There are few things in the athletic world that can compete with the pageantry of college football. Hollywood can’t write a script that rivals the entertainment of college football. The stories and the pageantry are just too much for a 3-hour spectacle. One of the greatest draws of college football are the intense rivalries throughout the year. When you hear the cliche that it is bigger than the game, they aren’t lying. When certain programs take to the field a lot is at stake, including bragging rights.
Proximity creates the best rivals. When you have two programs near each other a lot of commonalities overlap, and it can make the games intense. We all know about Ohio State-Michigan, Florida-Florida State, but what about the rivalry games that went away? Sometimes rivalries go defunct because of conference realignment. This is exactly what happened with Georgia Tech and Alabama.
Georgia Tech Fast Facts
- The Yellow Jackets were a full member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) from 1932-1964.
- Georgia Tech claims 5 SEC Championships.
- Georgia Tech has more SEC Championships than Kentucky, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Arkansas, Missouri, and Vanderbilt.
- Auburn won their 6th SEC Championship in 2004. It took them 41 years to surpass Georgia Tech in SEC titles after the Yellow Jackets departed the conference.
- Speaking of the Tigers, Auburn would also be considered a defunct rival of Georgia Tech.
- Atlanta and Tuscaloosa are only three hours apart.
Georgia Tech vs. Alabama Overview
Series Origin: 1902 (Alabama 26 Georgia Tech 0, Birmingham, AL)
Last Game: 1984 (Georgia Tech 14 Alabama 6, Atlanta, GA)
Alabama leads the series 28-21-3
Even with Georgia Tech’s department from the Southeastern Conference 57 years ago and a decline of playing Alabama after that, the Crimson Tide are the Jackets’ 5th-most-common opponent all-time. The other four? Georgia, Auburn, Duke, and Clemson.
There’s a reason there’s a line in the Alabama fight song – “Send the Yellow Jackets to a watery grave!”
In the 52 meetings, Georgia Tech only played in Tuscaloosa once. The majority of Alabama’s “home” games in the series took place at Legion Field in Birmingham. In the first 20 meetings of the series, 17 took place in Atlanta. In the early parts of Georgia Tech’s history, they were considered the “elite” program of the south. They thought they were too good to travel the mucked-up roads to Tuscaloosa. At least Alabama didn’t get the same shade thrown their way as the Mississippi schools:
“Whatever is there to go to Mississippi for? We like to take our fans to exciting places and Mississippi isn’t one.” – Bobby Dodd (Legendary Georgia Tech Head Coach)
This kind of perspective led to an absolute hatred between Alabama and Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets decided to leave the SEC in January of 1964 over the “140 Rule”. This stated that you could have 140 scholarships in football and basketball combined. Currently, the two scholarship counts are separate – 85 in football, 13 in basketball. The SEC adopted the 140 Rule in January 1964, and Georgia Tech simply left because of it.
Bobby Dodd also hated that other SEC teams – mainly Alabama – would cut players yearly and not honor the scholarships throughout the player’s career. This rivalry wasn’t just on the field – it went outside the lines. Dodd vs Bryant may be one of the most intense coaching matchups in college football history.
Bobby vs. The Bear
In the picture above you see legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant wearing an Alabama helmet. Where is his traditional houndstooth hat? Is this some forgotten coaching history? No – he is literally dressed in his professional coaching attire. He just has a helmet on. Why? Due to Tech’s hatred of Alabama and the Bear, it was unsafe to walk by the fans without a helmet. Two years earlier, he dodged bottles of alcohol. In 1964, Bryant took precautions – thus, the helmet. This was the last meeting between Georgia Tech and Alabama as conference mates.
In 1961, the tensions of the Dodd-Bryant rivalry reached an all-time high. Alabama would win the game 10-0, but Georgia Tech would leave the game furious for more than just the score. Here is an excerpt from the November 26, 1962 edition of Sports Illustrated:
…most of the 53,000 spectators who jammed into the 52,000-seat stadium did. Last year an Alabama player, Darwin Holt, had smashed Georgia Tech’s Chick Graning in the face with his left elbow and forearm, in an unnecessary block when an Alabama teammate signaled for a fair catch on a punt. After the catch, though possibly before the referee’s whistle had sounded. Holt hit Graning, rising off his feet as he drove his arm up under the taller Tech player’s face guard. Graning was helped off the field with injuries diagnosed later as 1) fracture of the alveolar process (facial bones), 2) five missing upper front teeth, 3) fracture of the nasal bone, 4) fracture of the right maxillary sinus and the sinus filled with blood, 5) fracture of the right zygomatic process (bone beneath the right eye), 6) cerebral concussion and 7) possible fracture of the base of the skull.
The injury to Graning, an extremely popular boy who has been described as “basically too gentle to be a truly great football player,” infuriated Georgia Tech fans, faculty and alumni, who argued that it was the result of a deliberate and brutal foul. More significantly, it was called characteristic of Alabama football—and just about the last straw.
Dodd’s lone win over Bryant was a special one. In 1962, the year after the Graning-Holt incident, Tech came away with a one-point win. The Georgia Tech faithful had to feel very good after this game. Not only did they get revenge for the Holt incident, but they knocked off the defending national champions, who were riding a 27-game winning streak. The 1962 Crimson Tide squad, led by Joe Namath, would only lose once in 1962 – to Georgia Tech.
- Bear Bryant vs Bobby Dodd: 6-1
- Bear Bryant vs Georgia Tech: 9-2
- Bobby Dodd vs Alabama: 7-11
Pictured: Georgia Tech Head Coach Bill Curry and Alabama Head Coach Bear Bryant
After Georgia Tech left the SEC in the 60’s, they had thoughts of being the “Notre Dame of the South”. They were used to travel – under Bobby Dodd, they went out west to Southern Cal, up north to play Notre Dame, and to Texas to play SMU. In their time in the SEC, being located in Atlanta paid huge dividends for Georgia Tech. It was easier for most national media to get to and want to stay in Atlanta.
As time went on, the advantages of the SEC wore off. Georgia Tech started to struggle. Shortly after their departure from the conference, they conceded Atlanta to the Georgia Bulldogs and slipped into a state of mediocrity on the gridiron. In 1975, there were rumors of Georgia Tech returning to the conference. Bear Bryant even decided to make peace with Bobby Dodd and to support the notion. Yet, Dodd knew how much the Mississippi schools hated Georgia Tech, and knew they wouldn’t allow them back. Georgia Tech would instead decide to join the ACC.
From 1979-1984, we received our final games of the Alabama-Georgia Tech rivalry, of which Alabama won 4/6. The games didn’t have the same intensity as the previous ones, but seeing the two on the field felt natural. This was especially so when Bill Curry was the coach. Curry, a star player under Bobby Dodd, became the head coach at Georgia Tech. Alabama didn’t seem to mind the Dodd disciple, eventually hiring him as the head coach in Tuscaloosa.
While the scenery of college football has changed, the emotions for some stay the same. There are many fans of the Tide and the Yellow Jackets who remember the intensity of this rivalry. College Football would be better off seeing an elite Georgia Tech team. In the ACC they pair well with Clemson, FSU, and Miami. Traditional SEC rivals like Alabama would probably like the initial thought of Georgia Tech back to relevancy, but it could also be a danger.
The good news? In 2030 and 2031 these two will reunite. We will again see the (albeit brief) return of this storied and vaunted rivalry.
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