ATHENS – Earlier this year Georgia tight end Jeb Blazevich was at a road race in Atlanta with his girlfriend, Addy Lippitt, who’s on Georgia’s cross country team. Since it was in Atlanta, a group of Georgia Tech cheerleaders were near the finish line, cheering on runners as they finished.
That is, until they saw the logo on Lippitt’s shirt.
“They started booing her,” Blazevich said, smiling and shaking his head.
Anytime the roles are reversed, maybe the same thing happens. Or maybe the Georgia fans just shrug. That probably depends on how the last football game between the two in-state rivals went.
If you’re Georgia Tech, then your rivals in Athens are a source of enmity, perhaps envy. Your season doesn’t revolve around beating them, but a rare win over Georgia sure makes things a lot sunnier.
If you’re Georgia, it pretty much boils down to this: You better beat Georgia Tech. No really, you better beat Tech.
Yes, it’s a fairly one-sided rivalry.
You don’t hear Georgia fans, coaches or players spending the spring and summer bragging about beating Georgia Tech. They brag about beating Florida, Auburn, or a highly-ranked team they faced. Georgia Tech? That’s a game you’re supposed to win.
And that’s what the Bulldogs have done most of the time: 13-2 since 2001, 20-5 since 1991. If you’re a millennial, or even Generation X, you’ve grown up knowing one team ruled the rivalry, save for Georgia Tech’s three-game winning streak in 1998-2000 – which got Jim Donnan fired. (Please refer to previous statement that you better beat Georgia Tech.)
“It’s a large rivalry game,” said Kirby Smart, now the head coach, who as a Georgia player went 3-1 against the Yellow Jackets. “Especially to our older fan base, the history of this rivalry is really important to a lot of people. It’s really important to me. It’s really important to this team. You could see it in the buzz they have for it.”
Well, maybe. When you speak to Georgia players, and they issue the perfunctory words about this game, quite frankly they just don’t seem to have the sincerity and fire as when they talk about their SEC rivals.
“It’s an in-state rivalry. You always want to be on top of in-state rivalries,” Georgia junior defensive tackle John Atkins said, factually but not quite emotionally.
Before he retired, it was tradition during Georgia Tech week for Joe Tereshinski, the team’s longtime staffer and former player, to speak to the team about why this game should be so important to them. Why they should hate Georgia Tech. By all accounts it fired people up. But the fact it was necessary was another reminder that Georgia’s main rival isn’t the Rambling Wreck.
Georgia, because of its geography, may have more rivals than any other team in college football: Florida to the south, Auburn to the west (along with Alabama, if only for recruiting), Tennessee to the northwest, and South Carolina to the northeast. Those are all SEC schools that have large, passionate fan bases.
Georgia Tech has a good fan base, yes, but it’s just not at the level of the top SEC schools. And while Georgia is used to recruiting against those other SEC schools, not to mention Clemson and Florida State, the head-to-head recruiting battles with Georgia Tech are rare.
You know what Georgia wants out of this year’s game? To be able to enjoy it.
Two years ago Georgia lost to Georgia Tech, and the aftermath was heavy criticism over the squib kick, as well as just the general principal of losing to Georgia Tech. The next month was full of rumors that didn’t turn out to be true.
Last year Georgia won a low-scoring game, celebrated, and the next morning their head coach was fired. There wasn’t much time to savor it.
There would be this time. It would mean the continuation of a strong finish, reason for optimism as Smart finishes his first year.
But what if they lose? Well, nobody’s getting fired, but what would it be like after that?
“It’s a game where you can’t come back the next week, or the week after that, and change it,” Blazevich said. “You have to wait a year.”
And as those who were around two years ago can attest, it’s a long year. If you’re Georgia, it’s really, really simple: Better beat Tech.