Fans end 1932 game with Vols

Nov. 17, 2010

Commodore History Corner Archive

In November 1932, the United States was in the early stages of The Great Depression. That month and year brought Nashvillians two opportunities to vent their frustrations. On November 8, 1932, incumbent President Herbert Hoover was ousted from office in favor of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Just four days later, the University of Tennessee’s football team arrived in Nashville for its annual battle with Vanderbilt. Even with a depression, an overflowing Dudley Field crowd interrupted the game several times causing the eventual premature ending of the contest.

The Vols rolled into Nashville with an unblemished 7-0 record under the guidance of legendary coach Robert Neyland. Another legendary coach, Dan McGugin, led Vanderbilt with a 6-0-1 slate. Both teams were members of Southern Conference and in line for the conference championship. The Southeastern Conference would be organized the next year.

The results of the game were front-page news in the Nashville Tennessean with a caption that read: “Seething Mob Shares Field With Gridiron Enemies Here.”

Dudley Field was only 10 years old with a seating capacity of 22,000. Temporary bleachers were also installed in the north end zone. As the Vanderbilt band entered the stadium at 1:20 pm for a 2:00 pm kickoff, the bleachers were full and three-fourths of the remaining seats were occupied.

A few minutes later, the Vols made their appearance onto the field and that’s when problems ensued. The Tennessean reported:

And then the gate-crashing started. Between 2,000 and 3,000 frenzied persons stormed through the gate to the temporary north end bleachers–a surging wave of thundering humanity.

The blue coats had hardly checked the flow of humanity at the north end before another rush was made just east of the Palmer field house. This time several hundred, in lockstep style climbed onto the stone fence leading to the field house. Then they went on top of the equipment house and jumped into the north end bleacher section. They were stopped jumping from over but the top of Palmer field house looked like a crow’s nest, it was so black with humanity.

The Parmer (not Palmer) Field House remains to this day. Its that small stone building behind the north end scoreboard near Memorial Gymnasium. The Southern Conference rule prohibiting spectators on the sidelines was in severe jeopardy. Fans were also bold enough to sit on the Commodore benches on the west side. The police (men in blue coats) were helpless as they were brutally outnumbered.

It was also reported that the general admission crowd on the field was blocking the view of the box seats patrons. When the Vandy team arrived 15 minutes before kickoff, it was estimated that 25,000 to maybe 30,000 fans had occupied every stadium seat, the aisles and areas between the retaining wall and both benches.

McGugin was asked to announce that the game would not begin, until the spectators were back against the stands and off the cinder paths. They reluctantly succumbed to the demand.

Now for the game, or least some of it. Vandy won the coin toss and was led on the field by its All-American center Pete Gracey (pictured on the right) and backs Dixie Roberts and Chuggy Fortune. The Vols were led by their All-American, Beattie Feathers. Feathers was a halfback and one of the country’s best punters.

The defenses would determine the outcome of this game as interceptions and rough tackling prevented either team from scoring in the first half. Gracey injured his knee in the first quarter and was out for the rest of the game. The Tennessean reported:

For the Vols tackled savagely. The Commodores were as vicious. Medical attendants were called so often that the officials were on the point of deciding to allow them to remain on the field so their first aid could be brought quicker.

The Vols hit hard. They hit harder than that. They were shoulder blocking savagely. Vandy struck with terrific velocity. Breezy Wynn was so battered after the first half that Middleton replaced him and performed nobly.

Wynn was the Vols fullback. “I have rarely seen such a defensive exhibition,” said Walker Powell, one of the officials.

With a scoreless first half, the impatient crowd once again became the story. They began to creep toward the field and lined the sidelines. McGugin and Neyland removed their teams from the field and back to the dressing rooms. After trying vainly for 20 minutes to remove the crowd back to the walls, the officials firmly announced that if they were not back in two minutes, the game would be forfeited to Tennessee.

Finally after 30 minutes of delay, the second half began. A writer from a Knoxville newspaper capped the second half:

In a game featured by super-savage tackling and murderous blocking, Tennessee and Vanderbilt waged a defensive masterpiece in their traditional battle here this afternoon before a mad, surging throng, numbering close to 30,000 fans. The final score was Tennessee, 0; Vandy, 0; in favor of Auburn.

There were no red fares of victory lighting over Middle Tennessee last night. All is calm and quiet. The deadlock served only to remove, at least temporarily from the championship squabble and pave the way for Auburn’s triumphant march to the throne room.

The scoreless game only produced one player crossing the goal line, but it was nullified. In the fourth quarter, Feathers sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown after catching a pass. The officials said he stepped out of bounds at the Commodore 24-yard line. Feathers was taken to the spot where he apparently stepped out of bounds and shown his footprint.

The crowd once again began to prowl the sidelines. Police and reserve players attempted to hold them back, but failed. In the closing minutes, Vanderbilt’s Tom Henderson caught a 27-yard pass from Roberts, setting up a first down at the Vols 22-yard line. The unrelenting crowd was back on the edge of and actually on the playing field.

The frustrated officials had enough. The Henderson reception would be the last play of the game. With only three minutes left to play, the officials sounded the gun and proclaimed the game over.

The Vanderbilt officials were severely condemned for overselling the general admission seats.

A newspaper reporter wrote about his disdain for the unruly fans:

The mammoth audience defied police, scoffed at pleas to move into the cinder path, and not until the officials had threatened to forfeit the game to Tennessee, 1 to 0, did the sulky retreat beyond the boundary lines. Some said there were 25, 000 there. Some thought there were 35,000. Nobody will ever know. For the flimsy fences were beaten down. The inadequate police forces was helpless.

There has never been such an assemblence in Dudley stadium. There has never been such utter disrespect by a crowd for the rights of players. The overflow swept completely out of control. The temporary stands collapsed in one section. The thin wire was torn down by the momentum of a crowd intent upon getting into the arena.

Vanderbilt recorded 182 total yards while Tennessee tallied 118. The Commodores backfield of Roberts and Fortune were the game’s leading rushers with 86 and 72 yards. Feathers led the Vols with 47 rushing yards.

“Considering that we lost such a valuable player as Pete Gracey so early in the game, I thought that Vanderbilt was very fortunate in getting out with a tie,” McGugin said after the game. “Tennessee has an unusually fine defensive team and they never quit fighting. It was unfortunate that the last period was shortened for we might have been able to do something on that last drive.”

Neyland was equally concerned about the scoreless duel.

“It was naturally disappointing to the Tennessee coaching staff,” Neyland said. “Our record for the season was marred, but after all is said we probably were lucky to tie. I thought the Vanderbilt team showed an unusually great defense. Fortune and Roberts are two hard-driving backs that will give any team trouble.”

Vanderbilt lost to Alabama 20-0 two weeks later and concluded the season 6-1-2. The Vols and Auburn finished their respective seasons with identical 9-0-1 records. Both teams were declared co-champions of the Southern Conference.

But, isn’t it refreshing to read about Vanderbilt fans arriving at the game before kickoff!

Traughber’s Tidbit: In 1902, Vanderbilt traveled to Louisiana to defeat Tulane (23-5) and LSU (27-5). The games were played just two days apart.

Tidbit Two: During the Georgia game in 1903 in Atlanta, Vanderbilt head coach J.H. Henry came on the field during a timeout to tell the official to keep an eye out on the Bulldogs center and captain Harold Ketron. Ketron shoved Henry and grabbed his throat. Henry cursed Ketron and an Atlanta police officer arrested Henry.

Tidbit Three: Vanderbilt was such a football power in 1910 that the university had a difficult time filling a schedule. Two games were played against high schools. Vanderbilt defeated Mooney (BGA) 34-0 and Castle Heights 14-0. The Commodores were 7-3 that season.

If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail