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The first Red Elephants stampeded and stumbled

POSTED: August 24, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Katie B. Davis's excellent article in The Times a few days back about the origin of the Gainesville High School Red Elephants' nickname stirs some curiosity about that 1935 football team and the excitement that would attract the attention of the big-city newspapers.

Both Gainesville and Marietta were undefeated going into their Oct. 25 game in Marietta, though Anderson, S.C., had tied Gainesville 6-6. The two local weekly newspapers at the time, the Eagle and the News, hyped the game up pretty good, but so did the Atlanta newspapers. Marietta's nickname was and is the Blue Devils. Gainesville had none unless it was the "Red and White."

Gainesville won the game handily, 26-6, with star back Dean Evans scoring from 71 yards on Gainesville's first play. He also scored again from 12 yards as GHS got all its points in the first half. Gainesville ran for 278 yards and passed for 42 while the Blue Devils could muster a total of only 88 yards.

In his report of the game in the Atlanta Journal the next day, writer Bill Blake called the Gainesville team "the big Red Elephants," apparently the first use of that nickname for the football team. The local weekly papers didn't refer to the team as the Red Elephants until several games later. It stuck after that. If there were any official pronouncement that henceforth Gainesville High would be known as the Red Elephants, it couldn't be found.

While the Marietta game was a biggie, and even larger one loomed the next week at City Park against Decatur, which had been a longtime bitter rival. Fans got so excited that Capt. Fred Loomis offered players a ride in his Ford tri-motor airplane if they won. However, the visitors left with a 6-6 tie.

Marist beat Gainesville next, and what had seemed to be a promising season for Coach Cotton Neighbors' team suddenly was going downhill. The newly nicknamed Red Elephants won the next game against Russell, but miserably fell to Athens on Thanksgiving Day before 8,000 fans in Sanford Stadium to end the season.

George Austin, Frank Delong, Bubba Dunlap, Ray Shaw, Bill Scroggs, Guy McJunkin, Beecher Holland and Johnnie Reed were among players on the 1935 team. The few survivors of that first team to be called Red Elephants either couldn't be reached or couldn't recollect the particulars about that landmark season.

Coincidentally, the week that Gainesville played Marietta, undefeated Riverside Military Academy was playing a big game against undefeated Boys High. It was hyped pretty good, too, and attracted 6,000 fans at Ponce de Leon Park in Atlanta. Boys High won 26-7. It was the first season at Riverside for Coach Red Sanders, who compiled a 31-3-1 record there before becoming head coach at Vanderbilt and later UCLA.

This was the era when Ralph McGill was writing sports for the Atlanta Constitution. The Atlanta newspapers were separately owned then, and their sports sections were huge rivals. A few years later McGill would become the internationally famous editor of the paper and still later publisher.

That 1935 season, the University of Georgia was undefeated when Alabama came to Athens. Both Atlanta papers seem to try to outdo each other in pregame build-up. Alabama won 17-7, and the Bulldogs' once-promising season also ended miserably with other losses against LSU, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

The Alabama team was called Red Elephants more often then than today's more common nickname, Crimson Tide. Another Atlanta sports writer, Everett Strupper, gets credit for hanging the Red Elephants nickname on Alabama five years before the name was attached to Gainesville's team. The 1930 Alabama team went undefeated and was declared national champions.

A Birmingham sports writer first used the Crimson Tide nickname for Alabama's football team way back in 1907 when Alabama played Auburn to a 6-6 tie in a famous "mud bowl" game, the last time the two teams would play each other until 1948.

And that's your heaping helping of sports trivia for today.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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