Clash of Titans
Games featuring a future Hall of Fame coach on each sideline.
November 26, 1896: Auburn vs Georgia
John Heisman vs Pop Warner
The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama at Auburn began playing foot­ball in 1892. The fledgling program took off when 26-year-old John Heisman became head coach in 1895.
When the University of Georgia likewise began football in 1892, the two schools deci­ded to play annually on Thanksgiving Day in Atlanta. Thus began the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry.
1895 was an important year for Georgia as well as Auburn. 24-year-old Glenn "Pop" Warner, fresh from a three-year playing career at Cornell, came South to become the coach ("trainer") with a salary of $34 per week.
Both men introduced innovations to the fledgling game.
Heisman experimented with hidden ball tricks and instituted a shouted signal ("Hike" or "Hep") to trigger the center snap. He also developed a double-lateral pass that spread to other teams. Warner introduced the single and double wing formations, the three point stance, and the body blocking technique.
However, those were all in the future. Each coach was learning as much about the tech­niques of football as he could in his first years at his new job. Warner admitted in his auto­biography that he had a full grasp of the guard position he played at Cornell but had to learn on the fly how to coach the other positions. In that regard, Heisman had the edge since he began coaching in 1892 at Oberlin College in Ohio after playing football at Penn­sylvania.
If Warner had any doubts that the Northeast was the hotbed of college football just before the turn of the century, what he saw as soon as he walked onto the athletic field at Georgia removed any doubt. "There was no fence around the field, practically no grass on the play­ing area, and 'quite a few rocks were sticking out of the bare surfaces.' And on the field to greet him were only a dozen players from which to build a team." (John F. Stege­man, The Ghosts of Herty Field)
But his spirits brightened as more boys came out for the team. "Coach Warner was able to put together a substantial line and a fleet backfield."
The new coaches first clashed on Thanksgiving 1895 in Atlanta, with Auburn claiming a 16-6 victory that reportedly was not as close as the score indicated. Georgia would be much more competitive the following year.

L: 1895 Auburn-Georgia game; R: Coach Warner on the sideline
Since both teams were undefeated in their three previous games, the winner could claim the championship of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Auburn defeated Mercer 46-0, Georgia Tech 45-0, and Sewanee 38-6. Georgia's victims were Wofford 26-0, North Carolina 24-16, and Sewanee 26-0. The scores against the only common opponent, Sewanee, suggested the de facto title game would be tight.
The Atlanta Journal described the atmosphere in the capital of Georgia as fans of both teams flocked to the city for the 1896 Thanksgiving Day game. "Chrysanthemum bedecked youths wandered about the streets this morning, with ribbons flowing from the coat lapels while coaches drawn by gaily decorated steeds could be seen hurrying to and fro under orders of the patrons of the game. Admirers of the knights of the pigskin were in evidence everywhere ..." The writer added, "No game ever played in the south has ever attracted such general attention nor excited as much interest as this one."
"There was considerable betting about the hotels this morning. ... It is believed that the Georgians will be two to one favorites in the betting by the time the game is called" (begun).

L: 1896 Georgia team; R: 1896 Auburn team with John Heisman standing at the right
The game was played at the baseball field, Brisbane Park, with kickoff at 2:30 PM. The estimated crowd of 8,000 was considered "one of the biggest crowds that ever witnessed a football game in the South." "Every available foot of space was occupied in the grounds, while scores of persons, perched on neighboring housetops, were looking at the field." (Atlanta Journal)
The sun broke out of the clouds about an hour before kickoff time. Unlike the previous year when the game was delayed an hour by an argument over who would be the referee (with the compromise being that both men proposed by the two sides would work the game), the contest started on time.
Georgia won the toss and chose the south goal to take advantage of the wind. The Athenians (as they were often called before the nickname Bulldogs was officially adopted in 1920) took the kickoff and gained 15y before fumbling the ball to Auburn. The Alabam­ians marched relentlessly to the Georgia 11 before running out of downs.
The first half started as a defensive struggle and kicking duel. With the wind at his back, Georgia's "star quarterback" Richard Von Gammon "drove the pigskin into the air ... toward Auburn's goal. One of his kicks sped 50 yards over the heads of the Auburnites." Auburn was thwarting Georgia's advance because Captain Reynolds Tichenor figured out Georgia's oral signals. "Every time Captain Nalley gave a signal, Captain Tichenor would call out to his men the trick the Georgians were about to play."
So Georgia "dropped behind the line of scrimmage while Nalley gave a signal out of earshot of the Auburn team." This has been described as football's first huddle, but the players themselves considered it just an impromptu meeting to discuss the next "trick." At any rate, "a series of consecutive plays were sprung upon the Alabamians and took them by surprise. The plays were quick and without signals and without a word, the Georgians ham­mered into the Alabamas, skirted around her ends, bucked between her guard and tackle and carried the ball eight to ten yards at a time towards Auburn's goal. A final plunge and the ball was carried across Auburn's goal line." Georgia's quarterback and captain, Rufus Nalley, used only hand signals during the onslaught, and Hatton Lovejoy scored the touchdown, which was worth four points. Then Lovejoy kicked the goal for two extra points to give Georgia a 6-0 lead at the end of the 35-minute first half.
With Auburn receiving to start the second half, Warner ordered what today would be called an onsides kick. With the receivers lined up deep in order to form a flying wedge for their receiver, Lovejoy kicked the ball "on an easy roll" just 15y downfield, where Nalley jumped on the ball.
Georgia soon had another touchdown, which was scored by Walter Cothran on an 8y sweep with Gammon taking out the last Auburn defender. Lovejoy converted again. Georgia 12 Auburn 0
Auburn's best weapon was the punt returns of Reynolds Tichenor. One of them almost resulted in injury. He had gone to the ground when a big Georgia lineman jumped at him, knees first. But Tichenor rolled out of the way in the nick of time. "That fellow was very polite," said Tichenor. "We both got up, and he apologized very profusely for having missed me."
Neither team scored until Auburn finally got on the board in the final minutes. William Williams pushed across the goal line, and Tichenor kicked goal. Georgia 12 Auburn 6
Neither team came close to scoring the rest of the second half. Darkness set in, and the game was called three minutes early by consent of both coaches. Georgia was in posses­sion of the ball on Auburn's 25.
Nalley said afterwards, "I think that we won the game by playing steady, straight foot­ball, while Auburn relied most too strongly upon her tricks."
Coach Warner: "We had the best team, but our opponents are good players, and we could not afford to let up until the game was finished. I think our team did the best kicking and ran the ends better. It was a splendid game–one of the best I've ever seen."
References: Rites of Autumn: The Story of College FootballRichard Whittingham (2001)
Echoes of Georgia Football: The Greate
st Stories Ever Told (2006)
The Ghosts of Herty Field, John F. Stegeman (1997)