118 years ago, Georgia football almost died

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION FILE: Bulldogs player Von Gammon, a 19-year-old from Rome, Ga., died from injuries sustained on the field during the October 30, 1897, Virginia-Georgia football game in Atlanta.

ATLANTA CONSTITUTION FILE: Bulldogs player Von Gammon, a 19-year-old from Rome, Ga., died from injuries sustained on the field during the October 30, 1897, Virginia-Georgia football game in Atlanta.

The visiting Virginia Cavaliers’ 17-4 win over the Georgia Bulldogs on Oct. 30, 1897, was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Bulldogs fullback and Rome, Ga., native Von Gammon, 19, died from head injuries as a result of a missed tackle and was sent to Grady Hospital with a concussion.

Soon after his death, a bill outlawing football at all state institutions passed the state legislature, but needed Gov. William Atkinson’s signature to become law.

Gammon’s mother, Rosalind, wrote a letter to Floyd County Representative James B. Nevin and argued for the game to continue in universities. Atkinson didn’t sign the bill and college football lived on in Georgia.

Today, Georgia, Mercer, Georgia State and Georgia Tech still field football teams and college football is among the state’s most popular sports.

Here’s how the story progressed in the Constitution in the days after the tragedy:

The excerpt below comes from a story that originally appeared in The Atlanta Constitution on Oct. 31, 1897. All text is copied as it was presented in the Constitution.

From Gridiron to the Grave: Football Game Yesterday Will Result in Death of One Player

From The Atlanta Constitution on Oct. 31, 1897

From The Atlanta Constitution on Oct. 31, 1897

Richard Von Gammon, from Rome, Ga., one of the best players on the Georgia team, lies in a dying condition at the Grady hospital with concussion of the brain. The attending physicians say it is impossible for him to live. At 2:30 o’clock this morning life was slowly ebbing away, and it was thought he could not last until daylight.

It was in the first part of the second half when Gammon met with his unfortunate accident. Just how the young fellow was hurt is not known, accounts differing. … Virginia had the ball. … Gammon was in the crowd and he made a lunge at the player who had the ball. He missed his tackle and was thrown violenty to the ground. Some say Gammon’s head hit his shoe as he almost doubled as he was thrown. Others claim his head struck the hard ground.

The fearful fall stunned Gammon and he was picked up dazed and half unconscious. … He soon became unconscious…

The excerpt below comes from a story that originally appeared in The Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 1, 1897. All text is copied as it was presented in the Constitution.

Athens People are Aroused: They Cry Out Against Football and Mourn Gammon’s Death

Athens, Ga., October 31 — (Special) — Yesterday morning the game of football had hundreds of enthusiastic supporters in Athens; this morning the almost universal cry of the people of Athens is for its immediate abolishment, so far as the University of Georgia is concerned. …

Several members of the university faculty have expressed themselves as favorable to immediate action forbidding the students entering any more football games. It is more than likely that a meeting of the faculty will be called tomorrow to take action on this subject.

The excerpt below comes from a story that originally appeared in The Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 1, 1897. All text is copied as it was presented in the Constitution.

No More Football Games: Chancellor Boggs Says the Faculty Will So Decide Now

From The Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 1, 1897

From The Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 1, 1897

Athens, Ga., October 31 — (Special) — There will be no more football contests this year engaged in by the University of Georgia eleven.

The tragic death of Von Gammon in Atlanta ends the record of the varsity team this year.

The excerpt below originally appeared in The Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 5, 1897. All text is copied as it was presented in the Constitution.

From The Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 5, 1897

From The Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 5, 1897

Mrs. Gammon’s Interesting Letter

Mrs. Gammon writes [to Floyd County Representative James B. Nevin] as follows:

“Dear Mr. Nevin — It would be the greatest favor to the family of Von Gammon if your influence could prevent his death from being used as an argument detrimental to the athletic cause and its advancement at the university. His love for his college and his interest in all manly sports, without which he deemed the highest type of manhood impossible, is well known by his classmates and friends, and it would be inexpressibly sad to have the cause he held so dear injured by his sacrifice. Grant me the right to request that my boy’s death should not be used to defeat the most cherished object of his life. Dr. Herty’s article in The Constitution of November 2nd is timely, and the authorities of the university can be trusted to make all needed changes and for all possible consideration pertaining to the welfare of its students, if they are given the means and the confidence their loyalty and high sense of duty should deserve. Yours most respectfully, VON GAMMON’S MOTHER. Rome, Ga., November 2, 1897.”

From The Atlanta Constitution on Dec. 8, 1897

From The Atlanta Constitution on Dec. 8, 1897

Following Mrs. Gammon’s letter, members of the legislature who voted in favor of the anti-football bill felt they had made a mistake. Athens, too, petitioned the governor to return the bill without his approval.

In December 1897, Gov. Atkinson vetoed the bill.

Mandi Albright contributed to this package.

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