In years past our annual look at Georgia fans vis-a-vis Georgia Tech has been offered in the spirit of good clean fun. This year, for the sake of novelty (and also because even I’ve wearied of Willie Martinez), the idea will be to help these two neighboring-but-different groups actually understand one another.
And then we’ll all join hands and raise our voices in a spirited rendition of “I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing” and toast one another with Coca-Cola products, and by the way: Did you know Georgia fans refer to Bobby Dodd Stadium as “The Joke By Coke”?
But enough! No more gags from me this year! Instead I offer the observations gained from dwelling among Tech and Georgia folks these past 27 years, eight months and 18 days.
• Tech fans care just as much about football as Georgia fans. This may come as a surprise to those Bulldogs backers who are forever mocking the attendance at Bobby Dodd Stadium. (For the Jackets’ mammoth Thursday night clash against No. 10 Virginia Tech, attendance was announced at 50,140 in a facility that seats 55,000.) But counting heads isn’t necessarily a measure of passion.
Tech’s enrollment is roughly 20,000 — Georgia’s is 35,000, by the way — and a goodly percentage of those students will take their degrees and move elsewhere. (This isn’t to say that no Georgia grad ever moves out of state. Even Lewis Grizzard moved to Chicago for a few months.) But studies have shown that there are more Auburn grads living in metro Atlanta than Tech alums.
Numbers-wise, Georgia is always going to win. That doesn’t mean Tech folks don’t care. They do. Just ask any alum what he/she thinks of a Tech uniform that doesn’t feature the color gold. Or get one going on Bill Lewis’ 2 1/2-year reign of error.
• Just as Tech fans hate being hit over the head with attendance figures, Georgia fans hate hearing about Jan Kemp. When John Davis was a Tech lineman back in the ’80s, he told me this joke: “How do you get a degree from Georgia? Drive by campus and roll down the window.” And there was a time, let’s stipulate, when UGA wasn’t exactly a school of renown, and the Jan Kemp trial only underscored the notion.
But that was then, and under presidents Charles Knapp and Michael Adams the University of Georgia has become a place of pride and achievement. No, calculus isn’t a requirement for every UGA undergrad, but the academic missions of the schools are rather different. Georgia is a broad-based state university; Tech is, duh, a technical institute. Not everyone wants to be an engineer. Just because your diploma is from UGA doesn’t make you a comparative moron.
Not that Tech folks are eager to concede the point. On his Tuesday night radio show, Tech coach Paul Johnson took a call from someone who began barking. Said Johnson: “He just got off from Walmart.” (FYI, the CEO of Walmart is Tech grad Michael Duke.)
• When Tech fans speak of football tradition, they think first of Bobby Dodd. He was everything a Tech fan wanted in a coach. He was smart and his teams played precise football and he won a lot of games and he, not incidentally, beat Georgia eight times running. But that was in the ’50s, and those were different times: College football wasn’t yet a billion-dollar industry driven by TV and recruiting wasn’t a cutthroat nationwide competition.
Reasonable Tech fans — and Tech fans, by and large, tend to be reasonable — cannot envision their team ever again beating Georgia eight times in a row. (Since 1977, Tech has beaten Georgia eight times total.) In their heart of hearts, Tech fans would be satisfied with winning one of every three against their bitter rival. Not coincidentally, Johnson is 1-2 against Georgia.
• When Georgia fans speak of tradition, they think first of Herschel Walker. Yes, the Bulldogs were winning SEC and even national championships and turning out famous players (Sinkwich, Trippi, Tarkenton) long before landing the kid from Wrightsville on Easter 1980, but the Era of Herschel propelled Georgia from the ranks of perennial Southern power to something bigger. By every measure, those were the three greatest years in Bulldogs history.
That said, those three seasons skewed some Georgia fans’ view of their program. Two decades would pass before Georgia won another SEC title. Mark Richt has taken two conference titles and three division championships and his teams have finished in the top 10 five times, but Georgia hasn’t played for a national crown since 1982, and five different SEC schools have finished No. 1 over the past 13 years. UGA fans are still waiting their turn, same as they await the Next Herschel.
• Georgia is Tech’s biggest game of every year. Chan Gailey got fired not because he had losing seasons — he didn’t, not a one — but because he was 0-6 against the Bulldogs. And it’s undeniable that the words “To Hell with Georgia” are sung the loudest whenever “Ramblin’ Wreck” is played.
• Tech is Georgia’s biggest game only when Georgia fans are scared they might lose. This isn’t such a year. Georgia has won its division and is going to play LSU or Alabama for the SEC title next week. Georgia has, to borrow another Johnson line, bigger fish to fry. Which is the primary reason Georgia fans should be wary of Johnson and his team.
By Mark Bradley