Nov. 17, 2008
by Simit Shah
On Thursday nights, the world of college football turns to ESPN, and for the 16th consecutive year the network will showcase Georgia Tech as part of its signature college football telecast.
Since the ACC agreed in 1991 to let its conference members play in Thursday night games, Georgia Tech has been selected by the network 21 times, more than any other school in the nation.
“More than anything, Georgia Tech has had some good football teams and Paul [Johnson] has them going this year,” said Dave Brown, the network’s vice president of programming and acquisitions. “That’s where it all starts. We’ve had a long history with Georgia Tech and we are very appreciative of being able to go there. They are easily one of our biggest Thursday night supporters, and they’ve been one since the beginning.”
While playing on Thursday night defies some of the tradition and pageantry of fall Saturdays, it offers the unique opportunity for singular national exposure for both the Institute and the football program. The spotlight comes with many benefits, including the ability to market the program to regions that might not otherwise see Georgia Tech games on a regular basis.
“Yeah, it’s something I definitely noticed,” said sophomore defensive end Derrick Morgan, who grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. “I think just about everyone that plays high school football watches every week and that was probably how I first saw Georgia Tech play.”
“Most every week, a lot of the guys on the team get together to watch the Thursday night game, so we know a lot of people around the ACC and the country will be watching us,” added senior defensive tackle Darryl Richard, a Louisiana native. “Plus, everyone in your family back home can see you play. I always get a lot of calls and messages after we play on Thursdays. It’s definitely something that gets you going.”
Tonight’s game against Miami will mark the 16th time that ESPN will televise a Thursday night game from Bobby Dodd Stadium, which provides a spectacular downtown backdrop.
“”Bobby Dodd Stadium seems to provide a perfect backdrop for great sports television,” said Athletic Director Dan Radakovich. “Between the exciting and, competitive games played on the field, the enthusiasm of our student body and fans and the panorama of the Atlanta skyline, I’m not sure your could find a better Thursday night venue. We thoroughly enjoy being a part of the ESPN package each year.”
“We show those Atlanta skyline shots at least a few times every game, and it’s just awesome once it gets dark,” noted Brown. “It’s really a tremendous setting for Thursday night games, no doubt about it.”
“You can’t ask for anything better,” Morgan said. “You look up and see all the buildings lit up at night, and there’s the energy of a big city. There’s really nothing else like it around the country.”
When ESPN rolls into town for a Thursday night game, they pull out all the stops. The high-definition production normally includes 11 cameras, the mid-air skycam and five tape drives for enhanced replay and highlight playback.
“Thursday night is one of our biggest shows in terms of equipment and we certainly make that same commitment on our production team with Chris Fowler, Craig James, Jesse Palmer and Erin Andrews,” Brown explained. “Those guys do a tremendous job, and they really signify our commitment to Thursday night football. It’s definitely a franchise that we like to put plenty of our resources in. It’s great for the audience.”
While their overall record is 9-11, the Jackets have played some memorable Thursday night contests over the last 18 years. Half of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Fittingly, Georgia Tech played in the first-ever ACC Thursday night game on September 19, 1991 against Virginia. A season after his dramatic game-winning field goal helped catapult the program to a national championship, Scott Sisson stuck another dagger into the Cavaliers with a last-second kick that secured a 34-31 victory.
In 1995, the Jackets pounded 16th-ranked Maryland 31-3 to snap a nine-game ACC losing streak in a game that is more famously remembered for the night that a seat cushion giveaway went awry and ended with thousands of them raining down from the north stands after Tech’s first touchdown of the night.
“The thing I love about Thursday night games is that it really kicks off the weekend,” said Brown. “This year, all 15 of our games involve BCS schools for the first time as we have worked hard to increase the quality of our scheduling. We like to tell fans what to expect the rest of the weekend.”
“Whenever we play on Thursday night, there’s always a buzz around campus that’s different,” observed Richard. “There’s an excitement that builds throughout the day and then we walk down Yellow Jacket Alley around dusk. You definitely get amped up. You approach every game the same way, but there’s something special about Thursday nights. You have to take advantage of it any time you’re on national television, but especially Thursday night.”