If you've ever dabbled in the one-upping practice of sports genealogy and think you're doing pretty well with a cousin who played at Georgia for Wally Butts or a great uncle who coached with John Heisman at Georgia Tech, just know Augusta's Catherine O'Shea has you trumped.
Three Bulldogs generations of Tereshinskis can't hold a candle to O'Shea's college football pedigree.
O'Shea, an Emory graduate, can rattle off an array of brushes with college football royalty to rival anyone. Her uncle went to Georgia Tech and was a good friend of legendary coach Bobby Dodd. Born in Asheville, N.C., during World War II, her family was friendly with Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice. She once dated Roger Staubach's roommate at Navy.
But O'Shea's biggest connection is a Large stake at the very root source of the game. She is the direct descendant of the man who suffered the very first recorded intercollegiate head injury. She is a local link to what is widely considered the first-ever famous football highlight that took place more than 100 years before ESPN.
O'Shea is the great granddaughter of George Hall Large - the longest surviving participant of the inaugural college football game staged Nov. 6, 1869, in New Brunswick, N.J. And she has plenty of documentation to prove it to anyone in Augusta who doubts that football predated the Georgia-Auburn rivalry.
"People who know football are excited about it," she said of her claim to the game's origin. "I can tell the people who really know college football because when I tell them they ask, Princeton or Rutgers? A lot down here, assuming football began in the South, will say, 'Was that Georgia?' When you tell them Princeton and Rutgers they look very disbelieving. Sometimes, since I have all of this stuff, I need to pull it out and say, 'Voila.'"
O'Shea's parents - Edwin Kirk Large Jr. and his wife of 69 years, Mary - live in Evans at Brandon Wilde. O'Shea has lived in Augusta since 1999 to be nearer to them.
You won't find a bigger Rutgers fan in the state of Georgia. With the Scarlet Knights making their first meaningful contribution to the game since introducing it 137 years ago, O'Shea is no fair weather fan. Should No. 13 Rutgers (10-1) defeat West Virginia on Saturday and earn the school's first conference championship and BCS bowl berth, she will be gripped with a genuine Scarlet fever that dates back four generations.
She might break into a chorus of On the Banks of the Old Raritan.
"It's fun that they're winning and the whole (New Jersey) area has gotten into it," O'Shea said citing the "Go Rutgers" messages on the Jersey Turnpike and the crimson-capped Empire State Building. "It's a kick and they need a kick. That's unusual up there since they're not known for their sentimentality."
Rutgers football didn't arrive out of thin air on a Thursday night three weeks ago when the Scarlet Knights sent a shudder through the nation with a stunning rally to defeat then-No. 3 Louisville. The team coached by Greg Schiano has worked its way from football laughing stock to BCS contender.
Sadly, the two most significant victories in Rutgers history were immediately followed by defeat. But unlike the inaugural win over Princeton in 1869 that was backed up by 34 consecutive losses to their original rival and 137 years of general irrelevance, this Rutgers team's letdown against Cincinnati hasn't sent the Scarlet Knights into an extended hibernation. If Rutgers wins Saturday, it could face either Georgia Tech or Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2, 2007.
That's a long way from the game O'Shea's great grandfather played. That first football game vaguely resembled today's except for the intensity of the affair that prompted an onlooking professor to shout "you will come to no Christian end!"
George Large was one of 25 players to take the field for Rutgers against 25 from Princeton in a challenge event that was waged to settle a long-standing battle over the possession of a Revolutionary War cannon.
The cannon in dispute had been liberated from the British army by Gen. George Washington in the Battle of Princeton and was liberated again from New Brunswick years later by the maternal grandfather of Winston Churchill. Annual raids by the rival campuses 20 miles apart finally led to the origin of college football.
George H. Large was a pivotal part of the game's most memorable scene and the subject of numerous paintings. Midway through the match, the ball rolled to the edge of the field near a wooden fence upon which many of the spectators were seated. Large, diminutive but fast, chased after it just ahead of Princeton's burly star J.E. Michael. The ball, Large and "Big Mike" all met in a ferocious collision with the fence.
Large, who went on to become a prominent lawyer and New Jersey senator, later wrote that Michael slammed into him "with temporary loss of wind by me and the destruction of the board fence by him." After several minutes, Large was revived from a state of unconsciousness and returned to the game which Rutgers won, 6-4.
"The key thing is he got up again and went on playing," O'Shea said.
The original college football rivalry lived on for years within the Large family.
Both of George Large's sons attended Princeton and had to eat their meals in the shadow of a mural depicting that first game.
When O'Shea was about 10, she went with her grandfather to Princeton to see the giant mural that wraps around a fireplace. In the far left corner are two men crashing through a fence with spectators tumbling down upon them.
"He told me that some of his classmates took great pleasure at referring to this picture of his father crashing through the fence as the Large Lunge," O'Shea said of her grandfather, Edwin Kirk Large Sr.
The eldest Large never missed a chance to perpetuate the notion started on that historic day that while Princeton possessed the brawn, Rutgers had the brains.
"Up into his 80s he would shame his sons in recitation of Latin," O'Shea said.
Rutgers won that first game, lost the second at Princeton 8-0 and continued losing to the Tigers 33 more times until 1938. That's when Rutgers dedicated its new stadium on the same site of its current facility with a 20-18 win against Princeton.
The recently married Edwin and Mary Large attended as George Large was honored at halftime as the only surviving participant of the 1869 encounter. The last Princeton survivor, Robert Preston Lane, had died that morning.
George H. Large died the next summer, but the legacy of that game lives on.
"It's great that people care about it that much that they remember," said O'Shea, who attended the centennial game with her parents at Rutgers in 1969.
Now she is flush with a fresh enthusiasm for Rutgers football. After 45 years she has rekindled a relationship with the man who took her to the senior prom in Flemington, N.J., and loyal Rutgers alumnus, Art Wetstein. They share "dates" over the phone during commercials of Rutgers games.
"Because of my Southern roots I'm a fairly knowledgeable football fan," said O'Shea.
Don't doubt her credentials.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org
THE FIRST COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME
Although it was a far cry from the game as we know it today - it actually more closely resembled soccer - the first intercollegiate football game was played Nov. 6, 1869, in New Brunswick, N.J. With its players wearing scarlet-colored scarves as turbans, Rutgers defeated Princeton, 6-4.
Source: Rutgers University
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