University of Georgia
August 2016
1 football game for the history books

The University of Georgia's first football team. After crushing Mercer 50-0 in its first game in January 1892, a large contingent from UGA and Athens took a train to Piedmont Park for the second game against Auburn. Georgia lost, but it was the birth of the Bulldog Nation.

1 UGA football game for the history books

The second football game in UGA history was against Auburn in Atlanta. It was the birth of the Bulldog Nation.

From 1885 to 1950, Thomas Walter Reed was an eyewitness to much of the University of Georgia’s history, as well as one of the best-loved members of the campus community. Retiring as Registrar in 1945, he began to draft a monumental history of the university. As Reed presented his typescript draft (more than 4,000 pages) to the University in 1948 he noted, "It is not such as I would call anything like a finished piece of work, but it may do some good to file it away."

The following is Reed’s account of UGA’s first football team and an epic encounter with Auburn University in the team’s second game:

While it is true that something vaguely resembling football was indulged in by the students in the University of Georgia for several years prior to the playing of the first intercollegiate game between Mercer and Georgia in 1892, it could hardly be called the beginning of the sport on the University campus.

Several years before I entered the University in 1885 there was more or less talk among the students and alumni about organizing a team, but nothing definite resulted. During my college days we had a football and at times kicked it around on the playing field. It was a round, inflated rubber ball about eight inches in diameter and the main contest was that of seeing how far it could be kicked. We developed a few good punters, but such things as elaborately schemed tricky plays, forward passes, offside penalties and the like were not even in the realm of dreams. Nevertheless we got some fun out of the sport, but it did not interest the boys as much as baseball.

But there was even then in college a boy who was giving thought to the subject of football and indulging in speculation at least as to its being started in the University. He graduated in the Class of 1886 and shortly thereafter became an assistant in the Chemistry department. He continued to think about college football and studied the rules of the game so thoroughly as to be able to coach the team when on was organized. That boy was Charles Holmes Herty, of Milledgeville, Georgia, who in after years became a famous scientist, nationally and internationally recognized, and of whom more will be written in another part of this story of the University of Georgia.

In the fall of 1891 the first football team of the University was organized. All of the players were Georgia boys. There was no scouting all over the country in search of good football material, no athletic scholarships to attract the boys with athletic ability, no professional coaches, no official to massage bruised muscles or adjust dislocated joints. There were no giants on the team, but the players were physically fit, well-proportioned, full of Georgia spirit and amply supplied with that indispensable article, intestinal fortitude. When they finally went into action, they had mastered the technique of the game, that is all the technique there was at the time, under the training of Charlie Herty and gave a good account of themselves.

Mercer was our first opponent on the gridiron. It was a crushing defeat for mercer and the Georgia contingent occupied for a while the seventh heaven. The game was played in Athens January 30, 1892, and the score was Georgia 50, Mercer 0.

The second game was another story. It was against Auburn. We went out to win it, but just couldn’t deliver the goods. We came out on the small end of the score of 10 to 0 at Piedmont Park, February 20, 1892.

We didn’t have cheer leaders in those days, not even boy cheer leaders. The man who might have suggested a girl cheer leader would have at once faced a trial for lunacy and might have landed in the state asylum in Milledgeville instead of Piedmont Park in Atlanta.

But the boys knew how to yell. They had good lungs and knew how to use them. And while they did not have a multiplicity of yells as they now have, they did have one yell, and it is doubtful whether any of its successors represents an improvement. Except with some trimmings you do not hear the old yell now, but back in those days it was a corker. Here is the first Georgia yell as it was used in the game again Auburn in February 1892:

Hoo – rah – rah!
Hoo – rah – rah!
Hoo – rah – rah!

A few years prior to this time the Athletic Association had officially selected the colors of the University — red and black. There was a time when orange was blended with the red and black, but the Association, in the late eighties, had eliminated the orange.

It was decided that all the students who could possibly do so should go over to the game and there were many loyal Athenian citizens who wished to go. So a train was chartered from the Southern Railway and the trip to Atlanta via Lula was arranged.

As I remember there were five passenger coaches and they were packed to the doors with students and citizens. The coaches were elaborately decorated in red and black, and the locomotive was adorned from the pilot to the tender.

The writer of this story was at the time editor of the Athens Banner, but as full of football enthusiasm as any of the college boys. As a matter of fact he was nothing but a boy himself, having just passed his twenty-first birthday. Of course he was in that crowd and using his lungs to full capacity.

When the train reached Lula, it had to wait quite a while to let the regular trains on the main line pass. During the interval of time I taught the engineer how to blow the Georgia yell on the locomotive whistle. It was not a difficult thing to do.

Toot – Toot – Toot!
Toot – Toot – Toot!
Toot – Toot – Toot!
T – O – O – T!

Lula is sixty-six miles from Atlanta, and that engineer blew that Georgia yell at least five times for each mile. As the train passed through each town the inhabitants were amazed. This was especially true at Gainesville where quite a number of people were at the depot.

It was suggested that the engineer should blow the whistle continuously from the city limits of Atlanta right up to the old carshed. But there was one thing in the way of that kind of celebration in the municipal ordinance that forbade the blowing of a locomotive whistle within the city of Atlanta.

Now the Hon. William A. Hemphill was mayor of Atlanta and he was my good friend. So I wired him and asked that permission be given to blow our locomotive whistle inside the limits of Atlanta. I received his favorable answer at Norcross and the engineer with great pride kept that whistle going right up to the stop at the carshed. The people of Atlanta must have thought the world was coming to an end.

The weather that day was not at all friendly to the Georgia team. The Auburn team had the advantage in weight and Georgia was praying for a dry field. The Georgia prayers were not heard. At least they were not answered in the way the Georgia boys wished them to be heard. A drizzling rain had converted the playing field into a maze of soft earth with numerous small holes filled with water and to make the situation all the more uncomfortable the thermometer had taken a plunge downward and everybody was shivering.

Judged by the chance they had had to give a satisfactory performance in thus launching a new game in the capital city of the state, the two teams played a good game. It was full of excitement from start to finish.

The captain of the Georgia team was Frank J. Herty, a cousin of Charlie Herty. The boys called him “Si.” He weighed just about one hundred and thirty pounds, but it was all muscle and nerve. He was as active as a cat and afraid of nothing. In addition he was speedy and was relied on as one of the team’s best ground gainers.

In giving the names of the players on the team, the list appearing in the Pandora is used. The names of substitutes will not appear and hence some valiant players may be overlooked. Even memory will not enable this writer to avoid this.

That first Georgia football team that went on the field in the game against Auburn was as follows:

Frank J. Herty – Captain
Julian R. Lane – Manager

Center – E.W. Frey
Guards – George Shackleford, E. Park Howell, Jr.
Tackles – R. B. Nalley, A.O. Halsey
Ends – L.D. Fricke, J.R. Lane
Half Backs – F.J. Herty, J.O. Kimball
Quarter Back – W.N. Gramling
Full Back – H.C. Brown

All four classes in the University were represented on the team, there being one freshman, four sophomores, two juniors and four seniors.

That game was played more than fifty years ago [Editor’s note: This was written in 1940s.] There were thrilling details, but across that half century only one play remains within the call of memory.

Auburn’s center was a great big fellow named McKissick. He looked like he weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, but I guess two hundred and ten would have been nearer to the correct statement of his weight. He had the ball and was plunging through the Georgia team at will. He was past the middle stripe and well into Georgia territory. One by one the Georgia defenders went down. Finally there was only one man between him and the goal line. That man was little “Si” Herty. It was a David and Goliath affair, but the Georgia David had no slingshot and no smooth pebble from the brook. But “Si” faced the on-coming giant and at the proper time dived for his legs and reached them.

McKissick went down headforemost and his head was immersed in a mud puddle from which the water went up like a spray from a fountain. Auburn didn’t get that touchdown to add to the score already made.

It was a sad, bedraggled crowd that wended its way back to the train. The whistle was silent all the way home. But the spirit was still there. There would be other games in which defeat might be wiped out and victory celebrated.