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May 3, 2014

Well, the Stadium Fell Down

Photo from the 1934 Georgia-Furman game, 
presumably prior to the most chaotic moment
in UGA football history. 
Similarly to what I'm sure some of you experienced Wednesday, my house just outside of Athens that morning seemed like it was going to completely fall in at any moment as it rained and 40-mile-per-hour winds rattled the windows.  Soon, I was informed on the radio that a wet ground increases the chances of a tree being uprooted in a storm, whereupon I noticed the extremely tall and swaying pine trees in my backyard.  If one of them was to fall the wrong way, I thought to myself, it could come crashing through the very window I was staring out of, taking me out as well.
 
A semi-chaotic scene, especially since I had to get two kids ready for school with the power out, and my son asking if our house's "girders are bending," made me reflect upon perhaps the biggest clamor in UGA football history, resulting 80 years ago this season.

On the eve of Georgia's meeting at Furman in early October 1934, head coach Harry Mehre nearly foretold of what was to result the next afternoon.  Although the Purple Hurricane, or Hurricane, as Furman was nicknamed back then, had suffered just one loss in their previous 17 games while Georgia would be missing six key players because of injuries, Furman was still, well, Furman.  The Bulldogs were substantial favorites.  Nevertheless, as the sound of a tumultuous storm outside could easily be heard inside a Greenville, SC hotel, the witty Mehre remarked to reporters, "I'm not at all a selfish man and now that it has started raining, I'd be delighted to win by a safety and go on back to Athens."

In front of approximately 3,000 spectators braving the elements at Furman's Manly Field, Georgia was seemingly dominating the Hurricane on a surface that had been transformed to a muddy quagmire.  However, primarily because of the Bulldogs losing their footing to the lousy field conditions, the game was scoreless late in the second quarter.  Finally, just before halftime, Georgia quarterback Jack Griffith scored a touchdown on a short sneak. 

Leading 7-0 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs had possession of the ball following a 79-yard Furman punt downed at Georgia's 1-yard line.  Back when football was certainly a game of field position, the Bulldogs elected to immediately punt the ball back to the opposition.  Cy Grant's punt was blocked in the end zone, whereupon the punter fell on the ball, scoring Mehre's desired safety not for his team, but for host Furman.

Then, just after the safety making the score 7 to 2, it happenedManly's "girders" bending, then breaking.

Furman's Manly Field--with all stands intact
Like wet-rooted trees, timber supporting wooden stands in rain-soaked ground can become unstable, as well.  Suddenly, two sections of stands containing 16 rows of people folded "like an accordion," as it was described.  Six hundred spectators, some falling as high as 20 feet above ground, tumbled to the field in a big scrambling heap.

Forty feet above the field, the press box also trembled and swayed.  Several writers literally grabbed their typewriters and were prepared to jump before their seats stopped rocking.  Fortunately for the media, Manly's press box was supported by extra braces. 

Despite the chaos, some in the media continued to report.  "Screaming women and cries of men urging them to be calm turned the section into a bedlam," declared the Atlanta Constitution.  "As this is written, the spectators are lifting one another out of the debris and hunting for purses and valuables under the stands."

Despite a bedlam, the game was never halted.  Georgia finished with a 15-3 advantage in first downs and 285-80 in total yards, but barely escaped with a 7-2 victory.  As far as the fallen spectators and shaken media, all were lucky to escape with their lives.  Although six fans were hospitalized, including one with internal injuries, there were no casualties.  In regards to Mehre, he was indeed delighted to win and go on back to Athens, but not before being shaken himself.  "I thought I was having an attack of delirium tremens and seeing things," the head coach recalled upon the stands collapsing.

In Jacksonville's Gator Bowl in 1980, legendary Larry Munson famously blurted, "The stadium... well the stadium fell down, now they do have to renovate this place... they'll have to rebuild it now."  Forty-six years before the Belue-to-Scott miracle which defeated the Gators, the Bulldogs had appeared in a game where the stadium literally did fall down.  Also against Furman in 1934, Georgia learned a valuable lesson: don't overlook the Hurricane, especially while playing in Hurricane-like conditions.  As far as the Hurricane, they learned against Georgia that "they'll have to rebuild it now" as Furman trustees would vote that year to begin seeking funds to build a new stadium.

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