After Auburn’s 7-0 win over Mississippi State at Rickwood Field in 1919, Auburn coach Mike Donahue called the Bulldogs (née Aggies) the most unsportsmanlike team he’d ever seen and vowed that as long as he was coach Auburn would never play them again.
At issue? Mostly the promising MMA career of MSU quarterback Claude Russell.
Plainsman editors didn’t want to go into it, not much at least. Yes, Mississippi State played dirty. Yes, it was impossible not to notice (for everyone but the officials). Yes, most of it came from Russell. But Auburn won. It was a great game. So they didn’t rehash the negative. They simply wished Russell all the best on the boxing circuit.
The Birmingham News was a bit more explicit.
“The dilatory tactics of the officials and the frequent injuries to Auburn players caused by rough tackling on the part of the Aggies unnecessarily delayed the game,” the Birmingham News’ Bob McDavid reported. “Russell, at quarterback for (Mississippi) A&M, drew the wrath of the entire assemblage by his dirty work, the equal of which has never been seen here. Spectators will remember him as No. 16, the man who time and time again fell knee first on the heads of prostrated Auburn players after they had been down for several moments.”
Spectators would remember. The referee wouldn’t.
“Verily, I believe the Aggies could have gotten away with murder,” McDavid continued, “for none of the officials seemed disposed to penalize them for roughness. Coach Mike Donahue stated after the game that the Mississippians put up the most unsportsmanlike exhibition he had ever seen in all his days as a coach.”
Donahue then told McDavid he’d be damned if he ever saw it again.
“Mike Donahue told me after the game that he wouldn’t play A&M again if it cost him his job.”
That wasn’t just hyperbole or whatever. At the time, Donahue’s future at Auburn was kind of up in the air, and for reasons sort of related to his perceived scheduling stubbornness.
Powerful Auburn alumni in Birmingham really wanted to renew the series with Alabama. Auburn’s administration, for the moment, did not. Donahue sided with the administration.
Then there was 1918. It had been bad. Two losses, five wins, and plenty of whispers that the old school little Irishman who was in the last year of his Auburn contract was fast becoming a football fossil.
(Of course, there were also rumors that other schools were courting him like crazy.)
Two weeks later, Donahue shut everyone up by beating mighty Georgia Tech, winning the conference championship (and laurels from the future Zelda Fitzgerald), and signing on with Auburn for another five years.
He only coached for another three, but true to his word, never again against Mississippi State, at least not at Auburn. Thanks to ol’ Claude Russell, the two teams wouldn’t meet again until 1927.
“That bird Russell was lucky to escape the wrath of Auburn fans yesterday,” McDavid wrote. “They are a patient lot.”
“I wouldn’t play against (Mississippi State) without a jack knife in my back pocket.”
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