The Great War and Southern football – Newnan Times-Herald

Richard Proctor
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The Newnan Times-Herald

For most of us Southern college football fans, we have not seen the impact of war on our sport as those that lived during World War I and World War II.
The closest came on Sept. 11, 2001 after the terrorist attacks caused a pause in the college football season of that year. In 1917 and 1918 war would have an impact on the players, coaches, schools, and fans.

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In the spring of 1917, Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, April 6 to be exact, and America was not ready. The army was small and in no way prepared to ship out to Europe for the type of war that was going on. The war had been going on since 1914 and had pretty much developed into trench warfare where captured ground was measured in yards and bodies rather than miles.
With the notion of War, young men all over the South flocked to recruiting stations to sign up. Southerners have a history of wanting to get into a brawl, probably why college football is so strong here.
Colleges lost students and teams lost players. When the fighting broke out for Americans in 1918, with the Argonne offensive, the public had a larger interest in casualty lists than Saturday football games. In addition, many schools had now become military schools with their primary purpose being to produce military officers.
A quote is taken from one of my books on football in my library, The History of Southern Football:
“Football is a game that demands mass support and feminine adulation to produce its color. There was nobody much who cared about seeing football games in the fall of 1918, and the fair sex was more interested in men who wore Sam Browne belts than men who wore a letter sweater.”
But in either case, football did go on. In 1917 Heisman took his Georgia Tech Team on to a National Championship and in 1918 the trophy went North where it was shared by Michigan and Pitt.
For the other team in Georgia, The University of Georgia, they suspended football for the 1917 and 1918 seasons. This caused a cessation of play between Georgia and Georgia Tech that would actually not commence again until 1925. The war created some animosity as The UGA faithful contended that its players all went off to war while Tech’s did not.
During the annual Senior Parade at Georgia, one of the displays was a tank followed by two Model T Fords. The banner that was stretched between them read:
“1917 Georgia in France 1918”
“Tech in ‘Lanta 1917-1918”
If ever there was animosity between the two schools, it went supersonic that year. The reality was both teams had players in the war and in fact from the 1916 Clean Old Fashioned Hate game, both Tech and Georgia would have a player go off and die in the war.
Most of the rest of the Southern teams continued playing during those years and many rosters were filled with soldiers rather than students, but the game survived and in 1919 it resumed as if the war never happened. Today we consider our sports a diversion, not to be interrupted by world events or even local events in the fall such as weddings and such. But in a time as it was back in 1917 and 1918, sports were secondary to service to the country.
Richard Proctor, born in Newnan, recently moved back from Denver, Colorado, and is an avid college football fan as well as a published author. He is the son of Dr. Ernest Proctor PAPP Clinic.
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