If we think the Alabama Crimson Tide football team was good, consider this team. It ranks right up there with Notre Dame’s “Four Horsemen of the 1920s,” Fordham’s “Seven Rocks of Granite of the 1930s,” the LSU “Chinese Bandits of the late 1950s, Georgia’s “Junkyard Dogs of the 1960s and ’70s, and the Nebraska Blackshirts of the 1990s. It is the team that justifiably became known as the “Iron Men” of Sewanee University, also known as the University of the South.
I visited the lovely campus recently and strolled over to their playing field. It was a quiet time on campus and noting a flagpole and monument, I went to view it.
It is a tribute to the legendary Sewanee “Tigers” of 1899. That was the year they went 12-0 and outscored their opponents 322 to 10. Keep in mind all 10 points were scored by one team. That means they were 11-1 in shutouts.
That is remarkable, but there is an even more remarkable feature of the season.
In a row they defeated Texas A&M, Texas, LSU, Tulane and Ole Miss. Even more remarkable they played all five teams in six days. Between Nov. 9, and Nov. 14, they shut out all five.
The three teams they defeated before going on the road were Tennessee, Georgia and Georgia Tech.
Compounding their play was the arduous nature of traveling 2,500 miles by train, which itself had to be fatiguing.
Still used as a recruiting tool is the sage expression: “Five wins in six days, and then they rested.”
Not really. Their first home game was six days after returning from this whirlwind road trip. They closed their season with wins against Auburn and North Carolina. The Auburn team they defeated was coached by John Heisman, after whom the Heisman Trophy is named. Auburn was the only team to score on them all season.
Soon thereafter Sewanee became a co-founder of the Southeastern Conference.
Tony Barnhart, Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports writer, lists them “Number One” on his all-time Southern football team. Compared with their contemporary competitors, they were the University of Alabama upscaled.
The nature of the school makes this accomplishment even more distinct. It was and is an Episcopal school. One of the founders was Bishop Leonidas Polk, later a Confederate general killed in Cobb County. Members of the team were aspiring ministers. Now as then the school was known for its academic excellence. In the ensuing years the school has had 25 Rhodes Scholars.
They remain one of the most accomplished sports teams ever. They stand as a peerless example of athletics and academics coalescing. It is an idea whose hour of resurrection has come.
It is the synergy being created at Shorter University in Rome with the plus of spiritual enhancement.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.