The word this week that Georgia and Georgia Tech will not meet on the gridiron this season for the first time since 1924 left many Dawgs fans saddened — but, frankly, not nearly as sad or upset as they would be if it were announced that the annual SEC East showdown in Jacksonville wouldn’t be taking place.
(Of course, the cancellation of the Florida game still is a possibility, as even the new 10-game conference-only SEC schedule could fall victim to a worsening pandemic.)
However, this is just one year off for UGA and Tech. As Greg McGarity put it: “It’s disappointing the schedule model does not make it possible to play Georgia Tech; however, we look forward to renewing that rivalry in 2021.” Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury said the same thing.
(Maybe, if McGarity can get Stansbury to play nice, Tech will agree to let Georgia be the home team in 2021, since they will have missed their year of hosting. That would allow UGA finally to fix the scheduling hiccup that has Auburn and Tech both on the road for the Dawgs in the same year.)
Either way, the Yellow Jackets remain the Bulldogs’ traditional in-state rivals, and I don’t see that ever ending, thankfully.
Still, the reality of 21st century college football is that the game between UGA and what many of us like call the North Avenue Trade School doesn’t mean as much in the big picture as do Georgia’s SEC rivalries, particularly the Gators. As my friend Scott said this week about the loss of the Tech game, “It’s disappointing, but I’m not in mourning over it. It’s been a long time since beating Tech meant a lot to me.”
On the other hand, my old friend Dan said that “if the Taliban and ISIS made up a football team … I would pull for them if they played Tech! No better day than one that includes any UGA team in any sport defeating Tech! So, I will miss beating Tech this year.”
Of course, traditions in general don’t mean as much these days, in sports or elsewhere. Heck, Texas and Texas A&M don’t even play anymore. Still, there is value in tradition — it’s one of the things that sets college football apart from the pro game, and gives it some of its character, color and ability to sustain lifelong devotion on the part of its fans.
And, just because the Tech game isn’t quite as big a deal as it once was, that doesn’t mean its loss this year doesn’t hurt, because there are several ways of determining who a school’s biggest rival is.
One is by the level of excitement on the part of players and fans generated, year in and year out. On that basis, Florida definitely edges out Auburn as Georgia’s hottest ongoing rivalry, I think.
(Auburn, of course, is Georgia’s oldest rivalry, dating to 1892, and it’s an intense one for a lot of UGA fans, especially those who live near the state line. But, a win over the Gators still can make or break a season for a coach in Athens — ask Mark Richt.)
Frequently, a close geographic proximity also figures into such a rivalry, especially if both schools are in the same state. Rivalries work best when the fans of the two schools live and work practically side by side.
By that measure, the Tech rivalry remains important, though nearby Clemson briefly held a similar position among UGA’s rivalries back in the ’80s, when the two teams were among football’s best, and played each other every year.
Still, I think another major factor that determines a school’s true rival is which team your players, fans and everyone else associated with a program absolutely hates losing to, the series where a loss stings and festers for an entire year.
For the Georgia Bulldogs and their fans, that’s definitely still Georgia Tech. And, it’s not just in football. Any win over the insects, no matter the sport, is a big deal.
There’s a reason the seven days leading up to the game each year are dubbed “Hate Week.”
Whether it’s the “clean, old-fashioned hate” of sporting legend, or the gutter version practiced over at the Hive, it still boils down to a basic antipathy between the programs and their fan bases.
Maybe that wasn’t true back in my Dad’s era, when a lot of UGA fans considered Tech the second state school and would root for them except when they played the Dogs. But, in my lifetime, the rivalry has sharpened to the point where most fans for each school take great delight in any misfortune that befalls the other. The combination of a Georgia win and a Tech loss (preferably a blowout) makes for the finest kind of fall Saturday.
Georgia fans may not obsess over the series 365 days a year, like many Jackets fans seem to do, but they absolutely hate seeing the Dawgs lose to Tech, and, when they do, it tends to stick with you. Like that 34-14 drubbing by the Jackets in a torrential rain in 1974, closing out the first regular season after I graduated from UGA — probably my least favorite game ever. As Vince Dooley put it 15 years later in the book “Dooley’s Dawgs,” “It was one of our most humiliating defeats. … I’ve never been so embarrassed.”
Then, there was the 2000 Tech game in Athens. It was tough for Georgia fans to watch Tech players holding up three fingers (indicating three consecutive wins over the Dawgs), as they tore into the hedges. But, on the bright side, it led to Jim Donnan’s firing.
And, Georgia fans never will get over the infamous 2014 loss to Tech, forever to be known as the “squib kick” game.
Yes, a win over Florida may be celebrated a lot more than a victory over Tech, but a loss to the Jackets, however rare, is just plain unacceptable. Georgia has dominated the rivalry ever since Dooley arrived in Athens, but even occasional Jackets victories are too many.
As former offensive lineman Chris Burnette explained to ESPN back in 2013: “Growing up watching Georgia football, you understand that … you want to beat Tech first and foremost. … You never want to end your career with a loss to Tech.”
Feelings still run high in the rivalry, as we saw in last year’s game when fisticuffs broke out between Georgia’s George Pickens and Tech’s Tre Swilling.
So, while Tech may not be UGA’s biggest rival anymore, the Jackets still are the Dawgs’ most hated rival — at least among my generation. (From what younger fans tell me, having grown up during the years when Steve Spurrier was in Gainesville, their hatred for the Gators exceeds all others.)
Nevertheless, everyone in Bulldog Nation enjoys a good thrashing of the Jackets … and, fortunately, that’s what has happened in the series more often than not in recent years.
Generally, I’ve found that most Dawgs fans prefer a blowout over Tech, but that doesn’t mean we don’t look back fondly on the close ones. Buck Belue ensured his place in the Bulldog pantheon two years before the national championship season, when he entered the 1978 Tech game to lead a last minute come-from-behind Dawgs win.
And then there was 1997, when Tech took a 24-21 lead late and the Jackets started celebrating prematurely, only to have QB Mike Bobo bring the Bulldogs downfield in a hurry, completing four passes in 40 seconds, the last a dagger in Tech’s heart to Corey Allen.
Plus, there’s my all-time favorite Georgia victory over Tech, the Thanksgiving night game from my sophomore year at UGA, when Andy Johnson engineered a scoring drive with about a minute and a half on the clock to win 28-24.
Other favorites among the many wins over Tech through the years include the 7-0 victory in 1964, the first of Dooley’s 19 wins over the Jackets in 25 seasons … another nationally telecast Thanksgiving night game in 1975 that saw the Dogs, led by Ray Goff and Glynn Harrison, run wild over Pepper Rodgers’ Jackets 42-26 in freezing weather. … Georgia scoring on the very first play from scrimmage and Herschel scoring four touchdowns as the Dogs won 44-7 in 1981. … the 43-10 Thanksgiving Day win in 1993 that erupted into a bench-clearing brawl between the two teams. … the 1995 game, where Georgia won 18-17 in Atlanta. Hines Ward was still at QB and led Georgia back from 14 points down, with Kanon Parkman’s late field goal providing the difference. … the 2002 game when Richt’s eventual SEC champions completely demolished the Jackets 51-7 in Athens. … the thrilling Matthew Stafford-led 15-12 win over the ACC Coastal Division champion Jackets in Athens in 2006 (during the Reggie Ball era, Georgia fans’ favorite period of Tech football history). … the 2009 30-24 upset win by the Dawgs at Grant Field in Atlanta that established the “We run this state” template. … and the 2013 game in Atlanta, where the Dawgs were starting a backup QB and spotted Tech a 20-point lead, only to snatch victory away from a stunned bunch of Jackets thanks to Todd Gurley, who ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns, including two scores in overtime.
There are lots of others to choose from, so you may have different favorite wins over Tech. But, let’s face it, any victory over the bees is a great one. And, I’m sure there are many more to come!