"Football is the game of the future"- William G. Little, 1892
Football's Origin at Alabama
Mr. W.G. Little, of Livingston, AL, was the first man to introduce football at the University. Mr. Little had been a student at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he was introduced to a new rugby-like sport callled football. Due to the untimely death of his brother, Little returned home to take care of his family. He soon enrolled at the University of Alabama for the fall semester of 1892. He had encouraged a few his schoolmates into participating in this new sport with the season beginning in October of that year.
Alabama's first game was played in Birmingham on Friday afternoon, November 11, 1892, at Lakeview Park. Little served as the team captain with E.B. Beaumont selected as Alabama's first coach. Opposition was furnished by a picked team from Professor Taylor's School and Birmingham high schools, with Alabama winning 56-0. Early teams were a bit tougher than current squads, it seems, as the following afternoon Alabama played the Birmingham Athletic Club, losing 5-4 when Ross, of B.A.C., kicked a 65-yard field goal. Impossible though it may seem, this field goal was listed as a collegiate record at one time and Birmingham papers of the day featured its distance in writeups of the game.
The following year marked the first Iron Bowl meeting between Alabama and Auburn. It occured February 22, 1893 in Birmingham with Auburn upsetting Bama 32-22. Officially this game was listed on the 1892 schedule since it was the '92-93 school year. Alabama wore white shirts with red lettered U of A on them along with red stockings. The next football season saw a new head coach, Eli Abbott (pictured below right), who was also a player. It seems he helped his team more as a player than a coach as he scored four touchdowns in a victory over Tulane as well as two touchdowns in Bama's first victory over Auburn. Alabama was soon given the nickname, "The Thin Red Line" by local newspapers.
The gridiron sport rapidly caught the student's fancy and the game became a favorite with University athletes. in 1896 the University's Board of Trustees passed a rule forbidding athletic teams from traveling off the campus. The following season only one game was played and in 1898 football was abandoned at Alabama. Student opposition was so strong that the trustees lifted the travel ban and football was resumed in 1899.
1901 marked the origination of the Tennessee series, a game which was called because of darkness with the score tied at 6-6. A crowd of more than 2,000 spectators rushed the Birmingham field in protest when the contest was stopped. Alabama's football success steadily grew and in 1915, saw it's first All-American, W.T. "Bully" VandeGraffe (pictured left). He was a standout on offense and defense and was hailed as the best kicker of his era for his punting and placekicking abilities.
With the severity of World War I, Alabama didn't field a team in 1918, however, the following year saw play resume near the war's end. Alabama splashed onto the national scene on November 4, 1922 when they vanquished a favored Pennsylvania Quakers team 9-7 in front of a crowd of 25,000 (a mob scene back then). Alabama was well on its way to becoming a national powerhouse in college football.
How the "Crimson Tide" Got Its Name
In the early newspaper accounts of Alabama football, the team was simply listed as the "varsity" or the "Crimson White" after the school colors. The first nickname to become popular and used by headline writers was the "Thin Red Line." The nickname was used until 1906. The name "Crimson Tide" is supposed to have first been used by Hugh Roberts, former sports editor of the Birmingham Age-Herald. He used "Crimson Tide" in describing an Alabama-Auburn game played in Birmingham in 1907, the last football contest between the two schools until 1948 when the series resumed. The game was played in a sea of mud and Auburn was the heavy favorite to win. But, evidently, the "Thin Red Line" played a great game in the red mud and held Auburn to a 6-6 tie, thus gaining the name "Crimson Tide." Zipp Newman, former sports editor of the Birmingham News, probably popularized the name more than any other writer.