Saturday, December 24, 2005

Dogs and Cats…and Yellowjackets

If you’re like most fans, you hate your team’s biggest rival. Comes with the territory. I must confess…I’d just as soon watch the University of Georgia play as my alma mater, Georgia Tech. Around old school-mates I can’t let on, but when I get in the car, I tune in Larry Munson to get the picture.

How did this happen? Back in the day Tech was one of college football’s must storied programs, rivaling the likes of Notre Dame, racking up one of the best bowl records in history…in places like Pasadena, New Orleans, and Miami. Coached by legends named Heisman and Dodd, ruling the early days of the Southeastern Conference. Before my time, of course. Then Tech got the big head and dropped out of the SEC. Roses and Oranges became Bluebonnets and Liberties. Facilities grew old. Great players went elsewhere.

Wins were scarce during my years at Georgia Tech. It was a great day in 1980 when a skinny freshman tight end named Ken Whisenhunt took the snaps, and Tech tied top-ranked Notre Dame 3 – 3. Later that afternoon in Jacksonville Buck Belue teamed up with Lindsey Scott, and UGA went on to win the national championship.

Watching both teams up close, it was obvious which was the better football program. Georgia was expanding massive Stanford Stadium while Tech downsized quaint Grant Field. Dawg Coach Vince Dooley was a long-running class act. Pepper Rogers was fun and Bill Curry determined, but neither could match for the program built by Dooley. It’s still fun to listen to Dooley Thursday afternoons banter with the Two Live Stews.

And UGA had Herschel. Tech’s Eddie Lee Ivory broke loose in the Colorado Springs snow to break the NCAA single-game rushing record. Nice. Herschel broke the NCAA freshman, sophomore, and junior rushing records. His three-year rushing total still stands, and was second on the career rushing list at the time. Don’t get me started.

So I dutifully pulled for my Jackets, always with an eye on the glorious Dawgs. When they would play each other I usually managed to build up a nice hate for Georgia, only to return to normal after a few days. Most Tech alumni treated games as gentile social occasions, while students came off with an angry, "we’re better than you" attitude. But the scoreboard usually begged to differ.

Sure, in 1990 Tech rode an easy schedule to a share of the national championship. What national champion ties North Carolina? Since then Tech had some short-lived success, thanks to the coaching genius of George O’Leary and Ralph Freidgen. UGA had some down years, but under Mark Richt the Dawgs have returned to the nation’s elite. Current Tech coach Chan Gailey is a fine man and has his moments, but ranks several notches below Richt in the coaching pantheon.

During a turbulent week this past November, Tech (1) lost to Virginia, (2) extended Gailey’s contract (to dismay of many), (3) had the athletic director declare that consistent nine or ten win seasons were not to be expected (doing wonders for recruiting), and (4) had a local judge reinstate a player suspended for drug trafficking (isn’t that the coach’s decision?). The fact Tech completed the week by knocking off #3 Miami highlights my trouble with Tech football. I’d much rather see them beat the teams they should, like N.C. State and Virginia. Whatever happened to consistency? You don’t see UGA fall to Vandy or Kentucky.

Instead, Georgia has no trouble trouncing #3 LSU in the SEC championship game, and returns to familiar environs, the Sugar Bowl. And I’ll lower the shades, turn on the TV, and cheer them on.

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