CHARLOTTE, NC, December 17, 2018 – When the NFL begins playing regular season games on Saturday afternoons, it means Christmas is near. Likewise, the Super Bowl is just around the corner and the NCAA college football bowls and national championship will soon be decided.
With all that pigskin action in mind, let’s take a journey into the past. Our story involves one of the strangest college football games in history.
Red Raiders vs Centenary Gentlemen: Making college football history
It happened on November 11, 1939 in a contest between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the Centenary College Centenary Gentlemen. This college football game set more NCAA records than any game in NCAA history: 13.
As a frame of reference, in 2017, college football teams averaged slightly over 404 yards of total offense per game. About 175 of those yards were on the ground with the remaining 230 yards through the air.
Nearly 8 decades ago, the competitors averaged approximately two more plays per game than last year. But total yardage was only half of the modern game with just over 202 yards per game (YPG).
According the the Weather Underground’s historical archives, November 11, 1939 endured 2.23 inches of rain in Shreveport, Louisiana, on the day of the game.
With an average annual rainfall of 38.75 inches each year in Shreveport, that Noah-like downpour amounted to about three weeks of rain in a single day, making it the fourth rainiest day of the year.
Unlike baseball, football is usually an all-weather sport. So the show went on despite the horrible playing conditions. As the Shreveport Times reported the following day:
“On a field of mud and in a heavy rain that made running and serial plays null and void, the Gentlemen battled the heavier and rugged Red Raiders of Texas Tech to a scoreless tie.”
Now, for the play by play
Centenary took the opening kick-off and ran it back to the 13. Without hesitation, the Gentlemen punted on their first play from scrimmage.
After running just two plays, the Red Raiders followed suit and punted on third down.
With weather dictating strategy, traditional offenses were ineffective at best, not to mention dangerous. Turnovers and injuries, of which there were many, were mounting at an exceptionally high rate, thus leaving the punt as the best offensive weapon for both teams.
The coaches for each team figured the best way to gain an advantage was to kick the ball downfield and hope for a fumble on the return.
Whether or not these unusual tactics were valid is subject to debate. But since both teams bought into the idea, the final stats showed a combined record of 77 punts, 67 of which came on first down. At one point in the second half, the two teams combined for 22 consecutive punts.
Here’s a breakdown of this game’s 77 punts:
• 42 were returned
• 19 went out of bounds
• 10 were downed
• 1 went for a touchback
• 4 were blocked
• 1 was a fair catch
Of the 42 returns, 14 were fumbled, and six of those were lost. But even when the strategy worked, neither team was able to convert with success.
Two field goal attempts were made. But conditions made FG kicking practically impossible. Centenary actually missed an attempt from the 11-yard line.
Then later, on the last play of the game, Texas Tech lined up, hopefully to the game-winning from the 18-yard line. The kick traveled a mere 12 yards before rolling to a stop on the six.
When the final gun sounded, the game tallied a dismal total of 30 yards of offense, with Centenary gaining 31 and Texas Tech -1. As would be expected, this weirdly legendary football game ended in a scoreless tie.
Thus, the first, and only, “punt-first” college football contest made its way into the NCAA history books, as Centenary completed their season a 2-9-1. For their part, Texas Tech compiled a 5-5-1 record.
As for those NCAA records, here’s the list:
- Most punts, game — 36, Charlie Calhoun (Texas Tech)
- Most punting yards, game — 1,318, Charlie Calhoun (Texas Tech)
- Most punt returns, game — 20, Milton Hill (Texas Tech)
- Most combined punt and kickoff returns, game — 20, Milton Hill (Texas Tech)
- Most punts, both teams — 77, Texas Tech and Centenary
- Most punts, game — 39, Texas Tech
- Most punt returns, game — 22, Texas Tech
- Most punt returns, both teams — 42, Texas Tech and Centenary
- Fewest plays, game — 12, Texas Tech
- Fewest plays allowed, game — 12, Centenary
- Fewest plays, both teams — 33, Texas Tech and Centenary
- Fewest yards gained, both teams — 30, Texas Tech and Centenary
- Fewest rushes, both teams — 28, Texas Tech and Centenary
And so, as you settle in to your winter 2018-2019 playoff viewing reverie, just consider. In all the games you watch combined, you will never witness a total of 77 punts.
— Headline image: View of flooded New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Back in 1939 in Shreveport, Louisiana, the driving rainstorm and sodden playing field were not quite that bad. But Mother Nature’s extraordinary deluge did inspire a bizarre, record-setting college footbal game. It was one for the NCAA books.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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