I think I’ve finally put my finger on what’s been bothering me about the Georgia Tech game. Aside from that whole part about sitting out in crummy weather watching Georgia’s defense get shredded by an antediluvian offense after holding a 16-point halftime lead and losing, I mean.
Naturally, I’ve been catching more than my fair share of flak, which is fine; the Yellow Jacket fans I know personally aren’t obnoxious, so no one has said anything terribly untoward. Although there has been a lot of it---much more than followed the losses to Alabama and Florida; much more than followed the losses to the Crimson Tide and the Gators combined, actually---that is to be expected.
The Yellow Jackets have beaten the Bulldogs a dozen times in the last 45 years. Three of those twelve victories---you don’t have to have gone to the Institute to know that’s one-fourth---came in games with respect to which the N.C.A.A. later said the Ramblin’ Wreck had been cheating by fielding multiple ineligible athletes (pretty clearly including star quarterback Joe Hamilton) in several sports over a period of many years . . . and even two of those three wins obtained through cheating required clearly erroneous officiating calls that would have been overturned had instant replay then been in effect.
So, yeah, when you play the in-state rival you sing about even during the games in which you’re playing someone else, and you beat that rival fair and square for the first time in 18 years, I guess you’re entitled to talk a little smack, even if I didn’t say a word to any of them last year, or the year before that, or the year before that, or the year before that, or the year before that, or the year before that, or the year before that.
That said, there has been a troubling aspect to some of the remarks I have heard, quite literally starting with a comment made by a Georgia Tech fan while walking out of Sanford Stadium. He said: "Vince Dooley beat Bobby Dodd in his first year, now Paul Johnson has returned the favor."
Taken at face value, that is no big deal, but the implication seems to be that Coach Johnson is primed to go on a run against the Red and Black like that Coach Dooley went on against the Old Gold and Navy. Inasmuch as Coach Dooley’s 19-6 ledger against the Yellow Jackets is the best by any coach on either side in the history of the rivalry, such a prediction is more than a bit premature. A triple-double is nice, but it doesn’t make you the next Michael Jordan.
Equally premature was this declaration made by a Golden Tornado blogger in an e-mail to Paul Westerdawg, Doug Gillett, and me: "It’s a rivalry again." While that may turn out to be true, it is very early to make such a statement. I thought the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was a rivalry again a year ago, when the Bulldogs beat the Gators by 12 points to secure their second victory in Jacksonville in a four-year span. A 39-point beatdown suffered at the hands of the Saurians followed this fall, so one three-point victory in an eight-year period does not a renewed rivalry make.
When a Georgia Tech fan told me that what she had been most grateful for at Thanksgiving was Coach Johnson, I resisted the temptation to ask her whether she really meant Willie Martinez, but I had to point out to her that Jim Donnan beat the team from across the state in his first year, too.
That, though, was the wrong analogy. The right one occurred to me earlier today:
A few years back, a new coach was hired at The Flats. He brought with him prior head coaching experience from two previous stops and he installed the wishbone at Georgia Tech. In his first year, he led the Yellow Jackets into Sanford Stadium and beat the Bulldogs on a cold rainy day in the Classic City. Sound familiar?
The year was 1974. The coach was Franklin Cullen Rodgers. Pepper proceeded to lose to the ‘Dawgs four times in the next five years, compiling an overall ledger of 34-31-2 at The Flats.
That particular bit of history may not repeat itself, of course. Paul Johnson might go on to have a spectacular career at Georgia Tech, routinely winning A.C.C. titles and beating the Red and Black more often than not.
I would caution the Yellow Jacket faithful not to read to much into one win, however. Georgia Tech won the game fair and square, and they may take justified pride in that achievement. Ramblin’ Wreck aficionados would do well to remember what a basketball coach once said, though: a lot of guys have won one in a row.