Jerry Summers: Lorenzo Ferguson Woodruff (1884-1929)

Thursday, May 12, 2022 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

The name of the above individual doesn’t create a lot of recognition.


“Fuzzy” Woodruff might be more familiar if the reader is a historical football fan who has an interest in the birth of the gridiron game of football in the South.


He would be known in the southeast during his literary career as a sportswriter, music, and drama critic.


Born in Montgomery, Alabama he would work for various newspapers in the Deep South, New York, and Chicago before becoming employed by several Atlanta papers.


He is best remembered as the author of three published volumes, “A History of Southern Football”, (1890-1928).


Football did not come to the South until it had been played for a least a decade by the great universities of the East – Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Pennsylvania and Brown.


The first volume in the set started in 1890 and ended in 1913 when the Mississippi State Aggies closed a very successful reason by beating Alabama 7-0.


The first intercollegiate match in which a Southern team participated was played between the University of Virginia against Princeton in New Jersey in the fall of 1890.


Unfortunately, the start of Southern football had a rather embarrassing ending as Princeton prevailed by the score of 116-0.


The University of Georgia and Alabama Polytechnic Institute (Auburn) engaged in the first all-southern contest at Brisbine Park in Atlanta on February 22, 1892.  Auburn triumphed by a 10-0 score in a historical event that was basically ignored by the Atlanta newspapers except to briefly report the final outcome.


Prior to the creation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules as to the eligibility of players were generally non-existence.  Faculty members were freely permitted to play in the games and each team always introduced its “coach” or “trainer” in its line up as well as non-students.

 

The beginning of the now classic struggles between Georgia and Georgia Tech in 1893 also produced the first charge of ineligibility of a player being hurled against an opponent.


The offending player happened to be an army post surgeon station in Fort McPhearson outside Atlanta, General Leonard Wood.


He would later become the Colonel of the Rough Riders of San Juan Hill in Cuba, the Governor-General of Cuba Governor-General of the Philippines and one of America’s most distinguished soldiers.


In an exchange of accusations between the Bulldogs and Rambling Wreck supporters the charges were that Wood was not a bona fide student in violation of non-existent rules.  The Georgia Tech counter charge was that Georgia was playing their “trainer” at halfback.


Throughout the 286 well written pages Woodruff traces the development of the game of Southern football to discuss the potential prohibition of violence and other evolutions of the game.  That would include the use of the forward pass and the early steps that have led to the present day big time football era.


Fuzzy would eulogize several events and individuals:


1.“The Iron Men” of Sewanee of the undefeated 1899 Tiger Squad that won five road games in six days;


2.Vanderbilts winningest coach, Don McGurgin, who he described as someone who “stood out in the South like Gulliver among the native sons of Lilliput”’


3.Sewanee player, Henry D.

Phillips, was called by Woodruff as “the greatest football player whoever sank some cleated shoes into a chalk line south of the Mason-Dixon line.”


Upon his death Fuzzy was buried in Crestlawn Cemetery in Atlanta with the inscription on his tombstone being “Copy All In.”


In spite of his accomplishments and fame as a sportswriter during the birth and changes in the game of football the gesture displayed at his burial may best describe the character of “Fuzzy” Woodruff.


He was buried in a bloodstained overseas uniform that he had brought back to America at the conclusion of World War I.


The blood on the uniform was not Woodruff’s but belonged to a foreign youth who died in his arms as “Fuzzy” led his men over the top at the Battle of Soissons in France.


“He was a nice boy and I liked him” declared “Fuzzy” in explaining the attachment to the uniform.

 

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

 


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