, a number of notable firsts resulted worthy of mention.  First, with the return of "Pop" Warner to his alma mater of Cornell, the 1897 Clemson game announced the arrival of Charles (or Chas) McCarthy to UGA.  McCarthy had been a standout fullback for four seasons and a one-year assistant at Brown University before becoming Georgia's head coach at just 24 years of age.  The northerner from Brockton, Mass., quickly won over the Georgia people, who promptly moved on with their fondness of Warner.  It was reported that "of the numerous coaches that [UGA has] had in the past, there has been none to win, so easily, the student-body" as McCarthy.

Initially, McCarthy planned to stay at UGA for just one season while attending law school before enrolling at Johns Hopkins University.  Instead, he coached the Red and Black for two years, compiling a 6-3 overall record.  Notably, McCarthy's two seasons and .667 winning percentage rank tied for first and third, respectively, amongst Georgia's first 13 head coaches during a time when the program had a difficult time winning consistently while keeping its coach.  McCarthy would eventually enroll at the University of Wisconsin and would experience probably the most intriguing non-football, post-coaching career of any Bulldog head coach in history.

The 1897 Clemson game also signified, at least from the evidence I've discovered, Georgia's first individual 200-yard rushing performance in history.  Halfback Jonathan "Threatt" Moore carried the ball only nine times against the Tigers, however, it was good enough to gain 212 yards, including 70 and 40-yard touchdown jaunts.  What makes Moore's unofficial 200-yard rushing game even more impressive is that McCarthy gave him (and the Clemson defense) a rest with seven minutes remaining in the game.  In other words, Moore's 212 yards resulted in only 23 minutes of game play.

In a day when a skirmish would often, if not always, break out during a football game, the first contest versus Clemson might have also been the first time the two sides involved in a Georgia game were actually civil to one another (which seems ironic when speaking of the Georgia-Clemson rivalry).  "No case of slugging being noted," declared a newspaper the day following the game.   
 
Finally, I mentioned Richard Von Gammon...  He and George Price scored the game's other two touchdowns.  For fullback Gammon, who had been the starting quarterback on the 1896 championship team, it was his first touchdown at Georgia, and would be his last.  As many of you are likely aware, Gammon would be tragically killed three weeks later against Virginia, ending Georgia's 1897 season and nearly the sport permanently in the state.

Sandwiched between the initial Clemson game and the fatal Virginia contest was another noteworthy first in UGA football history: the first victory ever against what would become another hated rival, Georgia Tech.  Like the Clemson game before, the victory over Tech was also a shutout (28-0) at Herty Field.  And, just like the meeting with the Tigers, Georgia and its intrastate opponent established in 1897 a series that too would transpire over time into a rather one-sided rivalry.

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