As I watched the Georgia-Auburn, or Auburn-Georgia game (if you are an Auburn fan, Auburn always comes first, and visa versa for Georgia), I had to reflect on when it was played in Columbus. And it has been played in Columbus more times than anywhere else, 38 games, according to Wikipedia. It was played in Columbus from 1920 to 1958, with the only break being when it was played in Athens in 1929. The crowds outgrew Columbus’ Memorial Stadium and the game has alternated between Athens and Auburn since 1959.
A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, formerly Memorial Stadium, home of Georgia-Auburn football games from 1920 to 1958
I never really knew why Columbus was selected as the site, only surmising that it might have been because Columbus is only about 35 miles from Auburn, but it’s in Georgia. Maybe it’s because Memorial Stadium in 1920 was larger than the stadiums at Athens and Auburn. I really don’t know that for sure. If you do know, please click the comment button and tell me.
Anyway, as many in Columbus and Phenix City who are old enough to remember will tell you, it was a huge deal, perhaps the largest social affair in Columbus each year. Parties were held all over town, with some really impressive ones in the homes of the affluent. Everyone dressed up for the game back then, with men wearing suits and ties, and women wearing their Sunday best and a red and white, or blue and gold carnation corsage. I knew that, not because I went to the games before the end of World War II, but from my father driving the family by the stadium on game day to watch folks going into the stadium. My parents considered the tickets too pricey at the time. The most exciting drive-by was during World War II when we saw mega-movie star Bette Davis being escorted by her Fort Benning solider boyfriend into the stadium. My memory tells me she was wearing a corsage, but I don’t remember which colors. We would go back home and listen to the game on the radio. WRBL radio – there was no TV then – broadcast the games on a statewide network.
I couldn’t see the games then, but I could see the bands, and I loved the bands as much as I did the games. On game day, the Georgia band would arrive in Columbus on a Central of Georgia train. All I had to do was walk from our house on 5th Avenue near 11th Street to the corner of 5th Avenue and 12th Street, which was a short block from the Central of Georgia depot. By the time the Georgia band got to the intersection it went from a percussion street beat to the band’s playing a familiar march, maybe even Glory Glory to Old Georgia. Then my buddies and I would follow the band to Broadway where it would join the Auburn band for the Broadway parade. Georgia and Auburn fans would decorate their cars in school colors and signs.
During the last year of World War II and right after the war, since the war had brought an end to the Great Depression, family finances picked up and we started going to the games. The one that I remember most vividly was when Charlie Trippi played. It was either the 1945 or 1946 game. Trippi, who was an All-American and in the running for the Heisman Trophy (Doc Blanchard of Army won it) put on dazzling show.
Charlie Trippi (Photo courtesy: Athens Banner-Herald)
It was a warm, sunny November Saturday afternoon. We were sitting in the end zone seats , but that didn’t matter because I WAS THERE, actually seeing a Georgia-Auburn game. And while I was rooting for Georgia, I enjoyed the Auburn band when it played The Tiger Rag as much as the Bulldog band when it played Glory Glory to old Georgia. I just loved it when the Auburn band tuba section stood and in unison turned from one side to the other when it did the roar part of the song.
And the end zone didn’t turn out so bad after all. You got to see Trippi doing his dazzling reverses and running backwards before he would turn and run what it appeared to be right through most of the Auburn team in the end-zone area. That turned out to be better than the ultra-expensive 50-yard line seats. Georgia won. I know that because Georgia won both the 1945 and 1946 games.
The Georgia-Auburn game is billed as “The Deep South’s Oldest Football Rivalry.” Virginia-North Carolina claim to be “The South’s Oldest Football Rivalry” even though it played its first game in 1892, the same year that Georgia and Auburn played their first game. Virgnia-North Carolina claim the most games since they played two in 1892. There is the distinct possibility that Georgia and Auburn can play twice in one year for the SEC Championship so that will make it a tie for “oldest rivalry,” I suppose.
Anyway, as you know Auburn won this year. The teams are pretty close to a tie for the most wins from 1892 to now.