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ACC Football Teams During the 1918 Pandemic

There was a season during a worldwide pandemic once before - what happened then?

Baseball Player Wearing a Protective Mask
Sports were played during the 1918 Pandemic.
Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

The 1917 college football season featured an unbeaten (9-0-0) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets team winning the Southern Conference, and a 10-0-0 Pittsburgh Panthers team dominating the Eastern Independents. Things were great for fans of those two schools.

Then came World War I, followed by the Spanish Flu pandemic. Many schools decided to cancel their 1918 football seasons, but those two teams - now in the ACC, along with the Syracuse Orange[men], Boston College Eagles, Virginia Tech Hokies [aka Gobblers], North Carolina State Wolfpack, Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Clemson Tigers, and of course, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish - decided to play through it.

That set up one of those “Game of the Century” match-ups: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh, November 23rd, 1918. The game was played at old Forbes Field before a reported crowd of 30,000 people. They were all wearing masks because it was mandated and, you know, people had common sense back in those days. The game was played as a War Charities benefit.

Up to that point, the Georgia Tech defense had not yielded a single point, nor would they in the Auburn game that followed, but on that day in Pittsburgh the Yellow Jackets gave up 32 points while scoring none. You see, Pitt had not yielded any points that year either - at least, they didn’t until after the Georgia Tech game. The Panthers gave up 6 in a 28-6 victory over Penn State, then lost to the Cleveland Naval Reserve team 9-10 in the finale.

One of the great ironies of the 2020 season is that Georgia Tech is again scheduled to play the Panthers in Pittsburgh, on October 24th. (There is no game scheduled for Monday, November 23rd). If played, Georgia Tech at Pitt will be the 102nd anniversary of the marquee pandemic game of 1918.

Other current ACC teams in 1918

Believe it or not, the Virginia Tech Hokies (actually Fighting Gobblers back then) played the NC State Wolfpack in a neutral site game in Norfolk, VA. Virginia Tech also played the UNC Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, although UNC doesn’t acknowledge that game because it didn’t officially field a varsity team that season. The team currently known as the Hokies also hosted the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in 1918. Virginia Tech finished the season 7-0, champs of the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association (S.A.I.A.A.).

That year the Clemson Tigers played their home games in Calhoun, SC along with two road games in Columbia, SC and one at Georgia Tech’s Grant Field in Atlanta. In addition to losing to the Yellow Jackets, the Tigers also lost to a military team from Camp Hancock, 13-66 (one of the worst losses in Clemson history - but I assume this was a case of boys versus men, literally). The Tigers won the rest of their football contests.

The Syracuse Orange (Orangemen at that time) played their 1918 season from October 26th through November 30th. The Orange did not play Pitt; their only loss en route to a 5-1 record was to the Michigan Wolverines.

The Boston College Eagles also delayed their season until October 26th and played seven games, posting a 5-2 record in the process.

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons played only three games from November 9th through December 23rd, losing to Virginia Tech and Washington and Lee, but beating NC State. The Wolfpack played four games, the first being a victory over Guilford College at home on November 2nd, followed by losses to Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

According to the records Duke, Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia did not play football in 1918. Miami and Florida State hadn’t even started their football programs yet.

Notre Dame played a semi-normal season that year consisting of six games from September 28th through November 28th - although not a single game was in the month of October. The only loss was to “Michigan Agricultural” in East Lansing, MI. The only game played outside of the region was in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the Fighting Irish fought the Nebraska Cornhuskers to a 0-0 draw. Yes, life - and football offense - was a lot slower in 1918!