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September 18, 2015

When Carolina Called It Quits

The 1900 UGA football team... you won't find
any quitters (or, babies) in this group!
When the Bulldogs' season opener against ULM was called with nearly 10 minutes remaining in the game, someone turned to me in the press box and asked when was the last time a Georgia football game ended "significantly" prematurely (i.e., with more than just mere seconds remaining)...

Around the turn of the century and prior to lighting being installed at football fields in the South, Georgia had a number of games called early because of darkness. Yet, around the same time, there was also a game involving the Red and Black which ended prematurely while having nothing to do with visibility, nor the weather, but when UGA's visitors simply couldn't play "good, clean football," as it was reported, nor take "decisions like men." 

In 1900, American football was relatively new and a much different sport than it is 115 years later. The field was 110 yards long, touchdowns were each worth five points, and it would not be until 1906 until forward passing was permitted. In addition, only five yards were needed for a first down, yet with the game resembling more of a rugby scrum than what we know as football, first downs and yardage were actually hard to come by. 

Such was the case on October 20, 1900, when a 1-0 Georgia team, which had opened its campaign with a victory over Georgia Tech, hosted a South Carolina squad, playing in its season opener, at Herty Field in Athens. 

With less than five minutes remaining in a game consisting of two 25-minute halves, which had been agreed upon by the two programs prior to the contest, Georgia and South Carolina were tied, 5-5. The two teams had combined to gain 238 yards of offense on 73 plays (for the "sake" of the post, admittedly, I hand tallied the game's statistics), each scoring a touchdown and missing the extra-point attempt. With 13 minutes remaining in the opening half, Georgia fullback Samuel Hewlett scored the Red and Black's touchdown, which was answered by Carolina's right halfback and team captain, Joe Bell, early in the second half.

Already, the contest had experienced some controversy just before the first half ended. Trailing 5-0, Carolina had the ball only two feet from Georgia's goal. Two rushing attempts moved the ball just inches away from a touchdown. Just before the ball was snapped for a third try, the game's referee, a Rowbotham, whistled that the half had ended, negating the ensuing touchdown plunge by a South Carolina player. 

But, even more controversy was to follow. 

During the 1900 football season, a student's
depiction of a UGA football game. 
With the score knotted at five towards the end of the game, a series of lost fumbles capped the contest's final few possessions, the last of which causing quite a stir: Carolina fumbled while possessing the ball near its own goal line. When Rowbotham unpiled the mass of players, "hugging the ball for dear life" at the bottom of the pile was Georgia right end Julian Baxter. 

As the Red and Black lined up at Carolina's 5-yard line in attempt to drive for the game-winning score, they realized there was no defense to oppose them. Captain Bell had ordered his team off the field, charging the officials with “robbery” and indicating the game could be given to Georgia.

Carolina's Bell, who rushed for a game-high 70 yards on 16 carries, was beyond irate with Rowbothaman esteemed referee at the time who, along with the length of the halves, had been previously agreed upon by both schools to be one of the game's two officials. Before Bell ended the game by charging off the field with his team, according to The Atlanta Constitution, he had already claimed the officials were,  "incompetent, dishonest, and determined to defeat his team" after Rowbotham had ended the first half just prior to Carolina's apparent touchdown.

After Carolina called it quits, Rowbotham waited a few minutes, and then had no choice but to call the game, awarding Georgia a 5-0 forfeited victory per Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association rules.

But, the peculiarity of this very old-school football game had just started, demonstrating that the battle between Georgia and Carolina extended beyond the gridiron, but in the press, as well.

An entire three days after the game, The State (Columbia, S.C.) finally ran a story detailing the Georgia-Carolina meeting. The newspaper first claimed that their story was late printing (three days late?) because a Western Union telegraph office in Athens purposely closed early on Carolina's team manager, L.C. Crawford, keeping him from sending his report of the game to the newspaper.

The State also claimed Rowbotham was a "referee on the steal," "Carolina was cheated out of a touchdown" right before halftime, and Carolina quarterback Harry Withers, and not Georgia's Baxter, recovered the fumble at the end of the game. In addition, the newspaper declared that even if Georgia rightfully recovered the fumble, there wasn't enough time to "have scored again" anyway (even though possessing the ball on Carolina's 5-yard line with nearly five minutes remaining).

The Athens Banner promptly fired back at the "babyish" report, or "tale of woe," by The State, declaring "the strangest baby tale" was "not authentic which, by the way, is a mild way of putting it."

For the only game I can think of in UGA football history called prematurely, while having nothing to do with visibility or the weather, the 'Cocks' take-my-ball-and-go-home attitude is only a small blemish on an otherwise proud tradition of USC football. So proud, surely if Joe Bell would have known that USC football would have been mired in mediocrity for over a century, while having a non-winning all-time record as late as the end of the 2009 season, the Carolina captain would have stuck it out with more of a winning attitude, and not simply satisfied with defeat.

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