Remembering The 1905 Chattanooga Victory Over Tennessee

  • Friday, October 10, 2014
  • John Shearer

As UTC gets ready to play at Tennessee Saturday in the first game between the two schools since 1969, a few people have been recalling the memorable 1958 Mocs victory when the two schools played regularly.

The Mocs also beat the Vols one other time – in 1905. And it was the only football victory ever over Tennessee in Chattanooga.

On Saturday, Dec. 2, of that year, a small crowd was on hand at League Park to witness the big sports moment – a 5-0 victory over the team in orange and white.  Yes, it was not until 1912 that a touchdown’s numerical value was increased from five to six points.

That was not all that was different about the college game in those days, as Tennessee played Alabama at Birmingham’s West End Park just two days before, and lost the Thanksgiving encounter, 29-0. West End Park later became Kelly Ingram Park and was famous in the Birmingham civil rights marches of 1963.

Chattanooga – which was known as Grant University in those days – also had a Thanksgiving Day game, a 41-0 victory in Clarksville over Southwestern Presbyterian University, a school that later moved to Memphis and eventually became Rhodes College.

So the two East Tennessee teams were a little sore physically, but apparently ready to go emotionally, when they met 48 hours later in Chattanooga. The Tennessee team arrived on Friday and stayed at the now-razed Southern Hotel, which was where Ninth Street (now M.L. King Jr. Boulevard) met Carter and Chestnut streets.

Chattanoogans also had plenty of other news to focus on away from sports and following the more prestigious games taking place like Harvard-Yale and Army-Navy.

For example, plans were being finalized for the construction of the new Bijou Theatre at Sixth and Walnut streets by the Bijou company of Richmond, Va., with noted theater architect Fuller Claflin the designer.

The Tennessee-Grant game began at 3 p.m. at League Park. Where League Park was seems to be a little bit of a mystery, as the Chattanooga Public Library has no information on it. Perhaps it was the field near the Stanton House where the Lookouts played baseball for a period in the days before the Terminal Station was constructed.

The Stanton House field was also called Orient Park and was where Chattanooga did play a few football games in those days.

It is also not known how the Tennessee football players got to the game, or if they did an early version of “the Vol walk.”

When the game began, one unwelcome guest was in attendance – a constant rain. As a result of that and the cold temperatures, many of the fans left. But those who remained saw a classic – although muddy – encounter.

The game had a number of fumbles due to the wet weather, but it did have its share of big plays as well. And none was bigger than a second-half run by Jonas Beene of the Chattanooga team.

The end took the ball, ran around end and went 65 yards for the score. Tennessee player J.D. Depree did dive for him, but could not quite get his hand on him. Depree, by the way, was also the coach of Tennessee and had been a standout player at Michigan. He was allowed to play in the game because Chattanooga was not in the same association as Tennessee, and this game was considered an add-on to the regular season.

The team in blue and gold coached by Dr. Walter Hullihen also had a chance to score another touchdown after blocking a punt, but the Grant ball carrier later lost the ball after picking it up.

The article on the game in the Chattanooga Times said the general consensus was that Grant/Chattanooga would have won by an even bigger margin if the weather had been dry.

Regardless, the victory was considered significant, even in 1905 when college football in the South was still in the formative years.

As the Times wrote, “The football team of Grant University won a signal victory yesterday afternoon when it lowered the colors of the University of Tennessee by taking one of the most exciting games ever seen in this city. “  

The article also said the victory “won for Grant University a good standing in Southern football circles.”

The victory was still being relished in Monday’s paper, as the 6-1 Chattanooga team – which lost only to Cumberland – was described as having its best season ever in the history of its fledgling program.

“Grant has now won a place among the colleges of the South in football,” the article said.

Tennessee, meanwhile, returned to Knoxville via train sporting a 3-5-1 record and obviously disappointed at the loss, even though some people at the time considered it more of an exhibition game.

Chattanooga also tied the Vols in 1909 and 1910. But within a few years after that, Robert Neyland arrived on the Tennessee campus, and beating Tennessee became a monumental task, even though the Mocs and coach Scrappy Moore pulled off the feat in 1958 against coach Bowden Wyatt.

That 1958 win in Knoxville came after the Vols occasionally visited Chamberlain Field to play Chattanooga, such as in 1932 and 1939.

But way before all that, Chattanooga in 1905 had a victory over Tennessee to cherish for a long time.

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