Football, fugitives, and fake Bacardi

1912.Florida Gators
Florida Football team,  1912
The host team said it won because its opponents walked off the field.
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The visitors said they won because the other team cheated.
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One thing they both agreed was that the visiting coach better high-tail it out of town  after he pulled his team from the field in the first quarter.
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That game took place on December 28th, 1912 and is known as the Bacardi Bowl, a name that, as we will see, was undeserved just as much as each team proclaiming itself the victor.
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The team known as the University of the State of Florida—or, University of Florida today—had played well in 1912 posting a 4-2-1 regular-season record along with surprising wins over South Carolina and perennially-strong Stetson.  Had there been rankings for the nation’s 76 teams, Florida would have been in the lower end of the top-25.
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Then came an invitation to travel to Havana, Cuba to play for international goodwill and a certain amount of prestige.
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What was intended to be a great international experience soon went sour.  Almost as soon as the game began, 27-year old Florida coach George Pyle was upset.  He complained that the rules being applied were the “old rules”.  He raged against what he deemed a great bias toward the Cuban team by the head referee.
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That’s not surprising since the head referee had been the Cuban team’s head coach until a short time before the game.
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In just the first quarter, Havana officials disqualified two Florida touchdowns and later, when Pyle protested a foul by the other team and demanded they be assessed fifteen yards, the Havana officials smiled and shook their heads.  When Pyle became irate, Havana officials shrugged and graciously offered him five yards.  When Pyle refused, the officials withdrew their offer.  When the officials withdrew their offer, Pyle withdrew his team.
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Most accounts agree that Pyle skulked away on a steam boat.  While that is true, there is more to the story.  Before that, he was  arrested and charged with bilking Cuban fans out of their money.  Whether it was existing law or just something fabricated for the moment is unclear but his accusers asserted that any person who stopped a game before the first quarter ended was guilty of stealing money from fans—or something.
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Someone posted Pyle’s bail money and he and his team made their clandestine escapes to the docks and onto the steamship.
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Yes, it is called the Bacardi Bowl but there are several reasons why that name is undeserved.
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1.   In 1912, there were no bowl games.  The word “bowl” wasn’t used as a reference to post season football until four years later.
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2.  It wasn’t the first such game that pitted American football teams against those of Cuba and none of its predecessors had any special names.

3.  It wasn’t the only game Florida played that week.  Three days earlier—yes, on Christmas Day of 1912—Florida defeated a different Cuban opponent by a score of 28-0, or as some said, 28-love since it was against the Vedado Athletic (Tennis) Club.  The Cubans didn’t take kindly to such mockery of the final score!  They said it was 27-0!

Either way, tennis clubs aren’t billed in bowl games.

4.  Four years later, the term “bowl” created a great deal of excitement and sports journalists were overly zealous in applying the term, so much so that they went back to postseason games played in years past and gave them clever titles that all included “Bowl”.

George Pyle was never tried  which means his case was never adjudicated which means he was on the international list of fugitives from justice when he became the athletic director at West Virginia two years later.  From there, he became the head football coach at Transylvania University in Kentucky (known as Transy) before finishing his career as an insurance agent and passing away in Tennessee at the age of 63.

Although it was not named Bacardi Bowl until four years later, the name stuck as Havana invited other American college teams to play.

Did you know that Auburn’s very first bowl game was the Bacardi Bowl in Havana Cuba? Yup, 1937 in a win over another bowl virgin, Villanova. That was also a game that almost didn’t happen because of dictator Juan Batista.  He noticed that there was no picture of his face to be found anywhere in the game program and until that was fixed, he forbade the game.  It must be pretty easy to get new game programs printed because they were delivered well before kick off.

Of course, those games in Havana were also known by other names such as the Battle of the Palms, the Rhumba Bowl, and often the Cigar Bowl.  I suppose it all depended on who was speaking and their primary preference for after hours activities.

I imagine that in the after hours of pre-Castro Havana, other “primary preferences” were as diverse as they were abundant.  And for that, many gave a shout out for censorship.