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Glory, Glory to Old Georgia: A Special Anniversary

It was the morning before college opened that I had my first sight of athletics at the University. Charles Ed Morris was standing under the shade of a large tree between the chapel and the Moore building, batting out flies to Cecil Wilcox, the Mell boys, and others, standing near the top of a high hill on the same elevation [as Old College]. . . . Between the batters and the fielders was a deep gulch (I use the word advisedly). So steep was the decline from the outfield . . . that it was dangerous for the fielder to run forward on a fly ball and the ever-present small boy was utilized for returning to the batter the balls which fell short of the far outfield.

So wrote Charles Herty in the October 30, 1897, edition of The Red and Black, describing a scene from his undergraduate days at the University of Georgia in 1884. These words of the Father of Georgia Football were quoted by John F. Stegeman, the son of Georgia coach and athletic director Herman Stegeman, in his book The Ghosts of Herty Field.

What the young Charles Herty saw, of course, was the field that would come to bear his name after he returned to the Classic City as a chemistry instructor in 1891. Georgia athletics had progressed little in the interim, although, even in Herty's student days, the seeds of future glory had been planted. "We had a football," noted a contemporary of Herty's, "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 seeing how far it could be kicked." So wrote Thomas Walter Reed in his manuscript entitled "History of the University of Georgia."

On the day Charles Herty came back to his alma mater to teach, the southernmost city to have hosted a college football game was Raleigh, N.C., but the young professor set out to change that. A lack of nearby opponents prevented Herty from arranging a game for the fall of 1891, but, as noted by Stegeman fils, "Mercer College agreed to organize a team to meet the University after Christmas." It was to be the first college football game played in the Deep South.

The Athens Banner's report of the event read as follows:

The Mercer boys came in at twelve o'clock and brought with them two cars full of students and citizens of Macon, Madison, and other places along the line of the Macon and Northern. They were taken in charge by the University boys and entertained at their different homes. . . . It was a fine delegation of young men and young ladies and a nicer crowd never came on a visit to Athens.

The University campus was decorated with black and crimson and on the field one goal was decorated with university colors, the other with Mercer colors. Long before three o'clock the crowd began to assemble and the yells of the two colleges were alternately raised with a vim by the boys. The university goat was driven across the field by the boys and raised quite a ripple of laughter. At three o'clock there were over one thousand people on the grounds, and the presence of so many ladies from the city, the Lucy Cobb [Institute] and the Home School, added inspiration to the occasion.

The Red and Black---they would not be called "Bulldogs" until after the sixth game of their 1920 Southern Conference championship season---won the contest, 50-0, and thus began the history of University of Georgia football.

That inaugural Georgia-Mercer contest took place in the Classic City on January 30, 1892 . . . 115 years ago today.

Happy birthday, Bulldog Nation.

Go 'Dawgs!