Mercer football no stranger to big-name opponents

sports@macon.comAugust 12, 2013 

The Mercer football team held its first practice of the preseason Thursday at Anderson Field.

BY DANIEL SHIRLEY — The Telegraph

The last time Mercer played a football game, Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor was still 10 days away, you could take in the movie “Shepherd of the Hills” starring John Wayne and Betty Field at the Capitol Theatre for 11 cents, or you could buy eight pounds of oranges for 38 cents at the A&P. And, if you needed a good ride, you could pick up a 1938 Packard from Charles H. Yates Motors for $495.

That was Nov. 27, 1941, Thanksgiving day, when the Bears traveled to Chattanooga, Tenn., to take on the then-named Chattanooga Moccasins in the final regular season game of that season. Unknown to all involved at the time, that game proved to be the final game for Mercer for more than 70 years.

On Aug. 31, Mercer will resume football after that long time off when the Bears play host to Reinhardt at Mercer University Stadium.

Technically, the Bears will be out to snap a losing streak. Mercer lost its final four games of the 1941 campaign, including a 40-13 setback at the hands of Chattanooga before a crowd of 3,988. The win gave Chattanooga the Dixie Conference Championship. The highlight for Mercer in the loss was a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Knuck McCrary, who went on to become the football head coach at Moultrie.

The 1941 team was coached by Bobby Hooks and featured some outstanding players, including running backs Rod Blaylock and Tony Page and lineman Frank Wary. All three are in the Mercer Athletics Hall of Fame.

The Bears finished the year with a 3-6 record after starting the season losing 81-0 at Porter Stadium to Georgia. That contest attracted the largest crowd to ever see a game at Mercer. According to Bobby Wilder’s book, “Gridiron Glory Days,” the contest brought in revenue in excess of $4,000. The next week against Georgia Teachers College, which later became Georgia Southern, the financial report from the game showed a net loss of $130.

It was not unusual for the Bears to play the “big boys” during their initial 50 years of football. They played Georgia 22 times during that period but never were able to beat the Bulldogs. The closest they came was a 13-12 loss during the 1933 season, Georgia amassed 656 points during the 22-game series, while Mercer could muster only 71. Mercer’s 1940 schedule included games against Tennessee, Alabama and LSU to open the season.

In a conversation in the summer of 2010 with the late James D. “Spec” Landrum, who was a star quarterback for Mercer from 1937-39, he said, “Our won-loss record was not indicative of the caliber of the team. We played a lot of the SEC schools for guarantees to pay for the program and didn’t have much of an opportunity for success. Winning and losing was not a true measure of football at Mercer.”

While at Mercer, Landrum competed against Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Tennessee and Tulane, in addition to teams like Wofford, Newberry, Howard, Presbyterian and Mississippi College.

Mercer received $9,250 in guarantees for the 1938 season. Wilder’s book revealed the budget for football and basketball for the 1941 season was $14,050, which did not include Hooks’ salary of $2,700.

To give you an idea of guarantees today, Georgia State received $435,000 to play a game at Alabama in 2010 in its first season of football. Most schools competing at the FBS level won’t play a guarantee game for less than $1 million today. I am sure Mercer will receive a pretty good payday when they play at Georgia Tech to open the 2016 season. That game was announced Monday.

For now, Mercer’s record crowd of 11,500 against Georgia in 1941 could be in jeopardy for the opener against Reinhardt. More than 5,000 season tickets have been sold for this revival season, and single-game tickets to that game sold out in less than an hour.

Former Mercer athletics director and sports information director Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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