Dodd experienced a Hall of Fame career as a coach and then became the Tech athletic director. During the interview, Dodd said to Majors, “This job would be the greatest job in the country if you didn’t have to play the University of Georgia on Saturday after Thanksgiving.”
Even with an eight year win streak over the ‘Dogs, Dodd’s record against UGA when his coaching days ended was 12-10.
The fifties were not good to Georgia’s Wallace Butts, who concluded his coaching career with a four-year win streak over the Yellow Jackets. Even Dodd once said of Butts, “He was the victim of the hardest luck of any coach I have ever known.”
The coming of Vince Dooley, who enjoyed a sparkling 19-6 win-loss record over his in-state rival, brought a defining trend. Nobody makes much of it, certainly not as it was with Georgia’s drought of eight years without victory, but the Bulldogs have had two seven year win streaks over the Jackets: 2001-2007 and 1991-1997.
Having arrived on campus when the drought was broke by Theron Sapp on Grant Field in 1957, I was exposed to the frustration and enmity of the Georgia people who could not fathom their misfortune in the fifties. The one game that underscores Dodd’s hard-luck statement about his long-time adversary came about in 1954 when the Bulldogs seemingly had the upper hand on a day of an unrelenting downpour.
The Bulldog players, with an early lead of 3-0 that took them to the locker room with overwhelming confidence, lobbied hard to their coach to opt for the ball to start the second half. Tech had won the toss and elected to receive to start the game. In all that rain and mud, believe it or not, Georgia took the ball, when the consensus logic would have been to take the risk out of the mix.
Nonetheless, the Bulldog coach yielded to his players.
On the first snap from scrimmage, there was a fumble in the quarterback-halfback exchange between quarterback Jimmy Harper and halfback Wendell Tarleton. Tech recovered at the Georgia 19-yard line. On first down, Yellow Jacket quarterback Wade Mitchell threw a touchdown pass to an end named Henry Hair, which turned out to set the final score, 7-3. You could second guess that had the Bulldogs chosen to kick off there would not have been a drought.
At any rate, Tech would win twice more before Theron Sapp became a legendary hero by making a 1-yard run that enabled Georgia to win on Grant Field, Nov. 30, 1957. The emotion from that one touchdown was such that it caused the people to lobby to Butts, also athletic director, to retire Sapp’s jersey. That Butts agreed made Sapp an unforgettable hero. Today, living in retirement in Evans, near Augusta, Sapp still gets autograph requests as “The Man Who Broke the Drought.”
The view here is that Georgia Tech getting out of the Southeastern Conference took something from the series in which Georgia has dominated since that time. It is more important to the Georgia players to focus on SEC opponents, but there is nothing like the downer of having a promising season and lose the rivalry game at the conclusion.
Beginning with the Dooley era, all of Georgia’s championship teams have enjoyed also being state champions. For Saturday’s game, there is nobody keener about the big game coming up than head coach Kirby Smart, who knew victory in this series as a player three out of his four years. He is treating this game with the same intensity and preparation as if it were the Super Bowl.
One of the statistics that is illuminating which is more often than not overlooked is the record in the series from 1900 through 1928 when the game was played at Grant Field. Can you imagine playing your main rival on their home field for nearly three decades? Georgia did that in an era when an additional $1,000 made a big difference in your budget. Nonetheless the Bulldogs won seven of those games. There were three tie games, with Tech winning ten times.
One loss to the Jackets, 12-0 in 1927, when Georgia was headed to the Rose Bowl, brought about the plan to build Sanford Stadium, which meant that Tech no longer had home field advantage on an annual basis. Georgia legend has it that in a rainy week, Tech, nonetheless, watered down the field to stalemate Georgia’s small, but fast backs.
Just another interesting vignette in the history of this rivalry game, one of the oldest in the country.