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March 8, 2014

For When the Bell Tolled

As these "University boys" demonstrate long
ago, the Chapel bell has been ringing after
Georgia football games for 120 years.
I was recently asked to write a "traditions" story for a Georgia football magazine on the University's distinguished Chapel bell.  Fully aware that there are conflicting reports of when the bell was first rung following a UGA football game, I set out to finally discover the initial documented time the bell tolled in triumph.

The athletic department states, "In the 1890's, the playing field was located only yards from the Chapel and first year students were compelled to ring the bell until midnight in celebration of a Bulldog victory," suggesting the initial celebratory ringing resulted after a game in Athens (while also suggesting Georgia was known as the "Bulldogs" more than 20 years before officially given the nickname).

The popular opinionone shared by yours truly for years up until, well, a few days agoof when the bell first rung ironically did not result after a victory, but a 0-0 tie with Auburn in 1901.  Playing in Atlanta, Georgia was considered such an underdog that a tie was regarded as a moral victory of sorts.  Word of the "winning" draw reached Athens and the tradition of ringing the bell in celebration was supposedly born.

Both standpoints are accuratesomewhat accurate.   

From what I discovered, and for what it’s worth, the first documented ringing of the Chapel bell following a UGA football game did occur during the 1890s, but not because the field was located near the Chapel since the initial ringing did not follow a game played in Athens.  In accordance to popular opinion, the first time was indeed after facing Auburn in Atlanta, but followed a Georgia victory occurring seven years prior to the 0-0 tie in 1901.

On November 24, 1894, at Athletic Park in Atlanta, Georgia and Auburn met for just the second time in the teams’ short football histories.  Late in an 8 to 8 tied contest, Georgia star Rufus “Cow” Nalley tackled Auburn’s punter behind the goal line for a game-winning safety.
Rufus Nalley: the Georgia player whose safety
prompted the first documented ringing of the 
victory bell (and one of the few Georgia players
nicknamed for a type of livestock).
Georgia’s 10-8 win was celebrated by students back home first by lighting a bonfire followed by their participation in a tradition that would soon become customary.  “[Students] were celebrating their foot ball victory over Auburn in fine style,” reported The Athens Banner.  “The chapel bell was ringing and the campus was ablaze.”

Regarding the two faulty viewpoints, one (maybe two, but no more than three) may wonder how they originated.  As far as the bell first being rung during the 1890's in Athens, UGA began playing football that decade, the Chapel is in Athens, and simply that was good enough for the blanket statement.  As far as 1901 against Auburn, I assume this became popular opinion because of what Stegeman said.

In the book The Ghosts of Herty Field (1966) by the late and esteemed John Stegemana three-sport letterman at UGA and a leading Georgia football historian, whose father was the namesake of the University's Coliseumthe author declares "the bell has tolled the tidings of Georgia football victories ever since" after he details the 0-0 tie with Auburn in 1901.  I guess this led some to conclude this particular contest was the initial time the bell was first rung after a football game, although in his defense, Stegeman never literally claimed as much.

When exactly UGA's victory bell first tolled following a game, no one will ever really know.  I have a hunch it occurred after Georgia's very first gamethe 50-0 romp over Mercer at Herty Field in 1892.  Nonetheless, as mentioned, the first documented ringing I could find followed the seventh victory in the program’s history, and resulted after a "Cow" dropped a Plainsman for a safety in Atlanta.  

Alas, in regard to when my findings will replace the two flawed standpoints in the annals of UGA football history, it'll likely never happen, just like my pursuit to rightfully credit Georgia with three additional victories.  I'm guessing for such cases, as they say, history cannot be rewritten, even if "history" is somewhat inaccurate.   

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