By Jack Williams
Offensive guard Brent Key says, “It’s as exciting as a roller coaster ride.”
Defensive end Felipe Claybrooks says, “It’s something you have to live with for 365 days.”
Offensive tackle Chris Brown says, “It’s all about going home to Augusta and hearing people say, ‘How about them Dawgs!’
That is how the Georgia Tech football senior leaders size up the Georgia Tech-Georgia football rivalry which comes up for the 95th time Saturday afternoon in Sanford Stadium in Athens.
It will be a war. It will be decisive and final. There will be no recount.
Ever since 1893 when Tech beat the Bulldogs, 28-6, in the first game between the teams, it has been a rivalry that clearly defines the sport in the State of Georgia. Nothing that happens here on a yearly basis is quite as big.
Tech Coach George O’Leary says that, in recent years, the game has grown even bigger.
“For four or five years now, it’s been a very good football game, one that has kept people in their seats for 60 minutes,” O’Leary said. “This year, we have what the state should get, a game between two top rivals with winning records and both headed to bowl games.”
The Yellow Jackets will be shooting for their third straight victory in the rivalry. Tech broke a seven-game losing streak in the series when it won, 21-19 with a sparkling fourth quarter comeback at Athens in 1998.
Then last year in the one of the wildest, most exciting games in the rivalry, the Jackets came out on top again, 51-48, in an overtime thriller that people will be talking about for many years to come. All-America quarterback Joe Hamilton, in his last regular season game at Tech, threw four touchdown passes and freshman Luke Manget kicked a game-winning 38-yard field goal.
O’Leary says both teams are better this season than last year. “Georgia is the most talented football team we have faced since Florida State,” he said. “Georgia has size and speed and outstanding skilled people. We, too, are better in a lot of areas.”
If that means fans are in for another close, exciting game Saturday, no one will be surprised.
“When you play in the game one year and it’s close and exciting down to the wire, you think nothing could top that,” said Key. “But the next season, it’s the same thing, a game filled with ups and downs. It really is like a roller coaster ride.”
For the record, Georgia leads the series although the schools cannot agree on the exact totals. Tech claims Georgia is ahead, 52-37-5 while Georgia says it’s 52-35-5, discounting games played during World War II, claiming Tech used some players from the Armed Forces in 1943 and 1944 victories.
Oh, well, what else is new? These bitter rivals rarely agree on anything.
The series has produced some classic games, but perhaps fewer major upsets than have been experienced in some of the nation’s top rivalries.
When one of the teams has been the clear-cut favorite, more often than not it has come out on top. That was the case in 1980 when Georgia’s most-renowned team beat the Jackets, 38-20, then went on to topple Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl and claim the National Championship.
It was true, too, 10 years later when Tech won a share of the National Championship in 1990 and included the Bulldogs among its victims by a score of 40-23. Georgia took an early 9-0 lead in that game, but there was no stopping the Jackets that day-or that season, for that matter.
Georgia held the upper hand in the series in the 1980s. Tech, however, got in a couple of impressive licks like the one in 1985 when the Jackets toppled the Bulldogs, 20-16, in a memorable game that was played in a heavy fog at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field.
At least one member of the current Tech team will be hoping for a repeat of history on Saturday. Punt returner Kelley Rhino is proud that his grandfather, Chappell, threw Tech’s go-ahead touchdown pass when the unbeaten Jacket team of 1952 whipped Georgia, 23-9.
That’s just one of many family stories that crop up when these state rivals clash each year.
Everywhere you turn, there is someone with his or her own favorite Tech-Georgia story. Kim King, former Tech quarterback and longtime color announcer on the Tech radio network, tells an interesting story about the 1974 contest.
“It was my first year in the radio booth,” he recalls. “All season, I had been asking Coach Pepper Rodgers’ dad, Franklin, to come on the radio as a halftime guest. He refused, saying he wanted to come on only on a day when he was sure Tech would win.
“Well, on the morning of the Georgia game, Mr. Rodgers came up to me and said he would like to be on at the half. I told him I already had lined up a full halftime show. But he insisted, saying, ‘I’m sure we are going to beat Georgia today.’ He was right, Tech won, 34-14.”
Although the rivalry has been a royal battle all these years, at least one thing has changed-Tech’s mode of travel for games in Athens.
King recalls that Tech used to take a train on the morning of the game. “We would go to the old Emory Station and get on the train,” he said. “We would wear cleats, pants and jerseys and take our helmets. The train would pull right behind the end zone at the Georgia stadium. The Tech players would walk down the steps right into the dressing room.”
That’s how it went until 1964 when Tech began chartering busses and making the trip on the morning of the game, as is the practice now.
But it’s touchdowns-not trains or busses-that Georgia Tech is interested in this Saturday. Coach O’Leary and his Jackets are ready for action.
“It will be a tough game for us,” he said. “Georgia has big strong running backs and outstanding skilled people. They are a good football team. Still, I know we will play hard. Our defense definitely is improved. And I have confidence George Godsey will put us in a position to do well in the game.”
So, here we go-Tech vs. Georgia! It’s time for another roller coaster ride.