Valdosta, Albany and the controversial 1929 football season, Part II

1929-12-03 Valdosta Times (team)
The Valdosta High Wildcats of 1929, printed in the December 3, 1929 Valdosta Times. Head coach Mike Herndon is far left. To his immediate right is possibly city schools superintendent A.G. Cleveland. VHS is posed in front of its school building on Williams Street, which was its home from 1922-73. The building has since been destroyed by fire.

Continued from Part I

Valdosta was feeling quite confident heading into the 1929 football game with Albany.

Even before Moultrie was played, Valdosta’s local CRYING Out Loud column said it was in the bag.

“Albany will be disposed of next week,” said DeWitt Roberts’s column printed November 26, “unless some surprising upset occurs. That will leave the Cats the undisputed champion out of the conference, perhaps out of the entire South Georgia area.”

The column even said that Valdosta folks were looking into a game with Athens for what it called a state championship. The two had already had a so-called title game in 1920, which was won by the Wildcats.

Moultrie was duly conquered, 27-0, on Thanksgiving Day. It was on to Albany.

For as magnificent as the Wildcats were in 1929, Albany was nearly as impressive. The Indians were not scoring at the rate of Valdosta nor was the defense as stout: Valdosta had given up 13 points through Thanksgiving to Albany’s 25.

Among the six common opponents between the two schools (Sylvester, Ocilla, Quitman, Tifton, Moultrie and Thomasville), only Albany’s 14-6 win over Thomasville was by more points. Valdosta had beaten Thomasville 13-6.

Albany even had a bizarre 7-7 tie against a middling Eastman team October 11, the Albany Herald excusing the deadlock by pointing out Eastman’s players averaged 10 pounds more on the hoof.

Even with the Eastman contest, the Indians were still undefeated when Valdosta came to town, boosting a record of 9-0-1.

CRYING Out Loud was now more hestitant in its claims as well.

“The Cats may not win,” it said December 4. “They may lose by ten touchdowns in a field meet event.” Be careful of underdogs, The Times warned.

Anticipation for the contest was high. Traditional rivals Moultrie and Thomasville even moved their game up a day, to Thursday, to enable fans of those teams to watch Valdosta-Albany. This had built to be a game for the ages. The fallout was about to be one, too.

If you consider Mike Herndon’s 31 years of age young for a head football coach of a bigger program, Albany’s head coach, Sam Burke, was even more babyfaced. Burke was barely 26 at the time the teams met.

Life was just getting started for Burke, a Virginian who graduated from the University of South Carolina. He would spend a half-century around high school athletics and was arguably the biggest influence on prep athletics Georgia has ever seen, courtesy of his role with the Georgia High School Association. In 1929, however, he was 10 years from any role in Thomaston and Albany was possibly his first job in education.

The coaches of Albany – Burke, Hugh Mills and Bevin Lee – were confident in spite of the odds. The Albany Herald was ready for the Indians to be the spoiler.

“If they do [win the upset] – well, Valdosta may have to change her arrangements with Athens High School for a post season game ‘for the championship of Georgia.'”

Kickoff was at 2 p.m. in Albany. Georgia then was split into Eastern and Central time zones and Valdosta made sure to indicate the 2 p.m. was Central time. Valdosta was Eastern. Albany expected 2,000 fans in attendance. Reserved and general admission tickets were sold, with the added bonus for those in the unreserved grandstand seats of having a megaphone-wielding announcer calling out plays and penalties.

The basic premise of the Albany-Valdosta affair is agreed upon by both sides.

Valdosta led, 6-0, after Frank Garbutt ran in a touchdown from five yards out. Oliver missed on an extra point, presumably a kick attempt.

Herndon pulled his team from the field in the fourth quarter after disagreeing with a touchdown call.

Nearly every other play is significantly less straightforward.

Valdosta blocked an Albany punt deep in Indian territory but could not penetrate closer than the two. Albany had only one first down in the opening half, a 38-yard run by John Ferguson on a fake punt.

Bud McKey ran in another Valdosta touchdown in the third quarter, but it was called back for a penalty.

The accounts differ on the deciding play.

The Valdosta Times described the play that caused all the chaos as:

“Lundy, an Albany end, on a hideout play, caught a pass from Stephens. He was tackled in his tracks for an eight-yard advance by Oliver, who released him and started back to the field to line-up when a whistle blew. The referee declined to admit blowing the whistle and Lundy raced across the Valdosta goal line unimpeded. Lineman Whelchel and Umpire Waldon both declared the play dead at the point where Oliver tackled him, but Referee Russell declined to make such a ruling although he stated he did not see the play at all.”

The Albany Herald described the play slightly differently:

“The Indians registered the tying touchdown when Frank Lundy, Warrior end, grabbed a pass from Capt. John Ferguson and dashed 60 yards to cross the Wildcats’ goal line. Lundy had hardly crossed the final barrier before Coach Herndon did a marathon to the south end of the field and began immediately to protest the touchdown from various angles. His first contention was that Lundy had been downed shortly after catching the pass, but Referee George Russell [sic] overruled this, stating that he had not blown his whistle and that Lundy had never been completely halted.

“Herndon’s next move was to protest that Lundy had run out of bounds, but both Umpire “Pinky” Walden, also of Mercer, and Headlinesman E.V. Whelchel, of Ocilla, ruled that the Indian end had remained within the field during his entire run. After Lundy started on his run Walden followed him the entire route and was in a position to see that Lundy didn’t go out of bounds. The Valdosta mentor then protested that there were only six men on the line of scrimmage, but Headlinesman Whelchel overruled this.”

Herndon’s arguments, said The Herald, lasted for 30 minutes, before he pulled his team off the field.

(George Russell, listed above as an official, was actually named Glasgow Russell. More about him in Part III.)

The Thomasville Times-Enterprise attended the game as well, writer Rhydon Mays describing the situation as follows:

“The score was 6 to 0 in favor of Valdosta with something like two minutes left to play. The ball was near midfield in Albany possession. Lundy, Albany left end, hung out on the sidelines and Ferguson threw him a long forward pass as the teams lined up for play. No signal was called up by the Albany quarterback, the play having been agreed upon before the ball was snapped. Anyhow, Lundy started for the sidelines, headed for the goal line with the ball tucked safely under his arms. The Valdosta safety man tackled Lundy and stopped him momentarily, but Lundy shook him off and continued across the goal line for a touchdown.”

After Herndon came out to protest, “The referee ruled that no play was complete until he had blown his whistle and that he had not blown his whistle. Several claimed he had blown it, but he denied it emphatically.”

Valdostans were so displeased with the officiating, said The Times, that Herndon was asked to remove the team from the field at halftime. He refused, but when asked again in the fourth quarter, he did so.

“Innumerable penalties had been inflicted against the Cats, apparently with scant reason,” said The Times. “Every approach to the Albany goal line was rebuffed by generous penalizing and at one time, the ball was actually put in play behind the Albany goal line after Garbutt had crashed over [for a touchdown] – the referee refusing to rule it a touchdown and giving the ball to Albany on downs.”

The disputes with the officials had occurred all game. In the first quarter, The Times said when Garbutt went out of bounds, he handed the ball to the referee and while doing so was tackled by three Albany players. Valdosta was not happy, but the official told them to “shut up.”

The Albany Herald carried a play-by-play of the game, but did not include penalties in the write-up. A statistical recap published the day after the game said Albany was penalized twice for a total of 10 years. Valdosta was flagged six times for 50 yards. Valdosta had two holding calls, was offside three times and had one illegal motion penalty.

Stats also pointed out that Valdosta outgained Albany, 290-155, 225-87 on the ground.

To be continued in Part III, the fallout.


Sources: Macon Telegraph – Dec. 11, 1929, Dec. 22, 1929, Sept. 7, 1930, May 19, 1932, Oct. 26, 1932; Augusta Chronicle – Dec. 1, 1922,, April 30, 1943, July 1, 1976; The State (S.C.) – May 31, 1925; Morning Star (Rockford, Ill.) – Jan. 20, 1924; The Valdosta Times – Sept. 26, 1929, Sept. 28, 1929, Oct. 5, 1929, Oct. 25, 1929, Oct. 26, 1929, Nov. 26, 1929, Dec. 4, 1929, Dec. 5, 1929, Dec. 7, 1929, Dec. 10, 1929, Dec. 11, 1929, Dec. 12, 1929, Dec. 13, 1929; The Albany Herald – Oct. 12, 1929, Oct. 15, 1929, Oct. 29, 1929, Nov. 11, 1929, Dec. 5, 1929, Dec. 7, 1929, Dec. 9, 1929, Dec. 10, 1929, Dec. 11, 1929, Dec. 12, 1929; Thomasville Times-Enterprise – Nov. 11, 1929, Dec. 7, 1929, Dec. 12, 1929

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