1899: A Sewanee Legend

"While there are some who would swear to the contrary, I did not see the 1899 Sewanee football team play in person. 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.”   — Penn State head coach Joe Paterno

Sewanee's Iron Men of 1899

 Described by some football analysts as one of the best teams ever, the undefeated 1899 Sewanee football team is accorded that lofty ranking, not just for its 12-0 record, but for its mid-season train ride into history.

A remarkable five wins in six days — all on the road and all by shutouts against Southern powers — has placed this Sewanee team in an elite class.

Preceding football legends such as the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame of the 1920s, Fordham’s Seven Rocks of Granite of the 1930s and LSU’s Chinese Bandits of the late 1950s, the Iron Men have written their own place in gridiron history. The men of Sewanee proudly carried the school’s banner that fall and the “S’’ on their purple jerseys was as familiar to opponents from North Carolina to Texas as Superman would be in the mythical city of Metropolis a half century later.

But far from comic book super heroes, the “Iron Men” of Sewanee posted some legendary wins against those Southern opponents that fall.

The Legendary Feat Recognized
  • In Southern Fried Football: The History, Passion and Glory of the Great Southern Game, author and Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports writer Tony Barnhart wrote, “The Tigers from Tennessee’s Sewanee went 12-0 in 1899, but that’s not why this team is No. 1 on his all-time Southern list. Sewanee took the ultimate road trip, playing five games in six days, all on the road. And not only did the Tigers win them all, but all five games were by shutouts.”

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  • ESPN — On College Gameday Nov. 13, 1999, ESPN featured the University of the South with a four-minute segment on the 1899 football team. Tony Barnhart and ESPN producer Dan Goldfarb spent two days in Sewanee and Cowan taping the segment, which aired on ESPN’s national college football pre-game show. The segment showed campus shots, interviews with descendants of the 1899 team members, current University of Pittsburgh assistant athletic director Johnny Majors and Sewanee head coach John Windham. Thanks to CSX Railroad, a short train ride in Cowan provided a re-enactment of an early leg of the Sewanee to Texas train ride.

The Tally

1899: Sewanee 12-0

Oct. 21 Sewanee 12    @Georgia             0
Oct. 23 Sewanee 32    @Georgia Tech     0
Oct. 28 Sewanee 46    Tennessee            0
Nov. 3   Sewanee 54    Southwestern       0
Nov. 9   Sewanee 12    @Texas                0
Nov. 10 Sewanee 10    @Texas A&M        0
Nov. 11 Sewanee 23    @Tulane               0
Nov. 13 Sewanee 34    @LSU                   0
Nov. 14 Sewanee 12    @Ole Miss            0
Nov. 20 Sewanee 71    Cumberland          0
Nov. 30 Sewanee 11    @Auburn            10

Dec. 2   Sewanee 5      @North Carolina   0