Genre : Drama
Near the turn of the 20th century, a tragedy nearly killed football forever - until an unlikely heroine saved the game. Based on actual events.
The story occurs during the 1890’s, when the popularity of collegiate football has captivated the nation, despite objections from prominent scholars over the rise of serious injuries. Harvard President Charles Eliot leads the anti-football movement following their match vs. Yale in the fall of 1894. This infamous game was soon called the “Hamden Park Bloodbath,” as 7 players were carried off the field – 4 of those permanently crippled.
Move forward to the spring of 1896. Richard “Von” Gammon is a well-liked high school student and athlete who dreams of performing on the Olympic stage someday. One afternoon he is visited at home by future legendary football coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, who wishes that he come play football at the University of Georgia. While Von and most of his family are excited over this proposition, his mother Rosalind shares concern over academic distraction and potential injury. Despite her objection, Von heads off to school to try out for the team with his friend Walter.
During his freshman year as quarterback of the team, Von leads Georgia to its first undefeated season, highlighted by a 12-6 win over bitter rival Auburn University. During this contest, Von outplays the opposing quarterback Reynolds Tichenor while Coach Warner outsmarts Auburn Coach John Heisman, also a legend in the making.
However, much changes by the following fall. Von returns to school and is told that Pop Warner has left Georgia to coach at Cornell University. In addition, his nemesis Reynolds Tichenor has arrived at Georgia by enrolling in law school. The new ball coach assigns the quarterback position to Reynolds, which does not sit well with young Gammon. Despite the adversity, Von goes on to perform brilliantly on offense, defense, and as kicker during the 1897 campaign. Tichenor is also a standout behind center and the Georgia eleven enter the fourth game of the season – once again undefeated. Things are going so well that even Rosalind has become fond of the game.
On Saturday, October 30, the also undefeated University of Virginia rolls into Atlanta to play Georgia at a place called Brisbane Park. Fan interest has swelled so drastically that the home field facilities in Athens are of insufficient size to support the massive crowd. Harry Hodgson, who is the beat reporter of the Georgia team, reports the play-by-play to the outside world via telegraph. From the opening kick, the larger and faster boys from Virginia take control of the game and are on their way to an apparent victory. However, football suffers its ultimate loss when Von Gammon is mortally injured while attempting a diving tackle during the second half. His lifeless body is rushed to a nearby hospital, where he passes overnight.
Von’s tragedy becomes the boiling point in the simmering debate over football. Officials at Georgia (and several other schools) immediately cancel the remainder of their season. Von Gammon is buried in his home town on Monday, and by Tuesday the Georgia Legislature in Atlanta drafts a bill to legally ban football from being played at all state institutions. If approved, anyone found in violation will be guilty of a misdemeanor. By week’s end, the measure passes the house and is on its way to the state senate, where it is soon approved by a landslide. All that remains to kill the game for good is a signature from Georgia’s Governor William Atkinson.
However, before the Governor can put ink on paper, he is presented with a letter authored by Rosalind Gammon. In it, she defies popular opinion and pleads the bill not be signed. Von’s mother has recognized the important role that football played in her son’s life, and despite her loss does not want the thing he loved most be a casualty of his untimely death.
On Christmas day, 1897, Von’s family and friends gather to play an impromptu football game in his memory. In doing so, they celebrate the Governor’s courageous decision to grant Rosalind’s request and save the game.
by Linder Pak
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