72 years ago, Mercer played its last football game two weeks before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In that contest, they would lose to Chattanooga 40-13 to end the 1941 season with a 3-6 record under first-year coach Bobby Hooks. Although they lost that contest, by Mercer standards, it was a well attended event as the stands at old Porter Stadium were packed as 3,988 fans unknowingly witnessed the last Mercer Bears game in Macon, Georgia. Little did they or the rest of America know that they were going to get involved in the war that was caused by a little man with a funny looking mustache named Adolf Hitler.
72 years, 13 presidents that have occupied the White House, the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinksy and 9/11 have passed since that last football game was played
Saturday, 72 years of hibernation came to an end as Mercer played its first football game in Macon at their newly dedicated Mercer stadium on the school's Macon campus. It wasn't flashy, like their neighbors up in Athens or Atlanta, the stadium wasn't nearly as large as Sanford Stadium or Grant Field but it was football. For Mercer fans, it was a chance to re-connect with something that they had only heard about from their parents or grandparents that attended the school in the 1940s. For the alumni that were students there that went off to war against that little man with the funny looking mustache and came back, it was a chance to tell stories about what it was like to play for Mercer. The demands of World War II resulted in the immediate suspension of football at Mercer but efforts were made in following years to restart the tradition..However, money was an issue The 1941 football budget was approximately $50,000, a large sum by even today's standards. That number is pocket change, compared to what a D1 or D1AA school spends on football alone.
It wasn't a perfect game for the Bears, who are members of the Pioneer Football League but like that last game that was played right before Pearl Harbor, the over 12,000 in attendance at Mercer Stadium got their money's worth and unlike the result of that last game, the home team came out on top when Josh Shutter kicked a 31-yard field goal in the game's final seconds to give Mercer a 40-37 win over Reinhardt in a shootout Saturday night. It was a shootout and passing was the order of the day. Mercer managed to throw for over 200 yards in the win but gave up 180 in the air defensively.
A lot of time without football.
In that time, Mercer has seen Georgia Southern and Georgia State get football programs of their own and Kennesaw State could be the next in the state to lace it up on the gridiron. Although it was still Summer by some standards yesterday, there was tailgating around the Mercer campus yesterday. It felt like Fall, even though the game-time temperature was 93 degrees, which was not unusual for middle Georgia in August.
School at the Macon campus had been in session for barely a week and there was enthusiasm from the students that were there as well as the fans that were in attendance. The team had a year to prepare for this day and while it wasn't perfect, they got the result they sought The stadium that those young men played in for many years before going off to war has since been torn down. A hotel occupies that spot now. A newer, shinier stadium has taken its place. Field turf has taken the place of grass. A new video scoreboard that could engulf a college student's dorm room has taken the place of the scoreboards of that era.
For 72 years, the closest thing that Mercer saw football-wise on Saturdays would be either intramurals or trips to Athens, Statesboro or Atlanta. Saturday, they had a chance to have their own "Field of Dreams."