Sept. 3, 2014
By Marty Mulé
Special to The Advocate
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Georgia Tech vs. Tulane at Yulman Stadium. How fitting is that?
The Green Wave opens college football’s newest arena against not only one of Tulane’s most storied opponents, but the one who has played on the oldest site in the sport. The Yellow Jackets have played their home games at Grant Field since 1913, the longest tenure at one venue in what we now call FBS football.
The baptism of Yulman Stadium on Saturday is just one of a series of ties that have bound the ancient rivals that so resemble each other, since they started playing one another 98 years ago, in 1916 — the same year Tech recorded the most-lopsided score in football history, 222-0 against Cumberland College.
That year, the first in which the Golden Tornado and Greenbacks (then the nicknames of the schools) played, coach John Heisman had no pity on Tulane either. Five minutes into it, Everett Stupper, who a season later would become one of Tech’s first two All-Americans, ran a punt back 75 yards to ignite a 45-0 Tech victory.
That game made Tech a benchmark for Tulane. Tech has more victories against the Green Wave (35-13-0) than any opponent other than the Wave’s oldest rivals: LSU (69-22-7) and Ole Miss (42-29-0), though the Greenies have certainly gotten their own licks in.
That aside, there are more similarities than disparities between the schools: Both are considered high academic institutions; both are located in urban settings; and both programs have followed similar paths.
A shared history
Consider the curiosity that both have been charter members — or among the earliest entrants — together in four conferences. Tulane and Georgia Tech were among the first to join the first football league below the Mason-Dixon line, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association, in 1894, a loose confederation that would eventually encompass an unwieldy 27 schools.
After splitting off, the Golden Tornado entered a rival league made up of a more workable 14 schools in 1921, the Southern Conference. Tulane followed in 1922 when membership swelled to 20.
They were both then in the vanguard of programs to join the Southeastern Conference in 1932. And they both left the SEC within two years of each other three decades later to compete as independents. Tech departed the SEC in 1964 (ostensibly in opposition to the “over-signing’’ of football recruits so as to keep prospects from playing against them later), and Tulane in 1966 (ostensibly to play a national schedule against schools with similar entrance standards – and more importantly, according to the late Rix Yard, Tulane athletic director at the time, simply to lighten the schedule to give the Green Wave a reasonable chance against its opposition).
A decade later, both became charter members of the basketball league Metro Conference in 1975, which morphed into the all sports Conference-USA. Tech left in 1978 to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, where it still resides. Tulane joined the American Athletic Conference this year.
For all their meanderings, Tech and Tulane have each enjoyed success. The Yellow Jackets have won 15 championships in four leagues. The Green Wave has won nine titles in four conferences.
The schools once shared the same throne. In 1939, Tech, Tennessee and Tulane were tri-champions of the SEC, each unbeaten in the league (a not uncommon occurrence when the vague SEC rules of the day let each school make their own schedules, with a minimum of five conference games). Both Tennessee and Georgia Tech were 6-0-0 while Tulane was 5-0-0 – one fewer conference game, a fact noted by some observers, and detractors, of the day.
It was left for wire service voters to sort things out. Tennessee (10-1-0) finished the season ranked No. 2, Georgia Tech (8-2-0) was 16th, and Tulane (8-1-1) was No. 5 — the highest ranking the Green Wave ever achieved in the AP poll.