Let’s take a look Auburn’s first showdown with Texas A&M — which was in 1911, Winsipedia, not 1916 — and refer to a 110-year-old Auburn team as “we” a lot.
Played in Dallas, the game was billed as the biggest in the south that year, which, sure, papers were wont to do with pretty much every game. But one rag even hyped it as the de facto Championship of the South, deeming Auburn the best team in the southeast (which wasn’t far off at that particular point in the Days O’ Donahue), and A&M the best in the southwest. And they pretty much were.
Head coach Charley Moran was the real deal. He’d apprenticed under Pop Warner at Carlisle. Since he had taken over in 1909, the Aggies had lost just one game. In six seasons with “Uncle Charley,” they’d lose just four.
Moran took Auburn seriously. Secret practices, shifting players around. Auburn was good. That was the word from Austin. The year before, the Tigers had, after a two day trip to Austin, lost by just nine to a good Texas team that A&M would barely beat two weeks later. Auburn wound up the season as S.I.A.A co-champions. Word was that they’d have lot of that talent back.
The game would be the Aggies’ first real game of the season, the main course after a couple of unheard of appetizers. There was a pretty big buildup, enough to get 7,000 people to Gaston Park (including scouts from Mississippi State, Baylor, Vanderbilt, and Sewanee, plus TCU’s entire team). For football game attendance below the Mason-Dixon in 1911, those were stout numbers.
Auburn pulled into town the night before with 20 players who were “handicapped by a train trip of 36 hours.” Not that we were complaining. No sir, the undefeated Tigers said they were ready. Ditto the heavier, undefeated Aggies. The press agreed.
“Both teams arrived in Dallas last night, and a better looking bunch of athletes would be hard to find in the entire South,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote. “The players making up the two teams are not of the old style, beefy, heavy, cumbersome men, which formerly characterized the great college sport, but are hard trained, closely-knit fighting machines, tanned and hardened by tests of healthy manhood.”
Soon, they’d be muddied by tests of healthy manhood.
There’d been heavy rains, the field was an absolute swamp — not exactly ideal conditions for a team that fumbling that had hampered the Tigers all season, and that the Atlanta Constitution predicted could cost Auburn the game. They were right. We fumbled. We fumbled a lot. We’d be driving, we’d fumble. We’d force them to punt, we’d fumble. We lost, 16-0.
The Farmers scored in the first quarter, and twice again right at the end. Moran said before the game that he knew his team would win. That’s fine. Coach speak didn’t exist at the time; they were all pretty blunt about things.
But afterward, A&M acted as if they’d won with “straight football,” i.e. nothing fancy and desperate like a forward pass.
Um, your first touchdown was on a forward pass…
I don’t know what straight football meant in Texas in 1911, but in Dixie Proper, a forward pass was still basically the girl pushup of pigskin, at least if employed in the first half when you still had plenty of time to see if you could score points on the ground like a man.
So, to summarize, I’m pretty positive our loss to start the series can be attributed to: 36 hours on the Southern Pacific (and almost certain distractions during a stop in Sodom and New Orleans), cowardly forward passes, and disgusting mud that may have spread to Auburn not only fumble-itis but, given its incubation period, Typhoid. Fun!
Here’s what we know:
- A “siege of Typhoid fever” had stricken at least two Texas A&M football players at the end of the 1910 season.
- A week before the game, Texas A&M’s school doctor began administering a primitive Typhoid vaccine to a large number of cadets.
- That same week, the same physician announced an initiative to combat unsanitary conditions in the school’s mess hall.
- You contract typhoid by ingesting or handling food or water that has come into even minimal contact with infected human feces.
- Plumbing was comparatively primitive in 1911. Facilities at football fields were scarce.
- Mud, ahem.
- No face masks.
- Two weeks after the game, nearly half of Auburn’s team, including several stars, fell victim to a fever that, if not Typhoid, presented almost exactly like it. Auburn head coach Mike Donahue got off the train in Atlanta the morning of the Georgia Tech game feeling fine. When the train rolled back into Auburn that night, he chad to be helped off. He could barely stand. People thought the little fella would die. It was 14 days after the trip to Dallas.
- Typhoid takes 8-14 days to incubate.
In conclusion, the Aggies’ possibly poor hygiene may have nearly killed our coach.
Let’s beat the hell out of Texas A&M.
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