A lengthy church council meeting on Thursday evening kept me from getting home until it was almost halftime of the Alabama-Georgia State game, but I was pleased to learn upon my return that Mercer reportedly will announce the revival of its football program on Friday. (The hat tip on that datum goes to MaconDawg.)
This is splendid news for fans of the Georgia Bulldogs. We have a long history with the Macon institution, dating back literally to the inception of Red and Black football: Mercer initially organized a football team for the purpose of providing Georgia with its first opponent. The future Bulldogs inaugurated the Athens football program against the Baptists. Mercer also served as the first opponent for the eventual Yellow Jackets, although the Bears’ 1892 meetings with the Peach State’s two present-day Division I-A teams ended quite differently, with a 50-0 loss to Georgia but a 12-6 win over Georgia Tech.
Wally Butts, the second-winningest head coach in Bulldog football history, was a Mercer University alumnus, and the Bulldogs faced the Bears 22 times between the inception of both gridiron programs in 1892 and the discontinuation of Mercer football during the Second World War. Georgia holds a 22-0 series lead, with only four of the Red and Black’s wins coming by margins of a touchdown or less. In the most recent series meeting in 1941, Coach Butts guided the Orange Bowl-bound Bulldogs to an 81-0 victory in the season-opener in Macon.
Since taking over as athletic director, Greg McGarity has made clear his intention to increase the number of home games between the hedges and schedule less challenging non-conference opponents. That almost certainly means the Bulldogs will take on one Division I-AA squad each autumn, so the resumption of the series with Mercer would be a beneficial move for both programs. The ‘Dawgs would get a win, the Bears would get a paycheck, everyone would be pleased to see the money remain within the state, and a small yet significant sliver of the Red and Black’s football heritage would cease being an historical footnote in sepia tones and become instead a present-day reality in living color.
This is good news. I wish the Bears well on the gridiron, and I hope I may look forward to seeing Mercer take the field in Sanford Stadium a few short seasons hence.