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100 Things Yellow Jackets Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Adam Van Brimmer
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2011 Adam Van Brimmer
All rights reserved.
Football, as we know it, began at Georgia Tech.
John Heisman refined the game during his 16 years coaching on the Flats. He successfully lobbied for the legalization of the forward pass. He introduced pre-snap offensive shifts, the power sweep, and the hidden-ball trick. His preference for skilled, athletic players over bulky bruisers made the game safer and more entertaining and led to the creation of the Heisman Trophy in his name.
Heisman also set the standard for a winning coach. Just as John Wooden was the Wizard of Westwood, Heisman was the Magician of Midtown. Four times his Georgia Tech teams went undefeated. The 1917 Golden Tornados won the national championship.
With a 102–29–7 record, Heisman remains the winningest coach in school history.
Georgia Tech, and all football fans, can thank the bright lights of the original Madison Square Garden for football's Heisman revolution. Heisman was months away from earning his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania when he and the Quakers played a game in the world's most famous arena. Back then, the Garden featured galvanic lights, which could cause eye trauma in much the same way the sun can if stared at.
Heisman hurt his eyes looking into those lights. Two year's worth of rest was the only treatment. Reading law journals and writing legal briefs could cause further damage, so Heisman turned to coaching. He never would use his law degree.
Heisman's first opportunity came in 1893 at Ohio's Oberlin College. Football was still a developing game at the time, and coaches bounced from job to job. Heisman did stints at several other schools before coming to Georgia Tech. He innovated at every stop. At Akron, he invented the shotgun snap and made obsolete the roll-and-kick-back snaps of the day. At Auburn, he introduced the hidden-ball trick, using the play to score a touchdown against Vanderbilt. He also can claim credit for the yardage marker, uniform numbers, and the inclusion of down and distance on the scoreboard before every play.
Heisman remained at the forefront of the game's great minds during his Tech tenure. He gradually incorporated the forward pass into his offensive schemes. He also conceived of the "Heisman shift," where players would line up in one formation and shift positions just prior to the snap, confusing the defense; and the pulling-guard play, the precursor of the power sweep.
For all of Heisman's forward thinking, he could be conservative, too. One of his coaching tenets was, "When in doubt, punt!" And the greatest sin a player could commit, in Heisman's eyes, was to fumble. The coach so despised turnovers he opened preseason practice with the same speech every year.
"What is this?" Heisman rhetorically asked his players while holding a ball in his hands. "It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."
Heisman demanded more from his players than ball security. His players abided by his dietary rules, which prohibited fresh bread — unless it was toasted — and cabbage. Heisman also limited water consumption during practice and hot showers afterward.
The one person who refused to live the Heisman way cut short his coaching career on the Flats. His wife, Evelyn, left him during the 1919 season, and Heisman left Atlanta soon thereafter. "Wherever Mrs. Heisman wishes to live, I will live in another place. This will prevent any social embarrassment," Heisman told reporters. Evelyn Heisman stayed in Atlanta, and John took the coaching job at Penn, his alma mater.
Heisman's longtime top assistant, William Alexander, succeeded him as Georgia Tech's coach — and continued Heisman's run of success.CHAPTER 2
The Georgia Rivalry
Nothing sparks rivalry like mockery, jealousy, and flying clods of dirt. Throw in a dose of territoriality, and you have what's known as "clean, old-fashioned hate."
The rivalry between Georgia Tech and Georgia begins at the beginning: the inaugural game, played in 1893 in Athens. Georgia Tech showed up wearing the gold color Georgia's coach, Dr. Charles Herty, hayd removed from his team's uniforms two years earlier because it looked "too cowardly." Also wearing gold that day were 200 students from Athens' Lucy Cobb Institute, invited by Tech to make the one-mile trek from their campus to the playing field to cheer them on.
Georgia Tech proceeded to rout Georgia. Doing so wearing Georgia colors with local girls rooting them on led to an ugly scene. A Georgia player pulled a knife and threatened Tech players at one point, while Georgia's fans began hurling dirt clods at Georgia Tech's players in the game's closing minutes.
One dirt chunk contained a stone and hit Tech's player/coach Leonard Wood in the forehead, drawing blood. "We were greeted by a shower of rocks, sticks, and missiles," Georgia Tech halfback Will Hunter told a news reporter. The pelting continued even as the Tech train — the Seaboard Football Special — pulled out of the station for the return trip to Atlanta. The departure so rattled the train's engineer, he rear-ended a freight train on the trip back to campus.
Georgia acknowledges the incident, albeit with spin that would enrage Bill O'Reilly. "School colors, stolen girlfriends, and Yellow Jacket treachery," reads the headline above an account of the incident in the Bulldogs' 2004 media guide.
The rivalry lost its barbarism in the century that followed. The passion, however, has only intensified. Four times, one team has spoiled the other's national title hopes. Georgia Tech upset arguably the greatest Bulldogs team of all-time — so good it was nicknamed the "dream and wonder" team — in 1927. And Georgia ruined legendary coach Bobby Dodd's farewell run at a national title in 1966, defeating the Yellow Jackets 23–14 to deny them a perfect regular season.
Georgia Tech and Georgia tied five times in rivalry history. As of the start of the 2011 season, 42 of the meetings were decided by seven points or less; 16 of those by three points or less; six of those by a single point.
Wrote Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Basically, the issue is clear. Tech dislikes Georgia and Georgia dislikes Tech, in a perfectly bloodthirsty manner, of course."
Memorable moments — gut-wrenching to fans — have deepened the bloodlust:
The 1904 game swung on a punt blocked by the goal post (stationed on the goal line in those days and not in the back of the end zone). A Tech player recovered the miscue for a score.
The 1937 game ended in a draw because Georgia's kicker doubled as a kick returner and was too tired to boot the extra point after a 93-yard touchdown return.
The 1960 game went to Georgia, 7–6, thanks to the Bulldogs' Pat Dye, who blocked an extra point and a field goal in the win.
The 1978 game saw Georgia rally from a 20–0 deficit and win 29–28 on a penalty-aided two-point conversion. Georgia Tech's defense stopped the Bulldogs on the two-pointer, but a pass-interference penalty gave Georgia a second chance.
The 1999 game turned on a fumble in the closing minutes by Georgia's Jasper Sanks. Replays showed Sanks was down prior to losing the ball to Georgia Tech's Chris Young, but replay review had yet to be implemented in the college game. Georgia Tech won on a field goal in overtime.
The 2008 game was highlighted by Georgia Tech's 26-point third quarter that erased a 28–12 halftime deficit and spoiled quarterback Matthew Stafford's home finale. The win snapped a seven-year losing streak by Tech.
Off-the-field maneuvers have only added to the rivalry's mystique. A pro-Bulldogs Georgia Board of Regents moved the state's business school from Georgia Tech to Georgia during the 1930s, a big blow to Tech's recruiting. Tech would later add an industrial management major.
The Bulldogs coaches have always used the academic differences between the two schools to their advantage. Georgia's legendary coach, Wally Butts, would leave Georgia Tech's calculus text with recruits as if to ask, "Can you pass this?" Butts' Tech nemesis, Bobby Dodd, would often spot the book when he would visit a prospective player at the recruit's home.
The rivalry presented a make-or-break situation for many coaches, dating back to the days of Butts and Dodd. Georgia's Vince Dooley won his first six games against the Yellow Jackets and went on to a storied career. Georgia Tech's Bill Lewis lost two straight to the Dogs in the mid-1990s and was fired.
Georgia's Jim Donnan and Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey were dismissed in large part because of struggles against the rival. Georgia Tech's current coach, Paul Johnson, won in his debut in the rivalry and has already been canonized.
Dodd best described what beating Georgia means to the Yellow Jackets fan base in his autobiography, Dodd's Luck: "Any time you beat Georgia and win a bowl game, you had a great season. Don't make a difference what you did against Florida or Kentucky or Duke, they forget those things. They remember that Georgia game and that bowl game. That was big stuff."
Just watch out for the dirt clods.CHAPTER 3
Another author once dubbed Georgia Tech's football stadium a "room with a view." Jack Wilkinson's reference in his introduction to the book Kim King's Tales from the Georgia Tech Sideline was meant literally. Those sitting in the compact venue have a panoramic view of Atlanta's midtown and downtown skylines.
Grant Field provides another kind of view, too. A long one. Georgia Tech has been playing football on the site since 1905. The first permanent structure went up in 1913, making the stadium the third-oldest in college football behind only the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field and Harvard Stadium. Grant Field has been expanded, renovated, or rebuilt nine times since students constructed wooden bleachers on the site in John Heisman's second year as coach.
The historical view from Grant Field is as breathtaking as the one from the grandstands. The Yellow Jackets' four national title teams all played in Grant Field. The program's greatest players — from Joe Guyon, Clint Castleberry, George Morris, Billy Lothridge, and Randy Rhino to Pat Swilling, Marco Coleman, Joe Hamilton, and Calvin Johnson — all performed on the same soil. Heisman, Bobby Dodd, and Bobby Ross all stalked the same sideline.
True appreciation for Georgia Tech football starts with Grant Field. The site represents the school's initial commitment to football — Heisman, hired as the program's first paid coach in 1904, insisted that the administration provide an on-campus facility and quit forcing the team to play in one of Atlanta's many parks. The school leased a parcel of land shortly after Heisman came on board. Known as "the Flats," the land was anything but. The rocky tract was home to snakes and rabbits, and Georgia Tech played Heisman's first season at Piedmont Park.
The original Grant Field began to take shape in early 1905. Heisman convinced the City of Atlanta to clear the Flats of rocks and tree stumps using prison laborers. The student body put its burgeoning engineering knowledge to practical use, constructing a set of wooden grandstands on an embankment bordering the site. Heisman's 1905, 1906, and 1907 teams played in the makeshift stadium before moving to the newly built — and much more comfortable — Ponce de Leon Park for five years.
Tech came home in 1913 after prominent Atlanta banker John W. Grant donated $15,000 for the construction of concrete grandstands on the western edge of the Flats. The school named the field in honor of Grant's deceased son in 1915.
The west stands, like the wooden bleachers built by students, sat 5,600 fans, and those who could get a ticket saw Georgia Tech's rise to prominence. Heisman's 1917 squad went undefeated and became the first team from a southern school to claim a national championship. Georgia Tech won conference titles in four of the next five seasons, and the school decided to expand Grant Field for the first time. The east stands opened prior to the 1924 season, followed by the south stands a year later. Grant Field seated 30,000 by the time the 1928 team won the school's second national title.
The stadium fell into an every-20-years renovation cycle from then on. The original grandstands, those built by the students in 1913, were torn down and replaced in 1947. Dodd turned the Flats into a mecca soon after, winning a national championship in 1952 and averaging eight victories a season. There were never enough seats. As Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Furman Bisher once wrote, "To hold a ticket to watch the Yellow Jackets play was better than holding an inside straight. ... Tickets to the Masters were easier to come by." Tech responded by adding erector-set bleachers behind the north end zone in the late 1950s, then topped the stadium with a second deck in the mid-1960s.
Right on cue, another renovation took place 20 years later — and this time it was overdue. Georgia Tech football slumped following Dodd's retirement in 1966, and as fans neglected the program, the school neglected stadium maintenance. Homer Rice had the facility evaluated soon after taking the athletics director's job in 1980. The engineer's report included a disturbing assessment of the south stands: "unsafe, condemned — must be repaired or destroyed." The assessment also noted problems with the east stands, the press box, and the locker rooms, which reeked of mold and mildew.
The facility was so substandard that Coach Bill Curry and his assistants joked that recruits should be brought to campus late at night and leave early in the morning. "The less they see, the better our chances," was the mantra. And if a recruit wanted to see the locker room, the coaches had a "lost-key" policy (the dressing rooms were locked and the student assistant with the key couldn't be found).
"It was one of the oldest stadiums in the country, and it looked it," Rice said. "And it smelled, too. The facility stunk in every sense of the word."
Grant Field was reborn — and renamed as Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field — with the completion of the south stands renovation in 1988. The school renamed the stadium in honor of Dodd just a few months before his death. Two years later, Georgia Tech won its most recent national championship.
The pace of stadium facelifts accelerated from there. The concourses, press box, and luxury suites were redone in 1992, and another expansion took place a decade later. The lower deck of the east stands was renovated, and a permanent structure was built in the north end zone to replace the steel bleachers installed in the 1950s.
The 2003 project resulted in the room enjoyed today. And man, what a view.CHAPTER 4
Bobby Dodd never interviewed for a coaching job at Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech assistant coach Mack Tharpe had no interest in Dodd or his future when he met with him one October evening in 1931. Tharpe needed a scouting report on North Carolina and couldn't prepare one himself because his car had broken down en route to Knoxville, Tennessee, to watch the Tar Heels play Tennessee. He had missed the game.
Tharpe approached Volunteers coach Robert Neyland and asked about North Carolina's stunting defensive line. Neyland pointed Tharpe toward his senior quarterback, Dodd. Dodd's description of the tactics and advice on how to counter them helped Georgia Tech play the Tar Heels to a 19–19 tie the following week.
Dodd's report was all the proof Georgia Tech head coach William Alexander needed of Dodd's coaching abilities. Alexander enlisted the program's biggest booster, Chip Robert, to summon Dodd to Atlanta and convince him to join the Yellow Jackets staff instead of Neyland's at Tennessee or Wallace Wade's at Duke.
Robert made Dodd an offer he couldn't refuse — $300 a month, a small fortune during the Great Depression. The investment turned out to be one of the best Robert and Georgia Tech ever made.
Excerpted from 100 Things Yellow Jackets Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Adam Van Brimmer. Copyright © 2011 Adam Van Brimmer. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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