Chapter 118

December 1, 1923   One More Game- The Georgia Bulldogs 

Over the years since Centre had begun playing football, the college had played many of the schools which formed the Southern Conference; Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Tennessee, Tulane, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Sewanee, Washington and Lee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson, South Carolina, Auburn- 15 in all- but Centre and the University of Georgia had never met, and the initial game between the two football teams was being built up because, if Centre won, the Colonels would claim the "Southern Championship."

Centre was now 7-1. Georgia was 5-3, having started with two wins, but then the Bulldogs of Athens had gone on the road on October 13 and been plummeted by the Bulldogs of New Haven, 40-0. After the pounding by Yale, Georgia shut out Tennessee, Auburn and Virginia before falling to Vanderbilt and Alabama by decisive margins.

Georgia 7             Mercer 0
Georgia 20          Oglethorpe  6
Georgia 0             Yale  40
Georgia 17           Tennessee 0
Georgia 7             Auburn 0
Georgia 13           Virginia 0
Georgia 7             Vanderbilt 35
Georgia 0             Alabama 36

Centre and Georgia had common opponents in Oglethorpe and Auburn, with Centre seemingly the slightly better team when comparable scores are factored in. However, Georgia had the home field advantage, so the game was really seen as a toss-up.

Centre  20   Oglethorpe 0  
Georgia  20    Oglethorpe  6
Centre  17   Auburn  0  
Georgia  7   Auburn  0

Ed Danforth of the Atlanta "Georgian," the same Ed Danforth who toured around the South in comparing how various college football programs stacked up each fall, and who had earlier in the year felt that Kentucky was going to be the class of the region's teams, was having second thoughts. He now had gotten in Centre's corner.

On the face of returns to date, Centre College has a superior eleven to the one that they had last year. Few expected Centre to survive without Red Roberts, yet look what the little S.I.A.A. institution has done to the haughty members of the Southern Conference.

They have defeated Clemson, Kentucky, Auburn, Sewanee and Washington and Lee, all by rather decisive scores. They would not be wrong in claiming the conference championship, even though they don't belong. The conference ought to elect them honorary members, at least their football team.

This was an amazing declaration. A writer in Atlanta, the largest city which had a college in the Southern Conference, was saying that little Centre, a school which hadn't been invited to join up when the schools broke away from the S.I.A.A., had outclassed the Conference members. There would be major ramifications after Danforth's column. But while the fallout was still simmering, the issue at hand was Centre's going to Athens, Georgia, to play the Georgia Bulldogs.

You can't write about the University of Georgia without relating a little about the school's nickname. In 1920, a writer for the Atlanta "Journal" proposed that Georgia adopt the bulldog as a mascot since, "there is a certain dignity as well as ferocity" in the animal. Another writer picked up on the idea in reporting on a game later in the season with Virginia, and an English bulldog wearing a spiked collar and red jersey became one of the most identifiable of all college symbols.

The mascot has taken on the initials of the University of Georgia, and is called "Uga."

The late humorist, Lewis Grizzard, a die-hard Georgia fan, told a wonderful story about Uga. The mascot was brought out on the field and placed on the 50 yard line during a halftime performance.

Uga began to lick himself in a place which dogs are prone to lick. Two good ol' boys were sitting high in the stands and one leaned over toward the other and said, "Man, I wish I could do that!"

His friend replied, "Hey, if you did, that dog would bite you!"

Of course, when Grizzard told the story, the word "bite" was drawn out with a drawl peculiar to the South.

Centre traditionally played a Thanksgiving game, but 1923 was to be an exception. Georgia wanted to play the Saturday after the holiday, and Centre agreed to December 1.

Georgia Tech was playing Auburn on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, in Atlanta. Since there was to be no post-season trip, the administration thought it would a reward for a season well played to have the Colonels go down for the game in Atlanta and take in the Tech-Auburn game and then board the train over to Athens, a sort of "long weekend" affair. They'd miss no school as it was closed for the holiday.

The Colonels left on Wednesday, November 28, at 10:45 P.M. on the Southern's Cincinnati-Atlanta Express. Breakfast was next morning in the dining car, and arrival at Atlanta's big Union Station was at 11:25 A.M. Centre's alumni met the team with big, 4- door cars and transported the members to a restaurant for a quick lunch, and then it was off to Grant Field and the game.   

Atlanta's Union Station where Centre's alumni met the team

A special selection of excellent seats had been reserved for the Colonels and entourage.

Centre's players were inwardly pulling for Auburn, a team they had beaten rather handily, 17-0. If Auburn beat Tech on Tech's home field, it would follow that Centre was the better team regarding the Georgians. However, they didn't want to display any emotion and appear disrespectful to their hosts.

The game was hard fought, and ended in a scoreless tie. The fact that Centre had racked up 17 points against Auburn, and Tech couldn't score on the Tigers, wasn't lost on the writers covering the game. The comparable scores were another indication that Centre could play with any of the schools in the Southern Conference, and that realization was pouring fuel on a soon to erupt firestorm regarding the Colonels which was being discussed in multiple phone calls across the South, even as the Colonels were spending the Thanksgiving weekend in Atlanta and Athens.

After the game, the Colonels went by both dressing rooms to congratulate the teams and then it was back to the station for the 80 mile ride east over to Athens, the last leg being a run down a spur off the main east-west line of the Southern. The team was staying at Athens' most elegant hotel, the Georgian, a 5 story brick structure of 125 rooms built in 1909.

Hotel Georgian, Athens' first "luxury hotel" built in 1909

Once again, there was time to tour the downtown and even walk into some of the surrounding residential areas on the mild, Georgian night.

Friday morning, the University of Georgia had guides to show the team around the campus. Of particular interest was a building which dated back to 1806, now called Old College. The building was fashioned after Connecticut Hall at Yale, built in 1752, and just as the building at Yale was the oldest in New Haven, Old College was the oldest building in Athens.

"It was nearly torn down because it became so dilapidated, but the state gave the school $10,000 in 1908 to save it."

Several of the Colonels told the guide about Old Centre, how well it had been maintained, and how, "If Old Centre were to be torn down, I'm not sure there would be a Centre College. It's the symbol of our school."

Georgia had a student body of approximately 1,500 students in 1923, nearly six times the size of Centre, and the numerous classical buildings dwarfed the campus in Danville, but the same sentiment was expressed in Athens as had been when the team walked the grounds of Harvard.

"It may be bigger, but we wouldn't trade our little school for any place on this earth."

Friday afternoon, there was a workout at Georgia's Sanford Field. The Bulldogs facility was completed in 1911 along Lumpkin Street and could be used for both baseball and football.

The original Sanford Field played on by the Colonels

( Stanford Field was replaced by Stanford Stadium in 1929. The new stadium originally held 30,000 and has been increased in seating to the present 92,746.)

The Colonels were met before the workout by Coach George Woodruff who was in his first year as the head coach. Woodruff was an interesting fellow. He was from a prominent Columbus, Georgia family, and had been a star and the captain in 1911 of the 7-1-1 Georgia team, then called the Red and Black. Woodruff didn't need the money which the coaching position paid, having a successful insurance business, and had an arrangement in which Georgia gave him $1.00 yearly with the rest of his salary being donated to the athletic department.

( Woodruff coached for 5 years, and his last team in 1927 was 9-1, losing the season final to Georgia Tech which knocked Georgia out of a Rose Bowl invitation. The team selected in place of the Bulldogs was Pittsburgh. In Chapter 113, you will read about another George Woodruff who was the University of Pennsylvania football coach from 1892-1901. These was no kinship. )

The game was a sellout as was usual when Centre played. Sanford Field had a somewhat "L" shape with a covered main section and another uncovered stand at the end of the south end zone. The crowd was swelled by many graduates who were using the Centre game as a Homecoming, plus those who came to Athens because of being fascinated with the Colonels' meteoric rise in the football world.

Centre had to shuffle its lineup due to Elmer Rabenstein and Murrell Summers still being slowed by injuries from the W&L game. The backfield was going to be composed of Case Thomasson, Minos Gordy, Hope Hudgins, who was back at full speed, and Herb Covington.

Webster Seeley, a sophomore, was going to be a new starter at end. As the game began, these were two teams on a mission.

Centre was playing for what could be considered the "Southern Championship."

Georgia was seeking to show that it was a better team than the one which had been beaten soundly in its last two games by Vanderbilt and Alabama.

Back in Danville, the "Grid-Graph" wasn't utilized due to most of the students being off campus for vacation. Dr. John Stout ran a wire into his theatre and set a price which included the game and a later movie.

The Georgia game was a defensive struggle. The Bulldogs scored first on a 28 yard field goal by Joe Bennett in the 1st quarter. Toward the end of the half, Hennie Lemon tied it with a 31 yard effort.

Hennie Lemon's field goal tied the game. His other attempts failed.

That's the way the game ended, 3-3.

Georgia won statistically, running up 14 first downs to Centre's 5. Even though the Colonels' were out-gained, they nearly won the game when Lemon booted a field goal in the 3rd quarter which hit the crossbar, bounced straight up, and came down just inches on the short side of the goalpost.

But for an inch, Centre would have been the undisputed "Champions of the South. "

While the failure to come away with a win was somewhat of a disappointment, the season had been a big success, with the only loss being the game played in Philadelphia. Centre could still claim the mythical "Southern Championship," or at least a part of it.

Of the Southern Conference teams, no school went through 1923 undefeated and untied. Only three colleges had no losses in conference play.

Southern Conference Play Only

Vanderbilt  4-0-1 ( tied Mississippi State )
W&L            4-0-1 ( tied Kentucky )
Florida        1-0-2 ( tied Georgia Tech and Mississippi State)

Centre's 5-0-1 record against Southern Conference teams looked pretty good when comparing 1923's teams, with wins over Clemson, Kentucky, Sewanee, Auburn and Washington and Lee, and the tie with Georgia. The Colonels returned back to Danville confidant in their standing amongst the best teams in Southern football for the year after claiming the Southern Championship.

                                                                                 Centre claims the Southern Championship

After the Georgia game, while still in the dressing room in Athens, the Colonels had  an election to select a captain for 1924. There was really only person who was even considered.

Herb Covington would assume the captaincy. Covey had come a long way since his Danville arrival in September of 1921.

Herb Covington

A story was published in the "Messenger" after the election was announced.

Herbert Covington of Mayfield, Ky., brilliant little quarterback of Centre College, was unanimously elected captain of the 1924 Colonels immediately following the CentreĀ­-Georgia game. Covey has been one of the Gold and White's mainstays for the past three seasons, and his many friends will be pleased to hear of his election.

Covey can run with the ball, pass or kick. He is also a sterling defensive man and a fine field general. Well does he deserve the honor that has been bestowed upon him by his mates, and congratulations are in order.

After the Georgia game, the Danville Chamber of Commerce held a banquet attended by members of the organization and the Colonels and school officials.

Eighteen 1923 letter winners of the gold "C" were announced.

George Chinn
Herb Covington
Franklin Gleim
Minos Gordy
Jimmy Green
Carl Hilker
Hope Hudgins
Ed Kubale
Hennie Lemon
Howard Lynch
Elmer Rabenstein
Frank Rubarth
Webster Seeley
Walter Skidmore
Albert Spurlock
Murrell Summers
Case Thomasson
Robert Wallace

The only senior was Jimmy Green. George Chinn questionably had another year of eligibility due to missing a season during to injuries but didn't come back in 1924. Hope Hudgins had announced that he couldn't return for his senior year.

Overall, things were looking good for the upcoming season. The just completed campaign had been very successful at 7-1-1. The new stadium was no longer a dream but a fact. The seniors returning promised to provide an experienced core for 1924. The freshmen team had just concluded a good year, beating Kentucky twice, Eastern Kentucky, Stanford High and Kentucky Wesleyan. Their lone loss in a 5-1 season was to Sewanee.

Walter Camp's edited "Official Intercollegiate Football Guide" of 1924 paid tribute to the 1923 Colonels while pointing out that Centre accomplished what was considered a successful season with "practically no reserve strength" which actually forecast accurately the future conditions of the upcoming season. 

Summary of 1923 season in Spalding's "Official Intercollegiate Football Guide" 

However, everyone eagerly awaited the 1924 season, because it appeared that Centre could continue on the roll which had begun in 1917 when the Chief,  Uncle Charlie, and the boys from North Side High in Fort Worth arrived in Danville, forever changing the face of not only Centre College football, but of college football across the entire country.

Herb Covington made every All-Southern team announced at the end of the season, of which there were many.

Herb Covington, All-Southern

Ed Kubale won an honor which was much deserved after his play in Philadelphia. Each year, the Pennsylvania squad selected an AllĀ­-Franklin Field team designating the outstanding players who had faced off against the Quakers during the season.

Ed Kubale

Kubale was the only member of the team from outside the East.