February 24, 2020, Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal
Talented Rutherford County athletes have played Vanderbilt football since the end of the 19th century, and they have offered supreme contributions to the sport and success of the team.
Rupert McAdoo Smith (January 28, 1897-August 28, 1959) of Murfreesboro was one of the greatest collegiate football players in the nation in 1921. He also excelled in baseball. With no National Football League (NFL), college football was the ultimate game to follow.
Rupert was born in Murfreesboro to Rufus Taylor Smith (1849-1920) and Robert Hodge McAdoo Smith (1863-1951). His extended familial roots run deep with our ancestral records in Rutherford County. Rufus, born in Lascassas, was 14 years senior to Hodge. Their children included Rupert Jr, Bertrand (1892-1965), William Bratton Smith (1883-1948) and Clyda Flora Smith Harrison. Clyda perished in 1935 at age 45, and her funeral was held in her mother Hodge Smith’s home on North Academy Street in Murfreesboro. Both Hodge and Clyda were active in the Presbyterian Church. Billy Smith and Elizabeth Spain were Rupert Jr.’s paternal grandparents; and maternal grandparents were Robert McAdoo and Nancy Elizabeth Bratton. Rufus Sr. and Hodge Smith are buried in Evergreen Cemetery. Rupert died in Bristol, Tennessee on August 28, 1959 at the age of 62.Rupert wed Claressa Crenshaw (born 1890), and their two children included Rupert (born 1925) and Brevard Smith (born 1929). Claressa’s father was John Carr Crenshaw (1872-1961), who was born and died in Hartsville in Trousdale County. Her mother was Mary Keeble Childress (1872-1935). John Carr had three wives and nine daughters. James Crenshaw (1826-1887) and Claressa Harris Brevard (1834-1926) were Claressa’s grandparents. Her great-grandparents were Garland Crenshaw (1793-1837) and Susannah Shelton (1796-1840). The Crenshaws were well established as pioneers and trailblazers of Virginia. In this lineage, Thomas Crenshaw of Scotland (1640) is one of the earliest recorded ancestors established in the original Huguenot Bible.
Rupert was nicknamed ‘Rupe’ by his friends and teammates. He attended Middle Tennessee State Normal from 1916-1917; and in 1919, he played football as a prominent athlete during the time frame of World War I. He was captain of the 1919 Middle Tennessee team. His teammates were P.V. (Putty) Overall of Murfreesboro, Pos Elam (tackle) of Smyrna and Jess Neely of Smyrna. Putty, Pos and Jess were also on the Vanderbilt team with Rupert. Vanderbilt Stadium in 2018 is located on 2601 Jess Neely Drive as a hallmark and tribute to the winning halfback, who was Rupert’s friend.
In 1921, Rupert, at 24 years old, was the leading scorer for the Vanderbilt Commodores football team coached by Dan McGugin, of whom McGugin Center is named on the campus today. McGugin was in his 17th year as head coach, while Wallace Wade was the new assistant coach. With Wade’s arrival, the intensity of practices increased, and big expectations of the team were assumed. Furthermore, McGugin was a busy man having being elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 1921. The majority of home games during Rupert’s chapter with Vanderbilt were played on Dudley Field that opened on the west side of the college on October 14, 1922. In 1921, home games were on Old Dudley Field on the northeastern section of campus. In 1922, Old Dudley was renamed Curry Field for two games before moving to New Dudley Field.
The namesake Rabbit Curry was a skilled football player from 1914-1916 at Vanderbilt. He departed the team to serve in World War I and was killed in a combat mission over France in 1918.
Rupert held the position of prominent halfback and quarterback, and he was a strong muscular man of 158 pounds. The team won 7 games, tied one game with Georgia and lost none in 1921. The opponents included Middle Tennessee State Normal, Mercer, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Sewanee. There was big attendance at hand with interest at both home and away games. The Kentucky/Vanderbilt game witnessed a crowd of 5,000, while the Texas/Vanderbilt game held 15,000 spectators. At the Texas game, the Longhorn Marching Band gave a grand performance.
As halfback, Rupert started in all 8 games at 24 years old and 158 pounds. In 1921, Rupert scored 5 touchdowns and 46 points.
The team was comprised of athletes from various hometowns, including Cleveland, Ohio, Mansfield, Texas, Whitehaven, Tennessee, Lewisburg, Houston, Texas, Nashville, Little Rock, Arkansas, New Orleans, Lebanon, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jacksonville, Florida and Birmingham, Alabama. Recruitment for the right mix was crucial for a winning season.
The opponents who never scored a touchdown during this miracle season were Middle Tennessee State Normal, Mercer, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Sewanee. Rupert was known to score consistently for a touchdown at the last moment for his team under pressure.The most memorable game was with Sewanee on November 24, 1921 at Dudley Field. This was the muddiest game in Vanderbilt history, as athletes were knee-deep in mud and water and unrecognizable on the field.
On November 30, 1921, Vanderbilt played University of Florida on New Year’s Day in Jacksonville. In the end, Vanderbilt claimed a Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) Championship. Overall, top scorers on the team were Rupert Smith, Frank Godchaux, Lynn Bomar, Doc Kuhn, Tot McCullough, and punter Thomas Ryan.
The 1921 Vanderbilt season was a golden year for Rupert. He remains on an exclusive list of letter winners for Vanderbilt through a present day. He did not return to the team in 1922 and settled into a family life in Murfreesboro. His first child was born when Rupert was 28. He now lived an everyday lifestyle with glory days just a memory away.