The Fastest Man on the Field
The folks of the twin cities of Graymont and Summit didn't call their star running back "Flash" for nothing. Jim Fordham could fly up and down the gridiron with ease. And, he was big and strong too. He may have been one the greatest University of Georgia running backs that you never heard of. And, I will bet you that you didn't know he was only the second Georgia Bulldog running back to be drafted into the National Football League.
Fans of the Emanuel County Institute's football team back in the mid 1930s knew Jimmy Fordham could run, block and tackle. His opponents couldn't stop him as he galloped up and down the gridiron on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Fordham's senior season at E.C.I. came in 1935. That year, the boys from Twin City easily defeated their opponents, including their intra county rivals from Swainsboro, whom they beat twice.
In the first game with Swainsboro, half back Fordham came into the game, broken arm and all, and was responsible for the winning score. In one of Fordham's most outstanding games, he scored seven touchdowns to lead his team to a 50-0 shutout of rival Millen High. Standing on the sidelines, salivating at the sight of future college running back, was University of Georgia coach, the legendary Vernon "Catfish" Smith.
A rematch with Swainsboro was played on Thanksgiving afternoon. A large crowd was hoping for another upset like the city boys put on the highly touted eleven under the tutelage of Coach George Hagans. Once again, the E.C.I. team left the field as the champions of Emanuel County.
In the days before Georgia high school teams competed for true state championships, the pinnacle of success was the winning of the District Championship. Teams within each congressional district competed each against other regardless of the size of their student bodies.
The First District championship was settled on the afternoon of December 6, 1935. The team from Vidalia, which had not lost a conference game in three years, squared off against Fordham and E.C.I. After a twenty-yard run, "Flash" Fordham snagged a "bullet pass" from Tommy Vandiver. Fordham caught the ball and did what he did best, run. Fordham's 40-yard touchdown reception led to the only score of the game. Fordham, in his last game in high school, once again was the deciding factor in the game. Oh, by the way, Fordham played the entire game with a sprained ligament in one of his legs.
Jim Fordham chose the University of Georgia to continue his love for the game of football. After playing for the freshman team in 1936, Fordham lettered in the 1937 season as an understudy to Bill Hartman, Georgia's first NFL player and an All-American. Fordham's Bulldogs finished a respectable 6-3-2 under Coach Harry Mehre in the last of his ten-year tenure at the helm of the Bulldogs. Mehre was proud of his three sophomore backs, Jimmy Fordham, Vassa Cate and Oliver Hunnicutt, all of whom were known far and wide for their tremendous speed.
Jim Fordham started at fullback and the spinner back position in the single wing formation during the 1938 season. Georgia coach Joel Hunt, in his first and only season as a head college football coach, had Georgia headed in the right direction. After wins against smaller schools, Georgia was 5-1 after a victory over Florida. They never won another game that season, losing to Tulane, Auburn and Miami and enduring a 0-0, sister-kissing tie with Georgia Tech to finish 5-4-1.
Fordham's third head coach in three years was Wally Butts, the legendary Georgia coach, who coached the team to its first national championship three years later in 1942. Despite the swift running of Fordham and Vassa Cate, the Bulldogs fell to a losing record of 5-6. The season ended on a high note with a victory over Miami, a game in which Fordham scored a touchdown. Fordham ended his collegiate career as a member of the Gray (South) team in the annual Blue-Gray game.
Jim Fordham was drafted 67th by the Chicago Bears in the 7th pick in the 8th round of the 1940 NFL draft. Fordham, the second Georgia Bulldog back ever to be drafted into the NFL, followed by his former mentor, Bill Hartman, who was drafted in 1938. Despite being drafted, Fordham left football during the early years of World War II.
Fordham finally joined the Bears in 1944. With their legendary coach, George Halas serving in the armed forces, the "Monsters of the Midway" fell from the top of the NFL ranks. In his first season, Fordham running out the fullback position, played behind future Hall of Famers, quarterback Sid Luckman and center Clyde "Bulldog" Turner. Fordham, playing in eight of ten games, scored four touchdowns on the ground. Fordham pounded out a respectable average of 4.5 yards per carry. The former Bulldog returned two kickoffs for an average of 21 yards per return.
Under temporary coach, Hunk Anderson, Fordham and the Bears finished a respectable 6-3-1. Among the memorable highlights of the year was the Bears 21-0 shut out of their bitter rivals, the Green Bay Packers. In a match against the team's other bitter rival, the Bears lost to the Detroit Lions. Playing for the Lions that day was none other than Frank Sinkwich, the University of Georgia's first Heisman Trophy winner. Fordham did right by his Bulldogs with one of his best games of the season by carrying the ball 13 times for 82 yards, not bad for a man who was primarily used as a blocker and runner on short yardage situations.
Fordham's last season in football came at the end of World War II. With many of the league's veteran players coming back to the game after the end of the war, players like Fordham found themselves out of a job. In his last season, Jim carried the ball 45 times for 153 yards. He managed to score one touchdown that year.
In one of the more odd records, Fordham tied a record held by a few, but not by many. In a game where few people ever win their last games, Fordham's teams won his last game in high school, college, and the pros.
Sadly, I could not find much at all about the life of Jim Fordham after football. Maybe someone out there will come forward and I will tell the rest of the story of the man they called "Flash," the fastest man on the field.