Famed trophies from storied college football rivalries include the Golden Egg that Ole Miss and Mississippi State play for, the Little Brown Jug given to the Michigan-Minnesota winner, and Paul Bunyan’s Axe, awarded to the Wisconsin-Minnesota victor. Notably absent from that list, however, is the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Few fans remember it, but, for a short time, Georgia and Auburn actually did play for a prize: an engraved silver chalice. And the chalice won by Georgia’s not-yet-Bulldogs in 1894 is among the treasures from the University of Georgia’s athletics archive that the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library will be taking on the road this summer.
Considering all the rivalries that Georgia football has, the trophy tradition is surprisingly lacking in Athens. Yes, Georgia and Georgia Tech do play for the Governor’s Cup, originally awarded to the winner of the Bullpups-Baby Jackets Thanksgiving Day freshman classic.
And, for the past decade, the student governments at UGA and the University of Florida have been exchanging a prize called the Okefenokee Oar that goes to the winner of the annual game in Jacksonville. (It thankfully has resided at the Tate Center in Athens for the past couple of years.)
But, that’s it.
I’d long wondered why the Georgia-Auburn series doesn’t have such a trophy. And, then, when I visited the Hargrett Library in Athens last year, I heard about the Silver Chalice.
The chalice in the Hargrett collection is the oldest extant UGA football artifact. It was awarded to the winner of the game between Georgia and Auburn played on Nov. 24, 1894, at Atlanta’s Athletic Park, a playing field on Jackson Street, off Auburn Avenue, that long since has been redeveloped.
The late Dr. John F. Stegeman (of the Athens family whose name graces Georgia’s basketball arena) wrote in his book about Georgia football history, “The Ghosts of Herty Field,” that the 1894 game, only the second ever between Georgia and Auburn, saw hundreds of fans travel to Atlanta from Athens on five Seaboard Railroad express coaches. There also were Georgia Tech students on hand — cheering for Auburn, naturally.
The 1894 team, which finished with a 5-1 record, was coached by Englishman Robert Winston, Georgia’s first paid head coach. (A year later, the legendary Glenn “Pop” Warner would become Georgia’s coach.) The team didn’t yet have an official nickname, but its mascot was Trilby, a solid white female bull terrier owned by a student.
The hard-fought battle with Auburn (then officially known as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama) was tied 8-8 late in the game, and darkness had fallen. Auburn requested the game be called, but Georgia refused.
Then, as Stegeman recounted, the ball was snapped back to the Auburn fullback, “who stood ready to punt from behind his own goal-line, but he lost it in the shadows. He dropped the ball, tried to pick it up, and finally was smothered” by Georgia’s All-Southern center, Rufus B. Nalley. The safety put Georgia ahead 10 to 8, and that ended up being the final score. The Atlanta Constitution reported: “Athens is ablaze with enthusiasm tonight. Students and citizens alike are painting the town red and black.”
The inscription on the chalice awarded to Georgia for winning the game reads:
University of Georgia vs Auburn
Nov 24 1894
Alumni and friends of both Colleges
University of Georgia football team
Score – University 10 Auburn 8
As best UGA athletics history specialist Jason Hasty can tell, the Silver Chalice was awarded twice. “We have the one from 1894, and Auburn has one they say was from the year after that, though I haven’t seen it,” Hasty told me this week.
According to UGA football historian Patrick Garbin, the other year the chalice was awarded was 1892, the first meeting between the two schools, which Auburn won. Garbin said that chalice is on display at, of all places, Auburn’s basketball arena.
“It was supposed to be a tradition for the winner of that game to be given a little silver chalice each year … but it seems like the tradition fell away after that,” Hasty said. He doesn’t know why. Garbin speculated that awarding a silver chalice every year “might become a bit expensive.”
Hasty agrees that “it’s strange that the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, and one of the nation’s oldest rivalries, doesn’t have anything like that associated with it. I’d like to see them bring it back.”
I’d like to see that, too.
The Silver Chalice isn’t the only UGA athletics treasure Hasty is taking out on a summer tour of several public libraries in east and central Georgia.
Hasty said he’s bringing “a lot of football material, because that’s what the most people want to see,” including “some jerseys from the 1920s and 1940s and probably the ’80s or ’90s. I’m trying to show the differences in style over the years. And how the color has changed a little bit. It used to be a much darker red, nearly a crimson, so we were really the Crimson and Black, not the Red and Black.”
Also included in the traveling exhibit, he said, are “a pair of really early silver britches, probably from the early 1940s. And a pair of pants from the 1930s that belonged to quarterback Andy Roddenberry. They’re plain khaki football pants with black stripes. Not many people think about what we wore before we wore the silver britches.”
The exhibit also includes a selection of football helmets, including Herschel Walker’s helmet. “We always show that,” Hasty said, “because that’s the one thing people always want to see. Also, a silver helmet from the 1950s and a leather helmet from the 1940s. I want to give people a sense of how things have changed over the years.”
Among the newer items on display: the ball used in last year’s Florida game, and placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s jersey and some of his kicking shoes from last season (not the pink ones, unfortunately). Said Hasty: “I think he wanted to hang on to the pink kicking cleats. Hopefully he’ll put them to good use this coming season.”
Another item to be included is a piece of the railroad track that ran behind Sanford Stadium prior to the expansion after 1980. “When the stadium was expanded, the rail lines were pulled out and replaced,” Hasty said. “The old track was cut up into small sections and we have a piece. Given how fondly remembered the track crowd is, it’s an artifact that I’m pretty excited to display.”
From other sports, Hasty has Keturah Orji’s track and field uniform from the 2016 Rio Olympics; a racquet from this year’s women’s tennis team (which won the indoor national title); and a baseball jersey from the early 1900s. “It’s thick wool,” Hasty said. “It would be difficult to wear that in Georgia weather.”
The traveling exhibit, consisting of about 35 to 40 different items, is free and open to the general public. The materials will be on display on the following dates and locations: June 4 (Mary Vinson Memorial Library, Milledgeville), June 5 (Monroe Public Library, Monroe), June 12 (Augusta-Richmond Public Library, Augusta), July 24 (Greensboro Public Library, Greensboro), and Aug. 23 (Washington Memorial Library, Macon).
Generally, Hasty said, “some people take 10 to 15 minutes or a half hour to look at things” in the traveling exhibits, “while some people really want to stay and talk. I’ll be on-site and happy to answer any questions.
“We get a lot of UGA alumni at these exhibits, and it turns into something like a mini alumni reunion, where people connect with other alumni from their town.”
In plotting the exhibit’s itinerary, he said he “tried to look at different parts of the state and go to areas that don’t get a lot of things like this. Atlanta gets a lot.” (The closest stop to both Athens and Atlanta on this year’s tour is the library in Monroe.)
“I’m really excited this time to take it to Macon and Augusta, which is about as far as we can go from Athens at the moment.”
Currently, Hasty said, “we try to be an hour or two from Athens, to make it easier to move the materials there and back. In the future, I hope to expand that and get to areas of South Georgia and West Georgia, like Savannah and Columbus in the next couple of years.”
Hasty said he tries to “tailor the items a little bit to the communities, so it’s not the same in every town. This year, since were doing Milledgeville, I’m going to have some photos of Charles Herty [the founder of football at UGA] and his early teams, since he was from Milledgeville.”
He said he’s gearing the exhibits “toward everyone. It’s for the die-hard fans, but also someone who doesn’t know much at all will enjoy some of the exhibits. We get a lot of parents bringing little kids with them. They’re excited to see some of these things, even if they don’t really know what they are. You see the parents explaining to their kids who Herschel Walker was.”
Bringing their kids up right, in other words.
A fan’s fan
Every year, members of the Georgia Bulldog Club who’ve contributed to the Hartman Fund get a small packet of items from the club “as a small token of our appreciation for your support.”
Some years, the items included are more elaborate than other years. Occasionally, in the past, there’ve been coin-like medallions commemorating championships, and sometimes more clever items. My all-time favorite is the mini-billboard from 1981 featuring the Jack Davis artwork marking the national championship.
This year’s packet includes the usual Georgia Bulldog Club car window decals and football schedule magnet, and also a mini USB fan that is designed to plug into a cellphone “to help you stay cool while watching the Dawgs in Sanford Stadium this fall.”
Unfortunately, the fan appears not to work with all cellphones (though my daughter found it works on an iPhone 6). I’ve seen a couple of Facebook polls in which the majority of the fans responding said the mini fan didn’t work at all with their phone.
Who knows, maybe next year we’ll be lucky and get another national championship mini-billboard. I think that’d work for all UGA fans.