Tennessee football 100 years ago

Marvin West

What to say about an open date? Good question.

Fortunately, a regular reader rushed to the rescue and changed the subject.

“A few weeks ago, you wrote about Doug Dickey and Tennessee football of 50 years ago. What do you know about 100 years ago?”

Well now, I am old but I wasn’t there. What I know is what the late Tom Siler said he had learned.

The Volunteers of 1914 won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship with a 9-0 record. They played home games at Wait Field at the corner of 15th Street and Cumberland Avenue. This was not Rocky Top, but it might have been rocky bottom. There was no grass.

The Vols ran a tight T formation. They outscored foes 374 to 37. Butch Jones wants you to know that Tennessee wore gray jerseys.

Pint-sized Zora G. Clevenger, 5-7 and 145, former halfback at Indiana, was the Tennessee coach. Interesting how he got the job. He was coaching three sports at Nebraska Wesleyan and playing pro baseball in the summer to supplement his income. In 1910, he came to town as the shortstop for the Knoxville team in the Appalachian League.

The first Sunday, he and his wife went to church. Mrs. Clevenger was delighted to spot a former schoolmate – who just happened to be the sister of UT professor R.C. “Red” Matthews, the original UT cheerleader who grew up to become a member of the UT athletic council.

Do you see where this is going?

In 1911, Tennessee had a coaching vacancy. Professor Matthews suggested Clevenger. Nobody had a better idea.

Zora was a one-man gang, as in no assistants, no support staff, not even a dietitian or video coordinator. It took him a few minutes to get organized. The university had raised entrance requirements. The team was a little short on talent.

By 1913, the outlook was much brighter. The Vols won six of nine. The big one got away. Vanderbilt won, 7-6. Clevenger awarded 12 letters and gave a pep talk about the future. Season profit in excess of $1,000 allowed him to hire a line coach.

A hundred years ago, Tennessee came out of the chute with an 88-0 stroll past Carson-Newman. King College fell, 55-3. Clemson took a 27-0 hit. Tennessee took the train to Louisville and romped, 66-0.

There was bitterness before the Alabama game. An anonymous source reported the Tide was cheating. Sure enough, quarterback Charlie Joplin refused to sign an affidavit that he had never played pro ball and was immediately ruled ineligible. The Vols won, 17-7.

Chattanooga took a 67-0 tumble. The really big game was at Vanderbilt. Southern Railway offered fans a round-trip ride for $6.75. Alonzo “Goat” Carroll scored all Tennessee points, two touchdown receptions of Bill May passes, one extra-point kick and a 15-yard field goal, in a 16-14 victory.

It was the first-ever win over the Commodores. Carroll invited the victors to dinner at his family home, a block or three from the Vandy campus.

UT classes were dismissed on Monday for a day of celebration. A Vanderbilt official said that was what you might expect from Tennessee, overemphasis of athletics and underemphasis of academics.

The Vols swatted Sewanee in Chattanooga and polished off Kentucky to conclude the perfect season. There were no holiday bowl games, but a good time was had by all.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is westwest6@netzero.com.

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