Bobby Pope

Bears ready for historic road trip

sports@macon.com

Mercer quarterback John Russ gets congrats from Payton Usher (25) after scoring a touchdown Thursday against The Citadel.
Mercer quarterback John Russ gets congrats from Payton Usher (25) after scoring a touchdown Thursday against The Citadel. bcabell@macon.com

The Mercer football team travels up Interstate 75 this weekend to take on Georgia Tech in a Saturday afternoon game Bobby Dodd Stadium. It’s marks Mercer’s first game against an FBS program since the program restarted in 2013.

The two programs have not met on the gridiron since the 1938 campaign when the “Golden Tornado” blanked the Bears 19-0. Georgia Tech was actually dubbed the “Golden Tornado’’ from 1917 to 1929. But the teams’ history goes back long before that.

Georgia Tech’s first-ever football game came against Mercer on Nov. 5, 1892 at Macon’s Central City Park. There is a plaque located at Luther Williams Field commemorating that initial meeting, which was won 12-6 by Mercer.

While it was Georgia Tech’s first game, it was Mercer’s first win. Mercer had played two times the previous season, losing 50-0 to Georgia in Mercer’s first game and the first football game played in the state and 22-2 to Savannah Catholic Library.

In reviewing the box score from that initial meeting, it is apparent the game played then is a lot different from the one we know now. For instance, there were only nine starters for each team, including a centre (sic), a right guard, a left guard, a right tackle, a left tackle, a right end, a left end, a halfback and a fullback.

No quarterback was listed, and since the forward pass had not yet been introduced, it apparently was no problem. Most likely, the football then was more round than oval, and it is doubtful that helmets were used. They were not mandated for college football players until 1939. George Barclay is considered the inventor of the first helmet, called a head harness, but he didn’t come up with the idea until 1896.

The value of a touchdown in 1892 was four points with the successful “goal” (point after touchdown, I suppose) counting for two points. Mercer scored three touchdowns that day to account for its 12 points while Georgia Tech scored once and was successful on the point after for its six points. Interestingly, Mercer’s first two touchdowns were scored by S.L. Chapman, who was a starter at left tackle.

The final touchdown was scored by William Emmett Small, who was the left halfback. The “bigger” Mercer starting lineup averaged 164 pounds per man compared to 160 for Georgia Tech. The game attracted a large crowd with The Telegraph’s account saying that the bleachers were packed. It further stated in the story, “The game, while not brilliant, was full of earnest and determined effort and this sort of playing, is after all, the most enjoyable to watch.”

Mercer and Georgia Tech have squared off in football 15 times with the Yellow Jackets holding a 13-1-1 advantage. Georgia Tech has outscored Mercer 434-24, and that includes the 1914 meeting, which ended at 105-0.

In addition to Georgia Tech, the Bears’ future schedules include games against FBS opponents Auburn, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Memphis. If you look back at the early days of Mercer football (1892-1942), it was not unusual to see schedules that included the likes of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Army and LSU.

Mercer had particular success against the Gators, shutting them out the first five times they played in four wins and one tie. On the other side of the ledger, Mercer never defeated Georgia in 22 tries. The closest the Bears came was their 1933 homecoming game when they lost 13-12.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com.

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