Mercer and Furman have a lot in common. They were founded more than 180 years ago, Furman in 1826 and Mercer seven years later in 1833.
They both have deep Southern Baptist roots and are named for Baptist ministers, Furman for Richard Furman, who was president of the first Baptist Convention of America, and Mercer for Jesse Mercer, who provided the school’s founding endowment and who served as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention for 19 years, from 1822-1841.
And now the two schools’ athletics programs play as members of the Southern Conference. Furman has been in that conferencee, which was established in 1921, since 1936 while Mercer is brand new, having come aboard July 1 of this year.
When the teams meet in football at Mercer University Stadium at 6 p.m. on Saturday, it will be the 13th time the schools have met on the gridiron. But it’s the first time since the 1936 season when the “Purple Hurricanes” (changed to Paladins in 1961) came away with a 20-9 win, their third straight over the Bears.
Furman defeated Mercer 9-3 in 1934 and 32-0 in 1935. Mercer and Furman battled to a tie at 6 in 1933 after the Bears had lost 2-0 the previous season.
Furman leads the overall series record at 6-4-2.
In that 1936 game, which was homecoming for Mercer, Furman dominated play with 22 first downs compared to just three for the Bears. Mercer’s only touchdown came on a 96-yard interception run by Allen Bloodworth, who also kicked the extra point. Mercer’s other score came when the Bears tackled a Furman player, who had fumbled, in the end zone.
That Mercer team featured six players who are now in the school’s athletics hall of fame: Bloodworth, Swede Olsson, Wright Bazemore, Billy Smith, Alton Owen, and Harry Lichter,
It’s ironic that the Bears’ first Southern Conference football game comes against Furman. That is the alma mater of Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb, who not only played for the Paladins, but spent 29 years in Greenville as a player, assistant coach and head coach. Lamb, who is a member of the Furman Athletic Hall of Fame, was a two-year starter for the Paladins and was part of three Southern Conference championships.
In his senior year in 1985, he was named Southern Conference player of the year and led his team to a national runner-up finish in Division I-AA (now FCS) as it lost to Georgia Southern 44-42 in the championship game.
He spent 16 seasons as an assistant coach during which time Furman won the national championship in 1988. Lamb took over as head coach in 2001 and took Furman team to the FCS playoffs four times, advancing to the semifinals in 2004. His record as head coach at Furman is 67-40, and 43-15 in Southern Conference play.
The Mercer head coach said he expects to have some mixed emotions about the game prior to the kickoff since he spent 29 years as part of the purple and white.
But when that takes place, he will be all about Mercer. As far as having his first Southern Conference game coming against Furman, that really didn’t matter to him.
The Bears have a perfect 9-0 record in the friendly confines of Mercer Stadium.
AndI know Bobby Lamb doesn’t want Furman to be the school that ends that winning streak.
Contact Bobby Pope at email@example.com