Back in the day, major college football teams scheduled games against high schools, athletic clubs, nearby Army bases, and battleships in port. Another type of opponent shared the field in nineteen hundred and twenty-two when the Florida Gators played an away game against the American Legion post of Tampa.
Founded after WWI, the American Legion mainly had young members and fielded football teams across the country, mostly playing other Legion posts or various local teams. Tampa's American Legion post had a roster filled with former college players, including a left halfback, Buck Flowers, who was a third-team All-American at Georgia Tech in 1920. While the Legionnaires were not in the same shape or as well drilled as the collegians they played, they had talent.
Florida enrolled under 2,000 students at the time, and Gainesville remained a small town, so playing in Tampa, which had eight times Gainesville's population, made sense.
The teams met at Tampa's Plant Field, whose grandstand, race track, and field hosted all manner of events, including the first professional football game in Florida when Red Grange's barnstorming team played there on New Year's Day 1926.
Florida entered the American Legion game with a 1-1 record after being upset by Furman and beating Rollins while the Legionnaires were playing their first game. Unfortunately, due to a high school game preceding them in a doubleheader, the game did not start until four o'clock. Due to the lack of lights, they tried squeezing in the game by playing 13-minute quarters.
Both teams moved the ball during the first half, but neither scored. Then, after a quick halftime rest, the Legionnaires began showing their age. At the same time, the Gators brought in fresh substitutes, leading to Pomeroy, Florida's substitute left halfback, scoring near the end of the third quarter. As dusk turned to dark, Pomeroy scored early in the fourth quarter to give the Gators a 14-0 lead and the win when the game ended due to darkness with seven minutes left on the clock.
Despite the loss, the Legionnaires left the field satisfied with their efforts, knowing they could compete with college teams if they could get into better shape.
The Gators finished the season 7-2 with their second loss coming at Harvard in their first trip to the North, while the American Legion team tied Rollins a week after the Florida loss and beat Stetson on Armistice Day. However, the most dangerous game on their schedule came just after the New Year when they played the Cuba Athletic Club in Havana.
The CAC were gracious hosts until game day when they refused to allow an American to share officiating duties. Then, after the American Legion scored a touchdown on the first play of the game, the referee called it back on a phantom penalty, setting the tone for the afternoon as the Legionnaires earned 135 penalty yards to nil for the locals.
In addition to the unfair officiating, the Yanks were slugged and kicked when they were down, with the worst coming early in the second half when the Americans complained to the referee, only to have him pull a gun in response. Needless to say, the Cubans won the game but made it unlikely others would accept their invitations to play in the future.
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