Mercer Football getting its “bear”ings Pt. 1 By Jake McMillian

The 1898 Mercer Football team picture.

It’s Thanksgiving Day, 1941. A Mercer University football player slowly walks off of Chamberlain Field in Chattanooga, Tennessee, reeling from the painful game he just experienced. He removes his leather helmet and shoulder pads, reliving every second of the 40-13 loss that his team just suffered to the University of Chattanooga. Little does he know that, in just 12 days, 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft will ambush the U.S. Naval Feet at Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i, and massacre 2,403 innocent, American soldiers. In an attempt to cripple the United States Navy and prevent the Americans from entering World War II, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto will unintentionally bring the Sleeping Giant into the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind. In just 13 days, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt will declare war on Japan, and the landscape of modern history will change dramatically. Back home in Macon, Georgia, the Mercer Bears’ football team will disband in preparation for war. However, the young athlete will have to wait to experience the fear and anxiety of World War II, for at this moment he is simply recovering from the final football game of the 1941 season. The final Mercer football game for the next 72 years.. Hello, dearest readers, and thank you for using your hard-earned money to purchase this week’s edition of your favorite, community-based newspaper. During my summer employment as a sports writer for this great institution, I was tasked with the responsibility of developing a football preview for some of our local football teams at both the high school and collegiate level. Unfortunately, Mercer University was not included amongst the names of more established programs in our grand state for our preview coverage. Therefore, I hope to inform you, over the span of a two-part series, of the intriguing history of one of Georgia’s newest and most rapidly developing football programs. A program fallen at the onset of World War II, only to finally resurrect in the 21st century. Mercer actually boasts one of the oldest football programs in the Southeast. The university participated in its first official contest against UGA in Athens on January 30, 1892. The Baptists, as Mercer’s team was originally called, battled the Red and Black, who carried a goat named “Sir William” as its team mascot, in the first football game in the history of the state of Georgia. The contest was also the first football game in the history of the Deep South. I imagine that the University of Georgia would have a much more peculiar fan base had it used “Billy Goats” as its team nickname. It actually has quite a nice ring to it. Nonetheless, UGA fans, I will allow you to have a moment of immense pride. The Red and Black throttled the Baptists 50-0 to claim the first gridiron battle in our state’s history. The use of a bear as Mercer’s team nickname is also attributed to a UGA player. During that inaugural game, a Georgia player saw a Mercer player erupt through the line of scrimmage, and he is quoted as saying, “Whence cometh that bear?” On November 5, 1892, Mercer hosted Georgia Tech at Macon’s Central City Park, earning its first victory in program history by a 12-6 score. To add insult to injury, Tech fans, not only did UGA win the first game in state history but Mercer also defeated your beloved Yellow Jackets in Georgia Tech’s first official football game. From that moment on, the program experienced a pretty good history in the infant days of college football. The school hired its first paid football coach, E.E. Tarr, in 1906. In 1925, the university added Centennial Stadium, which later became Porter Stadium, for a cost of $100,000. Though this number may seem miniscule in comparison to the coliseums of modern sports, it was quite an expensive venture in 1925 (numerical equivalent to $1,395,560.69 in 2017). The Bears also began to develop rivalries of sorts. Mercer dominated the Florida Gators in their first five matchups, shutting out their opponents in all five games (winning four of them and tying one). Mercer’s biggest rivalry was arguably Georgia, for the team met 22 times from 1892 to 1945. Needless to say, UGA won every contest, but the game was always much anticipated, its climax occurring in 1933 before an incredible 8,340 spectators. To put that number into perspective, the average FCS football game in 2016 hosted 8,357 fans. The game served as Homecoming Day for Mercer, and tickets were sold at $2.25 a pop for the best seats. The Bulldogs narrowly escaped in Macon after edging Mercer in a thrilling 13-12 slugfest. Mercer’s largest margin of victory in program history came against Georgia Teachers College in 1937 (77-0). The dedicated Eagle fans reading this will know that GTC is today known as…Georgia Southern. Unfortunately, as I previously mentioned, the program dissolved in 1941 at the onset of WWII. At the conclusion of the Chattanooga season finale, Mercer displayed a 123-136-8 overall record. However, the story of football in Macon did not end in the valleys of Lookout Mountain on Thanksgiving Day of 1941. The bear was merely hibernating, waiting for its winter to transpire…

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