Fires of the Mind Stoked by National Championship Team

Nov. 13, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Bobby Ross tried to rally the Yellow Jackets once again Saturday afternoon, and although the former Georgia Tech coach’s halftime plea over the PA system did not push the home team past Miami, he and his best team gave fans a great deal to cheer about.

More than 100 players from Tech’s 1990 ACC and national championship team were in Bobby Dodd Stadium to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of that special season.

They donned replicas of the blue jerseys they wore to whip Nebraska in the Citrus Bowl that season and the modern-day Jackets wore updated blues.

None of it helped a Tech team that fell behind 14-0 after Miami’s first two possessions, and then never caught all the way up en route to a 35-10 loss.

Fires of the mind were stoked, however, by the presence of the older Jackets.

This will not be a recap of many fabulous moments of 1990, but a tiny look back through the eyes of a couple players from that team – quarterback Shawn Jones and defensive end Coleman Rudolph.

Jones, who started an athletic development company (Dual Action Sports, which can be found through Facebook) a couple years ago in metro Atlanta, will tell you up front that he’s not much for nostalgia. Yet he was thrilled to be part of the weekend’s festivities.

“I’m not really an emotional person, but I think it will be great,” he said ahead of time. “To go back and spend time with guys . . . guys that did have relationships and for whatever reason relationships changed, that will be nice.”

Relationships didn’t die; they went into hibernation.

The real world interferes with life sometimes, and so it is that Rudolph said that he hasn’t seen many of his former teammates over the years. He had a hunch this week, though, that perhaps the time has come to change some of that.

“I was thinking about this,” said Rudolph, who has been a financial advisor in Atlanta with Smith-Barney for 11 years. “I think this is going to be a great time for us to get back together. I think what’s happened is you get married, have kids and all that. Now, we’re getting to where the kids are a little older and we can go hang out with these guys or spend time with them.”

The modern-day Jackets put up a fight, although their energy level probably did not match what they rolled out onto the field nine days earlier at Virginia Tech.

This squad has been fighting uphill all season, frankly, struggling less by way of generating raw statistics than in the more difficult-to-measure knack of knowing how to win.

The Hurricanes marched 88 yards on each of their first two drives, pounding Tech on the ground the first time, and mixing in a 45-yard pass on the second. Still, the Jackets had a chance to slow the bleeding when they held on third-and-4 at their own 24-yard-line once trailing 7-0.

But as Miami lined up to try a field goal, sophomore defensive lineman Jason Peters jumped offside, giving the `Cane a first down. Two plays later, the Jackets trailed 14-0. Earlier on that drive, by the way, Tech held on third-and-10, but Mario Butler was called for pass interference to extend the possession.

The 1990 team made few mistakes, and usually was able to atone for them.

Tech fought back to within 14-10 early in the third quarter Saturday, but one play later, Miami caught the secondary flat-footed and Leonard Hankerson’s 79-yard catch-run-and-score – the longest play surrendered by Tech in more than five years – grew the deficit to 21-10.

Back came the Jackets only to shoot themselves in the foot again.

Having driven 63 yards to the `Canes’ 6-yard-line, with a quarter-and-a-half left, a toss from first-time starting quarterback Tevin Washington to Orwin Smith went awry. It looked as though Smith might not have realized it was live ball. That, or he couldn’t get back to it for some reason.

Whatever, Miami recovered. Push thwarted.

In the fourth quarter, Butler was guilty of interference on a failed fourth-and-8 play, and the `Canes scored a touchdown soon thereafter to close the scoring.

Fast-backwarding to more joyous times, the memory of the height of the 1990 season — Tech’s come-from-behind 41-38 win at No. 1 Virginia — will forever remain vivid among those who were involved, and many more who watched both from near and far. Upon the team’s return in buses to campus, thousands of students jammed Techwood on the east side of the stadium.

“One of the officers [on the bus] told us that something was going on at the stadium, and we had no idea until we turned the corner,” Jones recalled, his memory piqued. “From that point on, it was crazy.”

Chalk one up for understatement.

I was there, covering the event for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution when in the intersection of Bobby Dodd Way and Techwood just northeast of the stadium a bonfire raged so high as to fry the old traffic light that hung overhead.

When those buses turned the corner off North Ave., Ross said he remembers saying, “Look at that idiot,” when a young student climbed on the bus and plastered himself on the windshield.

That turned out to be Robbie Ross, the coach’s son, a student at Tech.

Robbie goes by Rob now, and has returned to live in Atlanta for a few years.

Coach Ross early in the week said he was so looking forward to the weekend not only because he was to meet so many former players and friends, but because he was going to see his two grandsons. They’re both young football players, and the family was to attend one of their games on Sunday, in fact.

So the weekend was far, far, far from a total loss for Ross and even for the Institute.

Maybe those blue jerseys should remain the exclusive province of the ’90 Jackets. The only other time Tech wore them under Johnson was in the 2008 Chik-fil-A Bowl against LSU, and you know how that went.

No matter the jersey color, the 1990 team will forever remain unbeaten, and memories from that season will live on even in those not prone to dwell on the past.

Upon the Jackets’ return from Charlottesville 20 years ago, there was much more than a victory march. It was a moment immortal a full year before the Braves captured Atlanta’s heart, and that was an ardent and inarguable examples of a population moving behind a smaller group.

“The whole school was behind us,” Jones said. “We learned that we were not only the school’s team, but Atlanta’s team. We didn’t realize how much we impacted the school and the city.”

In my more than 22 years of chronicling, I can think of nothing to match the scene astride the stadium when the Jackets came back from Virginia in 1990. It was sholder-to-shoulder from North Ave. up Techwood and beyond Bobby Dodd Way. I’ve never been around so much positive energy because even after the Falcons won the NFC Championship following the 1998 season, that game was away, in overtime at the Metrodome. The unforgettable take-away from that was the absolute silence in the Dome, the vacuum of energy – save that generated by a tiny group from Atlanta. If you have anything to add, try stingdaily@gmail.com.

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