Monday, August 6, 2012

University of Florida's Trip to Cuba (1912)

In December 1912, the University of Florida football team traveled to Cuba to play the Vedado Tennis Club and Club Atlético de Cuba (Cuban Athletic Club or CAC). The Gators demolished the Vedado Tennis Club team on Christmas Day by a score of 27 to 0. They faced the CAC three days later in a game that ended as a Florida forfeit and the arrest of Florida's head coach George E. Pyle. The Gators became "fugitives from justice" when Pyle and the team fled the island after Cuban authorities postponed his case.
University of Florida's only undefeated football team in 1911.
From the University of Florida Digital Archives.
Besides this international incident, Coach Pyle compiled an overall record of 26-7-3 from 1909-1913 at the University of Florida. His tenure included the Gators' only undefeated season (a 5-0-1 record in 1911), the team's largest margin of victory (144-0 win over Florida Southern in 1913), and the first postseason games. The 1912 season also marked the first time the Gators played against Auburn and Georgia Tech (the team's only losses for that season). The Vedado Tennis Club offered the University of Florida's team an "all expenses paid" trip to Havana to play an exhibition game on Christmas Day.

The Vedado Tennis Club. From the University of Miami Digital Archives.

Coach Pyle and the Gators accepted the invitation and began the first leg of the trip by traveling to Tampa on December 20. While in Tampa, the University of Florida destroyed the Tampa Athletic Club in an exhibition by a score of 44 to 0. The following day, the Gators departed Tampa by steamship for Havana. Upon arrival on Christmas Eve, representatives from the Vedado Tennis Club met the Florida team at the harbor, escorted them on a tour of historic sites, and carried them to the Plaza Hotel (Havana's premier hotel at the time). 

Photo of the Vedado Tennis Club football team in 1912. Taken from
the University of Florida vs. Vedado Tennis Club Program (1912).
At 3 o'clock in the afternoon on Christmas Day, 1,500 spectators, including Cuba's president-elect General Mario García Menocal, crowded into Almendares Park for the game. Aside from the notable play of L. Platt, a former football player at Yale and fullback for Vedado, the Gators dominated the "Marquises," scoring four touchdowns and three extra points and holding Vedado scoreless for a final of 27 to 0. Despite the game's outcome, the members Vedado Tennis Club continued to be gracious hosts to the Florida team, inviting them to parties with members of the highest strata of Cuban society. 

Cartoon from the University of Florida vs.
Vedado Tennis Club program (1912).
On December 28, the Gators met the Cuban Athletic Club's football team at Almendares Park. Similar to the first game against the Vedado Tennis Club, approximately 1,500 spectators attended the game, including Cuban officials such as the mayor of Havana. Considered the Champions of Cuba, the Cuban Athletic Club's team was renowned for defeating Tulane in 1910 and losing a close game against Mississippi A & M in January 1912. In the first half, the University of Florida and the CAC were both scoreless, even though the Gators almost scored two touchdowns. After a close fourth down conversion by the "Tigres," Coach Pyle disputed the play with the referee. The argument led to the Florida coach refusing to continue and the referee responded by awarding the game to the CAC by forfeit. The Cuban police arrest Pyle for violating a law against suspending a ticketed sporting event without finishing it or refunding the spectators. Arguing with referees was not new to the game, but it rarely resulted a head coach's arrest. The game's promoter eventually assumed responsibility for the debacle, but not before Pyle and the Gators hopped a steamer back to Florida. 

While the University of Florida's trip to Cuba had a less than ideal ending, it did cap the most successful stretch of the program's early years and the games they played are among the most interesting ones between U.S. and Cuban teams. 

No comments:

Post a Comment