1899 Sewanee Tigers Win Mythical March of the Gridiron Championship

1899 Sewanee Tigers Win Mythical March of the Gridiron Championship

(Portions of this story courtesy of the College Football Hall of Fame Facebook page)

- In March of this year, the College Football Hall of Fame released a bracket for the March of the Gridiron Champions Tournament. A tournament field of 16 of the greatest all-time single season teams were selected by fans on the Hall's family of social media sites. The only major selection rule of the tournament was that there would be only be one team selected per school or university. The selection committee then placed the teams into four major regions: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. In picking the First Round match-ups, the selection committee tried to not place teams from the same decade playing each other, and "to level the playing field", all teams were outfitted with modern day protective equipment and apparel.

The 1899 University of the South-Sewanee Purple Tigers were one of the 16 teams selected and "played" and defeated some of the all-time great teams in college football history during their bracket run, including the 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers, the 1947 Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the 1974 Oklahoma Sooners before defeating the 1961 Alabama Crimson Tide in the mythical champions finale.

Below is the "game recap" of the title match-up against the 1961 Alabama team.

- Miami has played host to some fantastically historical sporting events. Ten Super Bowls, including the historical Super Bowl III, the ...undefeated 1972 Dolphins season, the longest home winning streak in college football, multiple college football national title games in the Orange Bowl, Muhammad Ali's first title bout, 1981 Chargers/Dolphins AFC Divisional Playoff game, World Series games, and NBA Finals series just to name a few.

In a match-up between two of arguably the greatest defenses ever in college football, this game lived up to top billing and can be added to the previously stated list.

With the March of the Gridiron Champions Title on the line, the legendary 1899 "Ironmen Goal Line Defense" made a stand for all ages in the final minute of play and the 1899 Sewanee Purple Tigers hung on for a thrilling 5-0 victory over the 1961 Alabama Crimson Tide squad.

"I thought ole Pat(Trammell) was going to pull one out of the fire again, but he got tackled two yards short on that 4th down," stated Alabama Head Coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant. "Give Coach (Billy) Suter's Sewanee Tigers all the credit. Those were two of the greatest defenses out on that field that this old ball coach ever saw. Even the dogs of war wanted to get a closer look on the last drive", Bryant commented to reporters after the game.

Coach Bryant was referencing the break in action on the game determining drive when the game was stopped briefly when two dogs sprinted out on to the fog sod. Alabama was in the middle of their imposing final 84 yard drive that ended two yards shy of the Sewanee end zone with 0:22 left in the game. Spreading like wildfire through the working Print and Digital Media, the dogs were quickly labeled "Crockett" and "Tubbs."

"I had just figured it was an ole Auburn fan that had brought his dogs to the ball game," the "Bear" managed to find a way to joke despite the loss.

Even though Alabama was led by Lee Roy Jordon's 27 solo tackles and a forced fumble that kept the Purple Tigers out of the end zone, it was Sewanee who had the last laugh as they pounced on Alabama ball carrier after ball carrier. Through an all-encompassing fog that settled over Sun Life Stadium, Sewanee was able to get on the board with a 42-yard drop kick midway at the end of the 3rd quarter by "Rex" Kilpatrick breaking the scoreless stalemate.

"It was so foggy I couldn't tell if it made it through," said an elated Sewanee head coach, Billy Suter. "but the moving motion picture screens (in reference to the stadium jumbo-trons) showed it split the uprights dead solid center!"

The momentum clearly shifted in the favor of Sewanee, with Tiger Trainer Cal Burrows pacing the sidelines firing up the Ironmen before taking the field. On Alabama's next possession, Sewanee was able to pin the Crimson Tide inside their own 11 yard line with a booming end over end kickoff. After three attempts to break it to the outside and going nowhere, on stunt attack Tiger defensive tackle, "Deacon" Jones edged through the Alabama blockers to envelop the punt that went out the tumbling out the back of the end zone for a safety and a 5-0 Sewanee lead with 10:42 left in the 4th quarter.

"We had tried that scheme up in Princeton years ago, so I figured why not draw it up for Jonesy Boy," recounted Coach Suter about the game changing punt block.

Sewanee then got the ball again after Alabama was forced to punt the ball back to the Tigers. The University of the South's signal caller William "Warbler" Wilson then directed a masterpiece of a drive, consuming 8:07 off the clock. "The Domain's" power backfield of Henry Seibels and Ormond Simkins had gutty total of 15 carries and 63 yards on that drive alone. Sewanee was going in for the game sealing touchdown, before Alabama tackle Billy Neighbors came up with the best play of the game up to that point. Neighbors barnstormed through the double team block, was able to wrap up Warbler and force strip the ball out of Warbler's hands, giving the Tide faithful a breath of life.

Like so many times before in this tournament, Trammell took the field looing to lead the Crimson Tide comeback with 2:35 left and two timeouts remaining. Trammell guided the Alabama offense, pounding the ball all the way to the Sewanee four yard line. On first down, offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger dialed up the bootleg, but Bartlet et Ultimus "The Caboose" Sims managed to get his paws up and batted down Trammell's pass. On second down, halfback was turned back at the line of scrimmage by a purple horde. On third down, fullback Mike Franccia hit the hole right off of the hip of the center, digging into the Miami soil with his cleats was able to churn and fight his way two the two yard line before being dragged down by a gang tackle. The ever alert Trammell sprinted over to the referee emphatically calling for their final timeout. As Alabama's players talked through their strategy with their coaching staff, the University of Alabama's Million Dollar Band belted out a rousing rendition of "Yeah, Alabama", and they got their money's worth. With the entire crowd up on their feet, the Sewanee Ironmen huddled up in the middle of their field at their goal line by Team Captain "Diddy" Seibels. Seibels growled out his orders and challenging his men over a deafening roar from the stands to make one final stand! Coming out of the line, Trammell calmly walked under center and barked out his signals. Trammell to the snap and dropped back, and like he was shot out of a musket, Seibels shot off the weak side edge barreling towards the Tide signal caller. The Tigers - along with the fog - successfully covered up all of Trammell's receivers, so the Alabama quarterback made the decision to pull it down and take the game into his hands and scramble toward the goal line. The entire stadium collectively took in a breath and became momentarily speechless, as seemingly everybody saw the blitzing Seibels except Trammell. There was a crack the reverberated over the field as Seibels leveled his shoulder into the quarterback taking him down, leaving Alabama two yards short.

The shot took the air out of the stadium for the Crimson Tide Nation, but sent the University of the South Fans erupting into utter elation. The humid South Florida night carried the cheers of "Yea, Sewanee's Right!" After a quick kneel down, Sewanee students stormed the field taking down both goalposts.

Being swept and carried away by the oncoming purple supporters, a reporter managed to yell out to Sewanee Team Manager Luke Lee "So Lee, what is Sewanee going to do now??" "Well they tell me there's an interesting place they calling "the happiest place on Earth" not far from here that wants us to visit on our way back home! What's that place that offered us to visit, Coach Suter? Oh yea! I remember! Think it's 'Disney World'? We're going to Disney World!", yelled a smiling Lee. Somehow, that sounds fitting.

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