By MIKE VINSON
The University of the South, a.k.a. "Sewanee," is located in Sewanee, TN (Franklin County), a scenic, rural, community which, for lack of better phrasing, "sets off to itself" along the mountainous Cumberland Plateau, between Chattanooga and Nashville.
Founded in the 1860s by dioceses of the Episcopal Church, with financial aid from wealthy coffers, Sewanee--such being the primary goal from the very beginning--has become known as an institution of "academic excellence," having produced approximately 25 Rhodes Scholars, as well as being listed by "Forbes Magazine" as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the United States. Suffice it to say, if a student graduates from Sewanee with a high grade point average/GPA it will "open doors" for him/her career-wise.
A small college, with a student body of 1,500 - 1,600, I never associated Sewanee with big-time college sports. That said, however, I do vividly recall watching on television Kyle Rote Jr., a Sewanee alumnus, compete in and win the 1974 "Superstars" competition. Back then, the Superstars competition was set up as follows: Athletes from various pro sports--baseball, basketball, football, boxing, tennis, etc.--had to compete in 7 of 10 available events. The only stipulation was an athlete couldn't compete in his specialty, for example: A baseball player couldn't choose the baseball-hitting contest as one of his 7 events.
Kyle Rote Jr. is the son of Kyle Rote Sr., an All-American running back at Southern Methodist University (late '40s - early '50s), a Pro Bowl running back with the New York Giants (early '50s - early '60s), and later a popular TV and radio sportscaster. Still, Kyle Rote Jr. originally attended Oklahoma State University on a football scholarship. However, a leg injury ended his football career and in 1969 he transferred to The University of the South/Sewanee to pursue his second sport: soccer. Back then, Sewanee was one of the few colleges having a competitive varsity soccer program.
Actually, since watching Kyle Rote Jr. win the Superstars competition in 1974, I hadn't thought of Sewanee in terms of sports until the other day...
I was in the 'Boro visiting with some friends and "sports" was the topic of the day. Somehow, The University of the South/Sewanee entered the collective conversation, and this one fellow said, "Did you know Sewanee was the national college football champs in 1899?"
Flabbergasted, I responded with "What in, Division III?!"
"No," he firmly said, "Sewanee was the overall national college football champs back in 1899--check it out!"
Checking it out, here's what I found: With only 13 players total, known as the "Iron Men," Sewanee's 1899 football team went 12-0, beating their opponents by a total point margin of 322 to 10, winning the 1899 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association title.
Exceptionally noteworthy of the 1899 Sewanee football team is this: During a grueling 6-day road trip, Nov. 9 - Nov. 14, 1899, Sewanee beat, and held scoreless, the following 5 teams: Texas, Texas A & M, Tulane, LSU, and Ole Miss.
"Winning five road games in six days, all by shutout scores has to be one of the most staggering achievements in the history of the sport. If the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) had been in effect in 1899, there seems little doubt Sewanee would have played in the title game. And they wouldn't have been done in by any computer ratings."-- former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno.
About the 1899 Sewanee team, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice (who, by the way, was born in Murfreesboro) was quoted as saying: "The most durable football team I ever saw." Though it was a different game played during a different era, it's a given across the college sports' board that the 1899 Sewanee football team was among the greatest ever.
Now, how many hardcore college football fans knew anything, whatsoever, about the 1899 Sewanee football team? I'll bet "very few."
(NOTE: Graduating from Sewanee in 1972, and going on to star in professional soccer, Kyle Rote Jr. also won the "Superstars" competition in 1976 and 1977.)