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History, documents, and photos

The mysteries of early football

Written By: Phillip Stone - Feb• 28•12

This morning I received a call from an alumnus who wanted to know if I had a photo of the last Wofford football team to defeat South Carolina, which would have occurred sometime around 1900.  He had seen the photo somewhere and wondered if he could get a copy.

I didn’t recall seeing the photo, but considering that I don’t know a lot of the specifics of Wofford’s early athletics history, and also that there are a lot of things in files that I have yet to discover, that doesn’t mean much.  So, I set about the research process.

The alum told me that an ancestor of his had played in the game. That gave me a clue as to where to start looking.  His ancestor enrolled in 1900.  The football media guide lists all of the games our team has played – at least all of the ones for which records have been located.  Sure enough, Wofford beat USC in football on November 18, 1901, by a score of 11-6.  Apparently the game was in Spartanburg.

So, we’ve confirmed that there was a game, and that Wofford won it.  But what of the picture?  (And there are some other questions, but we’ll get to those later.)

We have a collection of football scrapbooks maintained by my predecessor.  Checking in the oldest scrapbook led me to a photocopy of a picture from a Columbia newspaper from 1948.  The photograph recalled a great Wofford team of the past, which it identified as the 1900 team “which defeated the University of South Carolina and Furman and lost only to Clemson in the state.”  But that’s not correct.  The 1900 team did lose to Clemson and Davidson, tied in one game with Furman, and beat Furman in the other game.  There wasn’t a recorded game with USC.  In 1901, Wofford won 3 games – Kings Mountain, Asheville, and USC, and lost games to Georgia Tech, Bingham, and Furman.  So, it goes to show that if you aren’t careful, information recorded in newspaper captions can lead you astray.  Our literary magazine, the Wofford College Journal, acted as the campus newspaper during the first years of the 20th century, and their records echo athletics records, and often provide some details of the game.

So is this a picture of the 1901 team?  The researcher’s ancestor is listed in the photo.  I am guessing that it probably is the photo in question.

But what of my other questions – one has already been satisfied – the alum’s ancestor was in the picture, so I don’t have to break that bad news!  The other one, the assertion that “this was the last time that Wofford beat USC in football” – well, that’s not quite true.  Wofford beat Carolina on November 16, 1917 as well, by a score of 20-0.  Wofford and USC played sporadically in the early years, and even in the 1950s, but those games are rare now.

Photo of the 1901(?) Wofford football team, from the Wofford football scrapbook.  

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