Thanksgiving memories: Bullpups vs. Baby Jackets

For many years, Thanksgiving in this state meant the Bullpups vs. the Baby Jackets. Here’s a reminiscence of those days that a lot of you enjoyed back when I first wrote it in 2006. Happy Thanksgiving!

Fran Tarkenton played as a freshman in the 1957 Thanksgiving classic. (Georgiadogs.com)

Fran Tarkenton played as a freshman in the 1957 Thanksgiving classic. (Georgiadogs.com)

“Strong legs will run that weak legs may walk.”

For six decades, that slogan, reputed to have been coined by The Atlanta Constitution’s legendary Ralph McGill, summed up the annual Thanksgiving Day meeting between the freshman Bullpups and Baby Jackets to benefit Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital.

Back in the days before freshmen were eligible to play on the varsity, this game held every year at Grant Field was a really big deal, drawing national attention. In its heyday, it regularly drew crowds of 40,000 people willing to postpone Thanksgiving dinner in order to preview the stars of tomorrow. (More than a few probably spoiled their appetites with a post-game visit to the Varsity.) The game was even broadcast on the radio!

UGA’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Frank Sinkwich, who ran for more than 200 yards in the 1939 Scottish Rite Classic, once said that the freshman game he played at Grant Field was a greater thrill for him than playing in the Rose Bowl for the varsity. That ‘39 team was such a high-powered outfit they were dubbed the “Point-a-Minute Bullpups.”

After Vince Dooley introduced the red helmets with the “G” on the side, the tradition was that the Bullpups played their earlier games in plain red helmets, only getting the “G” for the special Thanksgiving Day game.

I only went to the Thanksgiving classic once, but I remember it well. It was the 1966 game and our Sunday school class came over from Athens because former AHS Trojans star Paul Gilbert was quarterbacking the Bullpups. After we took our seats in Grant Field, we loudly started comparing the venue with newly renovated and expanded Sanford Stadium, and the Jackets fans above us pelted us with popcorn boxes. Hey, when you’re 14 years old, that’s big-time fun!

Athens folks also were very excited about the Bullpups my freshman year of 1970 because another AHS hero, Andy Johnson, was battling Don Golden of Valdosta for the Pups’ QB job. I remember the freshman games earlier in the season that year drew larger crowds than the normal few hundred to Sanford Stadium because Athens businessmen were closing up shop early to go watch Andy play.

Back then, the Thanksgiving classic was a major media event, and a few days before the game the players would visit the kids at the hospital, which always made a big impression on both the athletes and the patients. The Shriners, who were involved in fund-raising for the hospital, entertained at halftime of the game. In years when the varsity teams played on Thanksgiving Day, the Bullpups and Baby Jackets usually met the Saturday before the holiday.

After the rule change in 1972 allowed frosh to play on the varsity, the annual Bullpups-Baby Jackets match lost much of its luster, and it became a junior varsity game in 1974.

After becoming a JV team, the Bullpups generally played only two to four games a season, mostly against junior colleges like Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Tennessee Military Institute and Georgia Military College (aside from the annual meeting with the Baby Jackets).

Those JV teams featured some scholarship players, but they were mostly made up of bench-warmers and walk-ons. Some years in the late ’80s the Baby Jackets didn’t have enough players to field a team and had to enlist volunteers from the student body to fill out their roster.

From 1933 to 1993, the Bullpups-Baby Jackets game raised $6 million for Scottish Rite. Because it was a charity affair, even in later years as many as 50,000 tickets would be sold, even though only about 8,000 to 10,000 fans actually bothered to show up for the game once it was no longer an all-freshman showcase.

Georgia won the first game played in 1933 and the last two games played in ‘92 and ‘93. The score of that last game was 21-14, with QB Brian Smith leading the Pups before a crowd of 10,142. After that, the game was killed by the two schools because of NCAA scholarship limitations. The overall record in the Scottish Rite Classic was 28 wins for the Bullpups, 30 for the Baby Jackets and one tie. No games were played in 1943-44.

Interestingly, the Governor’s Cup went to the winner of the Scottish Rite game. That trophy was retired in a “legends” alumni game in 1994, the year after the last Bullpups-Baby Jackets meeting, and a new Governor’s Cup was introduced to designate the winner of the varsity game starting in 1995. The NCAA officially designated the varsity game as a “special event,” allowing Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center (now part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta) to present the cup to the winner and give commemorative gifts to the players.

I miss the Bullpups. Considering how many incoming freshmen are redshirted anyway these days, it’s a shame that the JV game and all it did for the children’s hospital couldn’t have continued in some form, even if it was strictly the redshirts and scout team players participating.

I think they’d get something more valuable than just playing time from the experience.

(Special thanks to Mark, Tim, Carl, Dan and Joel for reminiscing with me about the Bullpups.)

87 comments Add your comment

gt76

November 25th, 2009
2:11 pm

Bill, thanks for a great walk down memory lane. too much emphasis on the game today and not on things really important in life. Hope the baseball player Chance fully recovers.

SECFactCheck.com

November 25th, 2009
2:11 pm

Excellent Article!

45ACP

November 25th, 2009
2:12 pm

Bill – Great memories. I attended a few of those games.
Then we rode the Pink Pig.
Great holiday tradition.

U-no

November 25th, 2009
2:16 pm

My dad and I attended several of those games. Great memories! Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane, Bill. And, I agree, it should continue in some form. I think it would be good for both schools and certainly for the cause that benefitted from it.

John Ard

November 25th, 2009
2:20 pm

There has been only one quarterback at Georgia to start both the junior varsity and varsity games against Tech in the same year: Davy Sawyer of Avondale in 1977, due to injuries to Bulldog quarterbacks.

UGA_2001

November 25th, 2009
2:28 pm

That pic of Tarkenton is from the ‘59 Aub game. Do they look like Tech uniforms?

pete

November 25th, 2009
2:35 pm

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in Atlanta this was the only game I could get tickets to.I don’t remember the games as much as I remember how the Tech and Ga. people hated each other.Tech was on top in those days and this didn’t sit well with the Dawg crowd.The later game you mentioned when Tech had to go into the student body for volunteers is one of my favorite memories.The Tech students had their one day of glory and made the most of it.Ga. has dominated my Jackets so long that the rivalry ain’t what it used to be,but you let Tech win2 or 3 straight and it will be intense again.

I Remember

November 25th, 2009
2:58 pm

I’m another who says, “Thanks Bill.” My daddy took me to my first Bullpups-Baby Jackets game on Thanksgiving Day, 1940. I asked him, “Why are we pulling for Tech, Dad? Don’t we live in Georgia?” He answered,
being an Atlantan, “we pull for Tech, because they’re the LOCAL team.”
So I started pulling for Tech, and it has never changed. I pulled for Tech even while I was a student at UGA. though I had to be rather quiet about it! The freshman game was succeeded by the JV’s game, when freshmen were allowed to play varsity. The whole series lasted 60 games, and Tech wound up two games ahead, all-time. WHOOPEE!!

2BT

November 25th, 2009
3:29 pm

Bill, despite being a die-hard Jacket til the day I die, I GREATLY APPRECIATE the history lesson! Thoroughly enjoyed your blog just now.

Tech Fan

November 25th, 2009
3:29 pm

Great article Bill. Since I started at Tech in 1998, I never got to experience this game. It really is a shame a tradition like this had to die. Seems like it wouldn’t be a big deal to have the UGA scout team square off against the Tech scout team every year. I know UGA fans would love a chance to see Aaron Murray THIS YEAR, and Tech fans would enjoy a chance to see our O-line and B-back of the future (currently redshirting). Also, since Thanksgiving means the scout team is practicing as the enemy, we’d get the chance to see UGA run the option and Tech run a pro-set!

MalibuGT

November 25th, 2009
3:59 pm

Bill, from a diehard Tech fan, thanks for a great article. I played in the game for GT against my brother back in the 80’s. it was a special memory. and the tie in with the Scottish Rite was wonderful.

superDawg

November 25th, 2009
4:13 pm

I still have ticket stubbs from those games.My grand father was a big supporter of the scottish rite hospital.GO DAWGS!

superDawg

November 25th, 2009
4:16 pm

I remember the war years don’t count.It was a tie.

Bob

November 25th, 2009
4:23 pm

Great memories Bill. I went to those games every year in the early 60s. Grew up a Tech fan and pulled for Billy Lothridge and Billy Martin. Then I got smart, went to UGA and got my priorities straight. This was a great tradition. Too bad it has gone away.

Beach Dawg

November 25th, 2009
4:50 pm

Like Bob I “got smart” and went to UGA but I grew up a Jackets fan primarily because my Boy Scout troop always ushered at the Tech games – a real treat for a kid from Kennesaw in the late 50s. And the Thanksgiving game was always special because Coach Dodd would speak to the assembled Scouts, thank us for our service and shake our hands. The Thanksgiving meal, however, was anything but special — it was the standard game day sack lunch consisting of a bologna sandwich, an O’Henry candy bar and a coke that was watered down by the already melted ice. Great memories!!

DAWG87

November 25th, 2009
5:05 pm

Good thing they discontinued that game. Losing once this week to Tech is enough.

Einsteindawg

November 25th, 2009
5:07 pm

Thanks Bill. I also remember the hype before the game with the “Atlanta Constitution” running weekly features of the players, by position, of each team. This gave us names and stats of players to root for, and to look forward to them playing varsity next year. Thanksgiving was more fun with this game, and usually the school who won the freshman game was the loser on Saturday.

JoeV

November 25th, 2009
5:16 pm

From a Clemson Alum,

Wow. I had never heard of this and I have to say I’m impressed. Sounds really cool and the article did a great job of explaining the tradition behind the game. Thanks.

mountainjacket

November 25th, 2009
5:36 pm

I too share memories of these games. Tickets were widespread throughout corporate Atlanta and my dad always had some. It was sad to see the tradition die.
Actually, the event has come back to life in a different form, a different sport, and a different venue:
The Spring Classic, held each year at Turner Field is a double header with local high school baseball teams in the first game, and GT-UGA in the nightcap.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is still the beneficiary. Profits from the game have been used thus far to help pay for an Intra-operative MRI located at the Scottish Rite campus of CHOA. This MRI is one of only four such installations in a dedicated pediatric hospital worldwide. This machine allows neurosurgeons to make use of MRI technology during brain tumor surgery. It is truly a Godsend.

hardmanb

November 25th, 2009
5:38 pm

Great memories, Bill. Like another poster, I attended the Freshman games, as regular game tickets were too expensive. The articles in the Atlanta Journal AND the Atlanta Constitution about the player’s experiences at Scottish Rite were great. The Scottish Rite visit was very moving to these players.

Then, after the Varsity, on downtown to the Rich’s store for the Thanksgiving “Lighting of the Great Tree”. Good times.

Paul Lee

November 25th, 2009
5:58 pm

Uh, when did Tech wear Auburn uniforms ?

Alabama Jack

November 25th, 2009
6:07 pm

I was there for 1966 and 1967. Married student whoe lived across the street from BDS in Burge Apartments. Walked over, watched the game, came home, ate, then downtown for the lighting of the Great Tree at Rich’s. Life doesn’t get any better.

GT MAN

November 25th, 2009
6:11 pm

Great article, I saw alot from 1960 ( Lothridge’s year ) thru 1970. Was always fun to see future yellow jackets superstars; that after this game, one never heard from again ( Johnny Sinclair, Jeff Travis ) just 2 that comes to mind. Also, the pic of tarkenton is against Auburn, GT always had gold helmets. And it was a pretty site to watch the silver helmets versus the gold ones.

jabster

November 25th, 2009
6:17 pm

The game ended because of the NCAA banning frosh/JV games. I agree, a scout team game would be great.

Great article, Bill.

GO JACKETS!

Ed

November 25th, 2009
6:45 pm

I remember listening to this game on the radio one time while driving from my home in Florida to my grandparents’ home in Coastal Georgia. This was sometime in the mid to late 80s. I was amazed that the universities even played a “JV” game. What a great tradition, shame it had to end.

Delbert D.

November 25th, 2009
6:50 pm

Beach Dawg – I grew up a Tech fan, too (the family renegade), and my scout troop ushered at Sanford Stadium. Saw a lot of great players…Tarkenton, Namath, Jerry Woolum of Ky., Billy Lothridge/Billy Martin, the Dye brothers, many many more.

j.cassell

November 25th, 2009
6:51 pm

I remember the game being broadcast on television in the very late 4s or early 50′. I took my son to the game in the late 70’s when he was six or seven. Buzz had picked up a Ga. female cheerleader, put her over his sholder and was escaping across the south endzone. I asked my son if the had rather be a Bullpup ao a Baby Jacket and he said,”I’d rather be the Bee.

GT MAN

November 25th, 2009
7:18 pm

J.cassell—you had a smart son, I’d love to been the bee also.

Delbert D.

November 25th, 2009
7:19 pm

Bill, http://www.georgiadogs.com has the wrong photo. That’s the 1959 upset of Auburn for the SEC title.

WilliamG

November 25th, 2009
7:34 pm

What a fine read.

CBB1

November 25th, 2009
8:09 pm

Regarding the photo of Tarkenton. I would think Bill knows this is not a picture from the Freshman game. More than likely, the AJC didn’t have a photo of Tarkenton from the 1957 Freshman game. Not that big a deal.

btgt69

November 25th, 2009
8:18 pm

Thanks for the article. I was at Tech in 66-70, “academic redshirt,” lived in married student housing across from the “big tit” and next to the Pikes. Always loved the Frosh game, lunch at the V and the lighting of the big tree at Rich”s. Listen to Gladys Knight singing “the way we were”, it is perfect for this article. Best wishes to all the fans at both UGA and my beloved GT.

Willy T

November 25th, 2009
8:46 pm

I remember the paper previewing each position for each side every day leading up to the game.In other words, linebackers one day, OL one day and so on until you knew exactly who was playing for each team. It was great.

thunderbull56

November 25th, 2009
8:47 pm

Come on TERENCE find a nother line of work, Dear AJC, I am available for weakly sentimental drivel on an twenty four basis.NEED me to A.make EXCUSES,B.Make Excuses on Company Time or.C.,Make more excuses on FRICKIN AJC TIME.GET ME the tell me what what you wanta hear frickin hotline BAYBEE.HOME on the HOMER! Teeeeeeroy ACHEMAN would be proud of UUUUUU Homers!

Navigator

November 25th, 2009
9:16 pm

I remember they coined an expression at this game that is also used at the East-West all star game. Strong legs run that weak legs may walk. I remember one year when the game was at Tech, 42,000 showed up, it was some king of an event.

Cuz

November 25th, 2009
9:43 pm

Great one Bill. One for the kids. It does not get any better than that. I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving.

Jack

November 25th, 2009
9:59 pm

Starting Thanksgiving in 1941, I attended 50 straight games, both freshman and JV. The pressure to accommodate game time with Thanksgiving celebrations frequently caused family conflicts, but the quest to make 50 was worth the effort. The 1941 game starred the great Charley Trippi for the Bullpups. I still have the program. Attending 50 in a row then carried over to the varsity game from 1955 through 2004, another accomplishment which quite frequently became very stressful though now the source of great pride. Thanks for rekindling these memories.

Ed

November 25th, 2009
11:39 pm

Attending the game was a family tradition for several years in the late 60’s. We lived in middle Georgia and we would come up for the game, ride the pink pig, visit Santa and end the day downtown at Rich’s for the lighting of the tree. I was the only Tech fan in the family, so the few victories were sweet. Cannot remember the players, but it was a wonderful family event.

humble the bumbles

November 25th, 2009
11:58 pm

Great read. It was pregame meal at the Greasy V, the game, then downtown to ride the Pink Pig and see the lighting ot the Great Tree at Rich’s. A great day in much simpler times…

gatorman770

November 26th, 2009
12:55 am

My grandfather (a GT graduate) was a Shriner and use to take me every year in the late 50s and early 60s. There was always a Shriner parade with the Shriners driving their speedy little red miniature cars and go-karts and red convertible Chevys.

Ed

November 26th, 2009
1:09 am

Ed, this is Ed. Welcome, but could you find another moniker? I’ve been posting on here as Ed for some time now.

Bill

November 26th, 2009
1:20 am

Thanks for this…we use to go as a family every year….

SEC Watch

November 26th, 2009
1:59 am

ESPN.com’s Bottom 10
  Rank Team Record Comment
1. Western Kentucky 0-10 “The Worst Joke Ever”: The Hilltoppers have two more chances to end their 18-game losing streak, the longest in the country: at Florida Atlantic on Saturday and home against Arkansas State on Dec. 3.
2. Eastern Michigan 0-11 “Shiny Happy People”: Akron has to be more than excited about hosting the winless Eagles in Friday’s Pillow Fight of the Week.
3. Miami (Ohio) 1-11 “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”: The RedHawks seemed to be lost in translation during new coach Michael Haywood’s first season.
4. Ball State 1-10 “Final Straw”: A year ago, the Cardinals were undefeated and preparing for the MAC championship game. They get one more chance at a second victory Tuesday night at Western Michigan.
5. Georgia 6-5 “Losing My Religion”: Georgia fans seem like lost souls after the Bulldogs collapsed in coach Mark Richt’s ninth season.
6. Akron 2-9 “Daysleeper”: Fans might have a hard time staying awake when the Zips host Eastern Michigan in their finale on Friday.
7. Washington State 1-10 “Ignoreland”: How much national attention will be generated by Saturday’s Apple Cup between the Cougars and rival Washington?
8. Memphis 2-9 “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”: The Tommy West era at Memphis officially ends after Friday’s game at Tulsa.
9. Colorado State 3-8 “Bad Day”: How else to describe the Rams’ stunning 29-27 defeat at previously winless New Mexico?
10. Maryland 2-9 “Bandwagon”: There aren’t many fans left on the Ralph Friedgen bandwagon. After a 31-8 start at his alma mater, Friedgen is 35-37 the last six seasons combined.

GtG1

November 26th, 2009
3:18 am

I remember as a lad listening to the games on radio. Several Thanksgivings we were at my grandparents’ home in Winder and we “played in the game” in the yard during halftime. Of course, in our games, the Dawgs always won…

Buckhead Bulldog

November 26th, 2009
4:55 am

Thanks Bill….a perfect article for this time of the year.

Wow! Great memories of family and childhood friends that I haven’t thought about in some time. I was too young to really care about or remember the actual games and what was transpiring on the field. However, I do remember getting in the car with my Dad and riding down to Tech,and being mesmerized the atmosphere and sitting in those stands. It was an awesome experience to a little Pee-Wee football player. To me at that time, it really didn’t matter if it was the JV or the V on that field. It was just GT/UGA to me.

My Dad went to undergrad and grad school at Tech, and I know he wished I had gone to Tech. My two best childhood friends went to Tech, as well. I ended up going to UGA, but I always pull for the Jackets except for the one game.

Nothing but the best to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Nation BUT Go Dogs….Sic’ ‘em!

JD

November 26th, 2009
6:30 am

As a child one of my favorite memories was going to the freshman game with my dad. I was, and still am, a diehard Bulldoy fan and it was the highlight of my year to go to this game. What a shame that freshman eligibility has taken that thrill away.

The Chief

November 26th, 2009
7:45 am

Bill, thanks for the memories. Sometimes I wondered if anybody ever remembered those days. My dad took me to many of those games while I was growing up. I didn’t realize then the significance of getting to see players who would be varsity stars in the following years, but I do remember thinking in the years Tech won that it might be a precursor to another Jacket win on Saturday!

Anyway, my most distinct memory of those games is not the games themselves, but the Shriner’s halftime show. I remember those cars racing around, and I always looked forward to watching some Shriner out there on the field dancing around with a large scimitar swinging it over his head. It was the coolest part of the show to a little kid. I wish the young people today could enjoy that game.

Anyway, thanks again for a Thanksgiving memory from days gone by and of my dad, God rest his soul.

Mickey

November 26th, 2009
8:13 am

…Fantastic article Bill.I was laying in bed a couple of nights ago thinking about those times. I went when I was a young kid in the 80’s,its what made Thanksgiving. GOD Bless and have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a good weekend.

Alabamadawg

November 26th, 2009
8:15 am

Great article Bill…if I’m not mistaken that same year Andy Johnson was leading the bullpups, he had a great runningback with him named Jimmy Poulous. One heck of a one-two punch !!!

Trojan Player

November 26th, 2009
8:40 am

I had the pleasure of playing in the 1966 game. It was a thrill to play in front of so many fans. I played in the MILK BOWL in 1964 and we drew 10,000 to Grady stadium, which was a big crowd then. Sylvan played Dykes. Billy Payne was the qb for Dykes and Sylvan had 3 seniors in their backfield that received scholarships; Beal Lazenby (Auburn), Donnie Hampton (UGA), and Dan Eckstein (Presbyterian).