The Deep South’s Miscounted Rivalry: Auburn’s 1899 win over Georgia was somehow erased from the record books

According to these guys, Auburn leads the series with Georgia 55-54-7.

According to these guys, Auburn leads the series with Georgia 55-54-7.

There’s some extra historical tug of war awesomeness to the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry (TM) this year…  or at least there would be if the Auburn-Georgia series really was tied at 54-54-8.

But it’s not. Or at least it shouldn’t be. And I’m not talking about 1992, as much as I could be, and already have.

No, I’m talking about the 1899 game, which for some reason the record book of man currently counts as a 0-0 tie, but which the record books of angels and Justice itself still have down as an Auburn win, 11-6.

The game was in Atlanta. Auburn was rocking, theatrical legend John Heisman at the soundboard in his last season as Auburn’s head coach, mixing in trick play after trick play with America’s first hurry-up offense. The big Georgia boys were paralyzed with amazement. As in, half the time they just stood there with no clue where the ball was, much to the amusement of the crowd which was split evenly between Auburn and Georgia supporters (and speckled with socialites aplenty), and which toward the end of the game was spilling liberally onto the playing field. Because that sort of thing—no idea what they were thinking—just happened back in the day, sometimes resulting in, oh, a stray cane knocking players unconscious (hey, cheats get beat) and cops being shoved. Somehow the sport managed. But when it happened when the sun was going down, things got really complicated. And controversial

For whatever reason, the game that year didn’t start until, best I can tell, 2 p.m, which was apparently pretty late for the 19th century—too late, according to that Walter Camp, when he was asked to give his opinion on how it ended… so late, in fact, no self-respecting ref should have even agreed to official the thing, he said. And maybe he was right, because even without commercials, the game was still going at dusk, which is why the fans got so close this time: They straight up couldn’t see. By games end, they couldn’t believe their eyes (that would have been my lead, I think).

It's so dark...

“It’s so dark…”

Auburn is up 11-6. And they’re driving. They’re on Georgia’s 20, about to score again. The game is in the bag. Except the ref, some joker named Referee Rowbotham, takes it out of the bag and shoots it in the head. The dude called the game on account of darkness.

With 30 seconds left.

Auburn 11 0, Georgia 6 0.

Those are the same zeros you see in one of the eight supposed ties that along with the supposedly equal number of wins supposedly has the series tied. Back then, no one could believe they were real. Not the Auburn players, who were, according to the Atlanta Journal, “deeply hurt” by the decision… hell, not even the Georgia players, who, though happy to technically not be losers had no qualms whatsoever with crediting Auburn with the win.

Here’s their halfback, last name of Young, talking to the Journal: “Auburn won the game by hard work and should have been given it. It was very distressing that the game should have been called when it was, and no one stands more ready to accord the  men from Alabama a victory—a clean, hard-fought-for victory—than I and other members of the Georgia eleven.”

That’s mighty sporting of Young, especially considering we tried to keep him from playing. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that part: Half of Georgia’s players weren’t technically enrolled at Georgia, at least not as students, or at least that was the claim: That they were soldiers just stationed in Athens or something, and according to Heisman and the rules, therefore ineligible. If they were eligible, they sure didn’t act like it. Before the game, Auburn’s captain and manager walked over to Georgia’s sideline with an affidavit stating that in playing the five players in question, no rules of the S.I.A.A. were being broken. Georgia refused to sign it.

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“Auburn won the game by hard work and should have been given it.” — Georgia player. [Atlanta Journal]

More Young: “They (Auburn) won the game on the score of 11 to 6 by football, and it is to be regretted that they were not allowed to play the remainder of the game and secure the full benefit of their work.”

What’s so weird about Rowbotham’s decision is that Auburn had actually tried to get him to call the game 15 minutes earlier for the safety of everyone involved. (Because it was dark, and for whatever reason the few cops that were there weren’t keeping people off the field, something the Journal couldn’t understand.) That meant that the gentlemen—nay, saints—of Auburn were willing to sacrifice a win to save lives.

But ol’ Rowbotham said no, keep playing… right up until the last 30 seconds, then stop, then sacrifice a win to save lives, when taking a knee or whatever they took back then would have had the same effect. As the Journal put it: “Had they been given one more chance to pass the ball, whether or not any score had been made, they would have been satisfied. But to call the game was to deprive them of the official victory, although it was admitted that they won the playing score.”

“We had worked hard for the game, and by good football had it won,” Heisman said, “and I feel very badly that the game was called. There was only one-half of a minute to play, and it was taking victory from between our teeth before we could enjoy it. Georgia played hard ball, but we had the game won, and it should be given to us.”

IT WAS.

Auburn protested the decision of the game, they protested it hard. And it worked.

On November 19, 1900, one year and one day since the perversion, the executive committee of the S.I.A.A. overturned the zeros and restored the game’s real result: Auburn 11, Georgia 6. The decision was signed by no less than conference president William Dudley (who also founded the S.I.A.A. by the way).

Now, as easy as a call as this should have been for Dudley and Co., it was still pretty rare for a ref to be overruled. And not many people thought it would be.

“It is not probable that Mr. Rowbotham’s decision will be reversed,” wrote the Red and Black, Georgia’s student newspaper, which actually thought it should have been.

“They (Auburn) won fairly and on their merit, and deserve all the credit for their success.”

Georgia deserves some credit, too, for having the Red and Black list the score as God intended—Auburn 11, Georgia 6—even before the reversal.

So when did they reverse the reversal? More importantly, when did we reverse the reversal? And why?

According to David Housel’s Auburn Football Vault, “Auburn contacted Georgia in 1992 about setting the record straight but never received a response.”

Thing is, the record was never really bent.

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 1.43.51 PM

From the 1904 Glomerata. 11-6.

I would say it’s a mystery on par with the Reappearing LSU game—but that was a game we lost. To cheaters, yes, but still lost. The 1899 Georgia game? We won that game! Common sense dictated Auburn won, the S.I.A.A. dictated Auburn won, and tons of Auburn publications wrote that we won: 11-6.

That’s the score the Glomerata had for years, and the Auburn Alumnus, and even the first real history of Auburn football, which was commissioned by Auburn in 1951. Even Dan Hollis’ 1987 complete history of Auburn football has it as Auburn 11, Georgia 6… which is weird, because some of the (mistaken) Auburn football media guides put out in the past 20 years actually cite Hollis’ books as a source for their statistics.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 12.22.25 PM

From a 1927 issue of the Auburn Alumnus. 11-6. The same score is listed in official Auburn publications through at least 1951, as late as 1987 in a book on Auburn football history which in 1993 was cited by Athletic Dept. researchers as source material for media guide stats.

The 1908 LSU game, the unclaimed national championships—hell, even just the unclaimed undefeated seasons. Now it appears that we’ve been robbing ourselves of a win for God knows how long—a win and a one-game advantage in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry (TM). To quote myself in last month’s story about how our 100th anniversary celebration of homecoming at Auburn actually should have been the 104th anniversary celebration of homecoming in America, it’s like selling ourselves short historically has itself become an Auburn tradition.

Kind of a lame tradition.

Auburn leads the series with Georgia 55-54-7.

Related: This O.B. Keeler story on the 1915 Auburn-Georgia game is the greatest thing you’ve ever read—or had read to you—about Auburn football.

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