Goats and Codfish Balls: Secrets of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry
On February 20, 1892, at Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, Georgia and Auburn faced off in football. This Saturday, they'll do it for the 123rd time. That first match was only the Red and Black’s second game in its brief football history, but it was Auburn's maiden voyage in the new game of football. The contest was a battle of coaching doctors: UGA’s Dr. Charles Herty and Auburn’s Dr. George Petrie.
The field was 110 yards long. Only three downs were available for earning a first down, and the forward pass was as forbidden as an act of petty larceny. The game kicked off around 3:30 p.m. What followed looked a bit more like rugby scrumming than our conception of modern football.
A grandstand had been erected at the field to hold 10,000 people, and there was a good bit of hype. Nearly every seat was expected to be filled, and contemporary accounts insisted that "thousands of men, women, and children flocked to Piedmont Park" in "vast armies." To some extent it was Gilded Age fake news, however. Dark clouds and a steady rain limited the game’s attendance discouraged all but a dedicated 3,000 onlookers. The anticipated thousands of dollars in gate receipts resulted in only $800.
Approximately 150 Georgia Tech students loaded up the streetcars and came by. But if you expected ill intent, you'd be wrong. They cheered for Georgia and even wore their neighbor's school colors of "black and crimson." Tech students loudly chanted during the game, "I love codfish, I love codfish, I love codfish balls." It's history; you can't make this stuff up.
Many current Georgia football enthusiasts are well aware that a goat answering to Sir William bore the honor of the first Red and Black mascot. However, there was almost another mascot entirely, and you won't find it anywhere in the annals of Georgia football. It's not exactly a proud specimen of UGA lore. Instead of the goat, Georgia was nearly represented by Lewis Green, better known as Old Tub.
Old Tub was a blind African-American man who lived in a cabin next to the UGA campus during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Adored by students and regarded as "one of the landmarks of Athens,” Old Tub was particularly known for his spellbinding stories, including accounts of his round trip journeys to both Hell and Heaven. A playful "college alphabet" in UGA’s 1890 yearbook, the Pandora, actually tells us that “T is for tub, the college Mascot.” These were very different times in the Deep South, and it's no wonder these such details don't appear in official modern histories.
Leading up to the Auburn game, Georgia students suggested that 79-year-old Old Tub should grace the sidelines to represent the team. In the end, however, the goat won out. It was Auburn that took the path UGA rejected. Instead of any tiger or eagle, Auburn offered “Dabble, the negro boy.”
When Auburn fans shouted at Sir William, “Shoot the Billy goat!” the Georgia faithful directed their yells toward Dabble: “And, take the negro out!” Nevertheless, as reported, Dabble stood his ground, totally ignoring the shouts, and "walked on calmly . . . across the field to his place near the judges' stand."
In the end, or only an hour and a half following the opening kickoff, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, as it was known, had prevailed by a 10-to-0 score.
For more than 126 years, the victory has been celebrated on the Plains as the inauguration of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. But as one might expect, Auburn is mum when it comes to the school’s first mascot—the brave, dedicated Dabble—and his association with Auburn football.