You guys line up alphabetically by height.
- Bill Peterson, football coach
The contracts were signed. The date was set. October 7, 1916. The Cumberland Bulldogs were scheduled to play the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Grant Field in Atlanta. All that was needed now was a team. This would not be easy. The former coach was gone. The players from the previous season were mostly gone, having either graduated or quit the team after the coach left. Even the uniforms had reportedly been sold off by the new administration to help offset the school’s financial woes.
To find suitable players for his unsanctioned football game, George Allen, operating as student manager, would have to get creative. He would also have to be more than a little bit clandestine in his operations. The administration had no idea about the game and it would be best advised, Allen believed, to keep it that way.
With a desire for absolute secrecy and discretion, as well as a shortage of time, Allen stumped for volunteers willing to join his band of Cumberland irregulars. Being small-town law students tucked away in Lebanon, Tennessee, maybe they were generally unaware of John Heisman and Georgia Tech. Or maybe they didn’t care his team was considered one of, if not the, top teams in the south. Why should it matter? It was just a game. Merely a few boys from one school getting together with a few boys from another school to play a game on a field.
And the political debate that had been waging for the previous two decades, and would continue to wage on, about how dangerous a sport football could be, was most likely the furthest thing from their minds. They were young men, mind you, averaging twenty years of age, and therefore, by definition, immortal. They may not have been the roughest boys the Lord Almighty ever created, but they could endure a few bumps and scrapes. Other men their age were marching off to war in Europe. What risk would there be from a little football game?
In the real world, this is where we may wish to believe common sense and sober thinking steps in and averts an unfortunate event from taking place. Whether it’s the person thinking twice about poking a bear with a stick or making the puffed-up wager that they can jump the Mississippi River on a motorcycle, better judgment acts as a Darwinian safeguard to reduce folly in humans, at least most of the time. Not always, obviously.
The opportunity to split $500 between the players must have been extremely enticing to the small collection of mostly law students Allen would recruit to play the game. The tuition at Cumberland in those days was $50 a year. Split evenly between twenty players, this $500 offer would pay for half of that tuition. Six months of their tuition paid in full just to play one measly game. There was also the expense-paid trip in a luxurious train car to consider, as well as a night spent in the big city of Atlanta. And while the budding metropolis was yet to become “Hotlanta”, there were still enough exciting sights and sexy nightlife to attract a group of young, impressionable boys from Lebanon. It was almost as if Heisman had planned it that way.
Armed with plenty of chutzpah and little common sense, Allen proceeded to assemble a team to play the game. Allen turned to his Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers to recruit most of his players for the game. In the 1916 edition of The Phoenix, a young George Allen is pictured, alongside his fraternity brothers, standing in the back row, second from right, looking dapper in a suit, vest and tie with a high collar and his hair neatly combed to the side.
The Kappa Sigma fraternity was established on October 7, 1887 - twenty-nine years to the day before the game against Georgia Tech. What better way to commemorate the anniversary of their fine fraternity than by traveling to Atlanta to achieve immortal glory? The fraternity even had their own yell: “Rah, rah, rah! Crescent and star! Viva la, viva la! Kappa Sigma!” Allen could imagine the triumphant shouts as the crowd celebrated their victory.
Even without the $500 enticement, the aspiring lawyer from Booneville, Mississippi was plenty charming when he wanted to be. He exuded an unassuming confidence to everyone he encountered. Listening to Allen made you believe that, if you put your trust in him, one way or another, he was going to get you there. And, chances were, you were going to have a good time along the way.
Truth be told, if you were to merely look at Allen, he would likely not inspire confidence in anyone. He would probably be the first to admit this. After all, he was nothing special to look at, not particularly tall or athletic, with impish features. He was not an imposing figure like John Heisman. This was perfectly evidenced by a future incident he would recall in which his pride had been wounded. The incident occurred when he “happened to be in court during the arraignment of a young colored man accused of housebreaking”:
The judge had explained to him he was entitled to the services of a defense attorney - that the attorneys available to him were Bob Cook, George Bean or George Allen, we being the only three young trial lawyers in town. The judge asked the three of us to stand up. Bean and I did so, but Cook wasn’t in the courtroom and a bailiff so informed the judge.
“Well, here are Mr. Allen and Mr. Bean,” the judge told the prisoner. “You may have your choice, one of these or the one not present.”
“Judge, I believe I’ll take the one not present,” said the defendant.
The courtroom incident reportedly ended Allen’s law career. Regardless of any future setbacks, his sales pitch on this occasion proved effective enough. Allen gathered a ragtag group of Cumberland students willing to make the trip to Atlanta. From the law students listed in the 1916-1917 university bulletin, those reportedly recruited by Allen to play in the game included Dow Cope of North Yakima, Washington, Gentry Dugat of Mineral, Texas, Eddie “QB” Edwards of Nashville, B. F. “Bird” Paty of Tullahoma, Tennessee, Robert Vichy Wood of Coleman, J. D. Gauldin of Dallas, Morris Gouger of San Antonio, Elmer Gray of Fairfax, Oklahoma, David Harsh of Memphis, E. W. McCall of Hampshire, Texas, George Murphy of Huntingdon, Tennessee, Esker Leon McDonald of Bay City, Texas, Allen Haysler Poague of Clinton, Missouri, Texas, H. T. Carney of Ada, Oklahoma, and E. D. McQueen of Dallas.
Listed as a freshman was Earl Eric Hennessee from Sparta, Tennessee. Otherwise known as “Hennessee from Tennessee”. He too would be recruited to Allen’s team. At only 18 years of age, Hennessee, who lined up at center for Cumberland, was the youngest and probably the busiest player to make the trip to Atlanta. Starting as a preparatory student where he studied voice, Hennessee would later participate in the Amasagassean Literary Society and the YMCA; he was a ministerial student as well as involving himself in public speaking and expression.
Backup halfback B. F. “Bird” Paty and left end Charles Warwick, Jr. are both on record as being Kappa Sigma fraternity members like Allen. Left tackle Dow Cope was a music student in addition to his law studies. According to the 1918 university bulletin, Allen and Paty would go on to earn their Bachelor of Law degrees in January of 1917 while Carney, Cope, Dugat, Edwards, Gauldin, Gouger, Gray, Harsh, McDonald, Poague and Wood would earn theirs in June of that same year.
The most noticeable commonality of those recruited to play in the game was they all suffered from a general lack of experience. Gentry Dugat, who weighed 175 pounds and played left guard in the game, admitted to his limited familiarity of the sport prior to taking on Coach Heisman and his finely tuned and highly regarded Georgia Tech team. “I had played only two games of football before. One in high school, and one in prep school, and it wasn’t until 25 years after our famous game that I even learned what a down was. However, I was pretty husky and when they promised me the first Pullman ride of my life, I agreed to go along.” Dugat described himself as a “rangy ranch boy with Atlas bands of steel muscle from handling 500-pound bags of wool, which was why they put me on the team.”
The other Cumberland students didn’t offer much either. It would be the job of Allen, as well as the self-appointed coach Butch McQueen, to transform this random collection of gridiron volunteers into something remotely resembling a football team. This would not be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
The average football team in 1916 was, in large part, the same as the version we know today, but still quite different in many identifiable ways. For instance, even though the forward pass had been legalized ten years earlier, there were not yet players known as Wide Receivers. There was also no such thing as Cornerbacks or a position known as Linebacker. In fact, there was not yet such thing as a separate Offense and Defense. Generally, if you played a particular position when your team had the ball, you lined up at that same basic position when your opponent had the ball as well.
The point scoring was mostly the same as it is now except there was not yet a Two-Point Conversion. Like today, teams needed ten yards to get a first down and had four attempts to do so. The Quarterback was the field general who was responsible for coordinating the action on the field. The backs typically handled the ball while the other players provided interference. “Every school boy who ever saw football knows that by ‘interference’ we mean the aid which a player gives, or tries to give, to his teammate carrying the ball by clearing a way for him through or around opponents,” wrote Heisman in his book Principles of Football. “An ‘interferer’ being offside, may not use his hands or arms to keep away the tacklers of the other side but he may use his body for this purpose.”
The fundamental football formation looked something like this: You start with a “line”. This was composed of seven players who line up on the line of scrimmage and were called Linemen. In the middle of the line was the position called the Center. This player lined up directly over the ball and was responsible for delivering the ball to the quarterback to start each play. “The Center on a football team must be a man who can think coolly, clearly and rapidly,” wrote Heisman about the position. “Others can miss a signal now and then without great harm resulting - but not the center. He must never mistake to whom he is to snap the ball, nor the direction in which the runner is to travel. Should he ‘fall down’ the whole play would go to pieces on the spot.”
Positioned on both sides of the center were the two guards, the Left Guard and the Right Guard. “The position of guard on a football team is usually regarded as prosaic and unattractive,” admitted Heisman. “That’s partly because a guard never runs with the ball and partly because he is usually instructed to remain in defensive position to stop assaults aimed directly at his location.” Heisman, it should be noted, generally lined up at guard when he was a player.
On the outside shoulder of those two players were the tackles, the Left Tackle and the Right Tackle. “The tackle position is supposed to be the most difficult on the football rush line,” wrote Heisman. “The physical and moral qualities required of the man who aspires to play the position successfully are unusual and difficult to find. In the first place, an ideal tackle is a man standing not less than six feet tall and no less than 190 pounds in stripped weight. Tackles must be very powerful - of rugged, bony frame, and able to stand like iron bridges and hold their feet and position against any force hurled against them. This means they must have unlimited stubbornness in their make-up.”
At the very end of the line were the aptly named “ends”, referred to as the Left End and the Right End. “In no department of football play has more progress been made than in the technique of playing end,” wrote Heisman on the position that would continue to evolve into more of a receiver position on offense as the forward pass took on a larger and larger role in the game. “It is a position calling for peculiar qualifications and splendid judgment, coupled with good speed, nerve and lots of hand skill.”
All these positions were generally reserved for the larger players on the team who would be asked to get in the way of opposing tacklers to free up the player with the ball. When the team was playing defense on the other hand, these players provide the first wave of run stoppers a ball carrier has to get through. Their job was to engage and stop all progress by the opponent.
Behind the line was the “backfield”. The backfield consists of four players who do not line up on the line, but instead line up behind it. Directly behind the center is the quarterback, named so because he is lined up a quarter of the way back from the center. “Quarterback! I had almost said there’s no such animal,” stated Heisman about another position that was evolving due to the legalization of the forward pass. “He’s an almost extinct species in football. This prehistoric biped once squatted behind, and, if possible, beneath the snapperback. He took every snap made and then passed it to some third individual - usually a back.” The reports of the position’s death may have been a tad premature. Today, quarterback has unquestionably risen to the most important in all of football.
The next player back is, naturally, the halfback. In those days, there were typically two halfbacks in a lineup, the Left Halfback and the Right Halfback. “Halfbacks are usually the fastest on a football team,” wrote Heisman about the most dynamic and exciting position in the game as the sport was developing. “A halfback, in the main, is relied upon to dart around the ends. And to circle end safely, in these days of scientifically developed defensive end play, calls for blinding speed, whether any other requisites are named or not.”
The furthest of the player back from the center was the Fullback. This was the position George Allen derived his nickname from. “The fullback is always counted upon heavily to do herculean work in blocking off tacklers for the halfbacks on runs around end,” pointed out Heisman, “For this work also he should be heavy, quick, willing and eager.” Allen was not any of these things. Regardless, he did not intend to see the field. Somewhere along the line, the halfback and the fullback essentially switched places in lineup so the fullback is only halfway back and the halfback is positioned all the way back; Sort of like driving on the parkway and parking in a driveway. Doesn’t make much sense, but life isn’t always going to.
There was also the matter of football fundamentals like running, blocking and tackling. The Yellow Jackets were proficient in all those things. Heisman made certain of it. His players understood punt formations and onside kicks. They were highly versed in stiff-arming and side tackling. Heisman had this to say on the science of tackling an opponent:
Plant your forward foot straight at him, keeping the rear one well behind, with cleats stuck firmly into the ground, for a brace - so he will not run rough-shod and bodily over you. Bend down sharply, exerting strongly your waist muscles. Reach your arms far around him just above the knees, lower your head so low that it practically touches your forearm, bore in hard with your shoulder and throw the weight and force of your chest - which is the heaviest and strongest part of your body - right into the lacing of his pants.
This was obviously a lot to learn in a very short amount of time for players who were almost entirely unfamiliar with the game. Adding to their difficulties was the fact the team would have to hide what they were doing from school officials. According to all reports, the game was unauthorized. And participation in the game would certainly require breaking a university rule or two. How upfront Allen was about this fact during the recruiting process is unknown. School officials made it clear when football was previously reinstated at Cumberland that all athletics would be kept under faculty control. This game would be in direct violation of that rule.
School officials also made it clear the university president would be responsible for the making of all schedules. They were already in violation of this rule as well. Thirdly, they had stated that no debt was to be incurred against the university through the scheduling of athletic contests with other schools. This rule was of particular importance considering the financial predicament the university was already facing. With the $500 guarantee, plus expenses, offered by Georgia Tech, the team would not be incurring any expenses for the school. One for three wasn’t bad. Sections 8 and 26 of the Cumberland handbook, however, would also provide reason for concern:
Section 8. If any student shall play at hand or foot-ball in the College building, or in the College yard, or throw anything in which the College buildings may be in danger of damage, he shall be admonished, sent home or dismissed.
Section 26. No student shall, without permission, go to a greater distance than two miles from the College, at any time during the continuance of the session.
No question the game would need to be kept a secret. This was a given. There was no way the school officials would go along with such an idea. Not under the current administration. This would not be an easy thing, however. How does one hide a football practice? They could not use the football field. They had to find somewhere else. Someplace hidden. The solution to their dilemma brought with it a hint of divine inspiration: The team booked time in the campus chapel under the guise of a rehearsal for a men’s choir.
In his book A History of Cumberland 1842-1935, Winstead Paine Bone, a former Cumberland University president, noted, “Cumberland has never had a gymnasium building. The large room at the rear of Memorial Hall, originally intended for the College Chapel, was found to be unsuitable for that purpose, and so it has been used for a gymnasium.” It was there that the players would hold their practices. Later, some of the players claimed there were no practices. Other reports suggest there were a handful of practices.
At least one account of the game suggested the team were forced to play the role of choir members to avoid detection from school officials. Dow Cope’s experience as a music student, as well as Earl Hennessee’s study of voice as a preparatory student, must have aided in carrying out the ruse. Still, the idea of transforming a football practice into a choir rehearsal at a moment’s notice if a member of the administration were to come by, could not have been conducive to holding productive practice sessions.
Complicating matters even more was the accelerated timetable Allen was faced with. The team did not have the luxury of weeks of preparation. The game was set for the second week of the season, just one month after classes resumed for the fall. Most of that time had already been squandered with all the football cancellation nonsense from school officials. With this being the case, it was unlikely his team would be able to learn any sophisticated plays in time for the game. Nor would they have time to develop any sort of complicated signaling system. “All authorities are agreed the signaling system for a football team should be simple,” wrote Heisman. “The only reason why it should not be, arises because of the fear that rival teams may be able to penetrate them. This, it must be admitted, is a possibility.”
The team’s lack of a playbook was resolved with an ingenious method of play-calling dreamed up for the occasion. While Coach Heisman was known for presenting a football to his team on the first day of practice and rhetorically asking them what it was, Allen presented a bushel of random vegetables and asked his team what they thought it was. Whatever the team answered, Allen informed them they were wrong, it was their playbook. “We had tagged each player with the name of a vegetable,” recalled backup quarterback Morris Gouger. “If I wanted to run a play that would send our right halfback through right tackle, I’d call ‘Turnip over Cabbage!’ or a pass from quarterback to left end, ‘Tomato to Carrot!’”
The makeshift play-calling system may not have been as sophisticated as Heisman’s famous Jump Shift offense, but it was actually quite remarkable in its simplicity. All the players were required to do was remember which vegetable each player was identified with. Since Allen hadn’t recruited all that many players to begin with (they only wanted to split the $500 guarantee so many ways after all) there weren’t many vegetables to remember. Much easier than memorizing a bunch of complicated plays with Xs and Os going in every conceivable direction. The chapel walkthroughs must have seemed successful enough. All things considered, Allen was feeling pretty good about his team’s chances. “After some secret practice sessions,” recalled Allen in his autobiography, “my Cumberland irregulars looked pretty hot to me, and I went to Atlanta on the big day full of high hopes for an upset.”
As much as Allen, and others, wanted football reinstated at Cumberland, it should be noted the decision by school officials to discontinue athletics and focus entirely on academics was not without merit. The university was facing extremely hard financial times. As a result of the litigation involving the Presbyterian churches, as well as other trying circumstances, the university had already been forced to make a number of difficult decisions. In 1913, it was deemed necessary to discontinue the Theological School. The following year, due to a “necessary reorganization”, the entire literary faculty was retired from duty at Cumberland. There were other cuts that would shake the community. In his book Phoenix Rising!, university historian G. Frank Burns noted, “When the faculty for 1914-1915 was announced,” outside of the school’s former president Dr. Bone, “every teacher with an earned doctorate had been dismissed.” Burns then also added a personal note:
My father attended Cumberland University from the fall of 1907 until graduation in 1911; he then earned the Master of Arts degree in 1913; taught in the Preparatory School from 1910 until 1913 when he enrolled in Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati.
Between 1902 and 1922 he, two of his brothers, my mother, two of her sisters, and many persons whom I came to know well were in school in Lebanon. Never from them nor as a writer for The Lebanon Democrat and the author of two books of Wilson County history did I ever hear one word of the controversies discussed in this chapter. Because student life is and always has been well separated from faculty life and administrative life, it is possible that they simply did not know.
Bearing this in mind, it is likely George Allen and his band of conspiring cohorts had no idea of the harsh choices being thrust upon the school. Like Heisman’s crusade against the sportswriters, Allen’s crusade against the administration’s decision to cancel football was conducted without completely understanding the consequences of their actions. Both men were a little guilty of an inflated sense of self-importance, as well as placing too much blind faith in their convictions. Likewise, Dr. Hill was not a dastardly villain either.
He was merely an obstacle to Allen, due to the acting president’s commitment to save the school from financial ruin. Burns added one more note that was interesting in viewing the bigger picture. “But L. L. Rice, who was in the center of much of the controversy, became one of my good friends and discussed with candor much of what happened at Castle Heights and at Cumberland,” wrote Burns. “He never mentioned any of the foregoing events. It is to the credit of all concerned that they kept their own counsel, let the past bury the past, and planted flowers in the ashes.”
Laban Lacy Rice, along with his brother Cale Young Rice, who became a noted American poet, were all-star athletes at Cumberland. Rice competed in the first ever Cumberland sporting event back in 1889 when he travelled to Vanderbilt University as a “lanky young freshman” to participate in a track and field meet there. Rice, who lived to the impressive age of 102, was one of the founders of the Kappa Sigma fraternity chapter Allen and many of his players were members of, and both Rice brothers were inducted into the Cumberland Sports Hall of Fame. After receiving a BA, MA and PhD at Cumberland, Rice became a professor of English at Cumberland, headmaster at the Castle Heights School and was elected president of Cumberland, but never served in that capacity. This is where those “foregoing events” Burns spoke of get a little sticky.
According to A History of Cumberland University, “Cumberland University had no Preparatory School from 1902 to 1910.” In 1902, the nearby Castle Heights School (later the Castle Heights Military Academy) was founded by the president of Cumberland at the time, David Earle Mitchell, and several others including L. L. Rice, a former member of the Cumberland faculty, who served as headmaster. Mitchell was a highly successful 26-year old businessman from Pennsylvania who, after rapidly expanding the university, stepped down from the position as Cumberland President in 1907 to concentrate on his private business interests.
Rice approached the school with the idea of combining the Cumberland Preparatory School and the Castle Heights School to resolve the financial crisis Cumberland was facing. After accepting the position, forcing President Samuel L. Coile to step down, Rice backed out of the agreement and resigned, citing a condition from a third party that he “concurred but which he believed the board would not accept” as reason for his actions. Out of this tangled mess came the need for Dr. Homer Hill to temporarily step in and try to save the school from financial ruin as best he could. Athletics expanded greatly by former president Mitchell and possessing a loud clamor of support for their preservation, were the first to go.
Allen heard that loud clamor of support and hoped to take full advantage of it. Dr. Hill was not even a real school president. His policy decision, Allen figured, was probably not even binding. The university had been blessed with an opportunity. This game against Georgia Tech offered a chance to demonstrate to students, faculty and supporters how exciting football was and how much Cumberland needed a team. He was thinking big picture. Before too long, Allen reasoned, Dr. Hill would no longer be warming the seat behind the president’s desk and a new decision maker would occupy the position. Someone who was more of a football fan, Allen hoped.
Why no one else had come up with a plan as brilliant as his must have puzzled him. This was why he was intended for big things, he reasoned, while others would remain in their small, monochromatic worlds. He was Nietzsche's Übermensch. Now he had gathered his disciples. They were young and impressionable. Allen was a big talker and a bad influence. The volunteer players were a means to an end to him. He was not being straight up with them about the money.
Comments made years later suggested the players never saw any of the money they were supposed to get. Whether they viewed the game as an attempt to get football reinstated at Cumberland or just an entertaining whim is unclear. It is not known whether they viewed the game as an act of political defiance or merely the opportunity for an exciting weekend of sports and revelry. What is also not clear is how knowledgeable the volunteer players were to the breaking of university rules. As a member of the athletic board, Allen could have reasonably been regarded as a knowledgeable authority figure and trusted at his word.
What is clear is that the football program had been suspended in recent years more often than it had been played due to the difficulty of fielding a quality team. As a result, the players who were recruited to play by Allen had little to no experience. And while the Kappa Sigma fraternity was known for attracting school athletes, the athletes attending Cumberland University were vastly different than the type of athletes being attracted to attend Tech.
Many of the students attending Cumberland were there to obtain the one-year law degree the school offered. This was an intense and grueling endeavor. There was everything from May’s Criminal Law and Greenleaf on Evidence Vol. 1 to get through. There were Tort Lectures and Moot Courts to endure. This was a long, blurry-eyed marathon of reading, memorizing and classroom attendance. Most welcomed the diversion of a football game. It was not as if the town offered bars or drinking. They had to make do with morning chapel services and a nearby fishing hole as their alternatives for entertainment. Football was precisely the remedy to get their blood flowing and work out any pent-up frustrations.
Time restraints prohibited any sort of sophisticated football program. This was going to have to be draw-it-up-in-the-dirt football. No time for deep player evaluations. Those who happened to be larger in size were assigned to the line. Falling under this category were players like Dow Cope, Gentry Dugat and the young Earl Hennessee from nearby Murfreesboro. One of the main reasons Dugat chose to make the trip, he admitted, was the opportunity to visit the home of his idol, the late Henry W. Grady, a noted journalist for the Atlanta Constitution who was known as the “Spokesman of the New South”. Grady had successfully lobbied for the establishment of the Georgia School of Technology, which must have also been quite a thrill for young Dugat since that was the team they were to compete against on the football field.
Those who were smaller, quicker and more athletic were put in the backfield. Eddie “QB” Edwards was assigned the role of quarterback with Morris Gouger backing him up. Leon McDonald could fill in as well at quarterback if need be, but was penciled in at one of the halfback slots. He brought with him the added talent of being able to punt. Bird Paty joined the backfield. Paty would twice run for governor of Florida, but fall short on both occasions. Charlie Warwick lined up outside at left end where he devised inventive means of avoiding injury over the course of the matchup.
Whatever the outcome, Allen knew he would come out on the right side of history. At least he would every time he told the story. Those winds of change were coming and Allen wished to quell all the parochial voices hoping to impede its arrival. He was on a mission to save football at Cumberland just as Teddy Roosevelt had been on a mission to save football around the country. His actions, for all intents and purposes, he determined, were nothing short of heroic and selfless.
Allen was saving the day and in doing so just happened to be getting the spotlight he craved. He was writing his own story, and his story was never boring. Let those other law students flaunt their grades. He would flaunt his press clippings. Headlines would be his legacy. Future football games - filled with thrills, excitement and team spirit -would occur because of the brave stance he took in the Year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and sixteen.
Allen had his team and he had his contract. If anyone could play a game against Georgia Tech and come out the other side a winner, it would be him. After all, he had done it before. While his cobbled-together team “looked pretty hot” to him, Allen still had one more card up his sleeve to play if push really came to shove. On the athletic fields of Georgia Tech, John Heisman routinely professed to his players the notion of fair play, but George Allen knew from experience there was more than one way to win a football game besides playing fair.