​‘Unrivaled:’ Telling the Story

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer

Just over 120 years ago, the Sewanee Tigers boarded a train and embarked on what became the ultimate 2,500-mile road trip—the footballers were heading out to play five games in six days. At the end of the trip, the Tigers would return to the Mountain victorious, having outscored opponents Texas, Texas A & M, LSU, Tulane and Ole Miss 322–10.

Norman Jetmundsen, who graduated in 1976 from the University, said he first learned about the story as a student, but years later, the story of the Tigers is still with him.

That is why he and a small team of alumni have been working for the past year on a documentary to tell the complete story of the team and their tremendous victory.

After a year of fundraising, the team behind “Unrivaled: The 1899 Sewanee Football Season” has raised nearly $150,000 to go toward the creation of the documentary.

“We’ve now completed more than 40 interviews of Sewanee folks, football coaches, commentators. Included in the interviews are four coaches who have all won national championships. We’ve got a really good, broad range of interviews. The next major step is to edit the video down and see where we’ve got gaps that we need to fill with our narrator. This is what we are working on now. We’ve got a lot of research done and these interviews — how do we take all this information and put it together,” he said.

Jetmundsen said most people with some sort of Sewanee connection know about the team, but the details are often muddled.

“We wanted to tell the full story. When we set out to do this, we decided to tell the story but also look at the legend and lore around the team. To our surprise, we found that most of the lore was true. It was not a story of embellishment. Most of the stories we’ve heard are true,” he said. “It’s an amazing story about a team that did something that no other team has ever done or even attempted to do, and no other team ever will.”

For Jetmundsen, the importance of the project goes beyond telling the story of the team and their tremendous feat. Without the film, an important piece of Sewanee history would be lost forever.

“We have found some descendants of the players and of the coaches who have stories about the team they have passed down. This is an important part of Sewanee’s history and of college football. We wanted to capture it forever,” he said. “Those interviews would be lost if we hadn’t recorded them. I suspect that after this generation goes, without the film, I think the story would be basically lost at that point.”

Jetmundsen said he and the team are hopeful that the documentary will be complete by fall of 2020 — just in time for football season. Posters depicting the team and the beloved 1899 stained glass panel in All Saints’ Chapel are now available for purchase through the website. Donations are also greatly appreciated. For more information about the project or to become a part of its creation, visit www.sewanee1899.org