Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tech Confidential

I recently went public with my fondness for Mark Richt and UGA football, utter blasphemy for a Tech grad. The past few days I’ve been exploring the roots of all this. Since I’m a Wreck, let me ramble…

Also a lifetime sports fan, my dad, a former Atlantan, always sided with Tech. He was thrilled when I matriculated there. As a kid, my interests in sports were gravitating toward smart, hustling, honorable athletes and good-looking, traditional uniforms, as opposed to trendy togs.

At Tech I attended as many football and basketball games as possible, missing few home games for five years, in fact. Though Tech’s performance was below average during those years, my enthusiasm was hardly dampened. Pepper Rodgers, his wishbone, curly hair, and white floppy hat were entertaining, though all drew increasing criticism. Later Bill Curry’s fine leadership (and cool Astro-Turf Pumas) had my devotion, but Tech’s record worsened.

Like their record, Tech’s football uniforms also went downhill. The nice grey facemasks, traditional striping, white home jerseys, and simple numbers devolved around 1980, with too many “trendy” collar, pants, and socks stripes. Number font, trim, and color changed from year to year, depending on latest “fashions.” The trendy stripes, in vogue in 1980, remained in place over 25 years, until this past season. The 60’s throwback unis were great. But like many other colleges, the 2008 “updated” outfits were quite disappointing to those of us who study uniforms.

Sixty miles east, UGA was winning championships with an interesting, Heisman-winning tailback, All-American kickers, and cocky South Georgia QBs. Vince Dooley was the opposite of a braggart. I’d seen Ray Goff play in high school. Uniform changes were improvements (and few). Any fashion blunders were quickly corrected. Uga the mascot wasn’t embarrassing like Buzz, who was seemingly created solely for marketing purposes only (like many Tech decisions). Over the years my hard heart couldn’t help but be softened on pesky, loveable Buzz.

Admirable family-man Mark Richt was hired, and was an immediate success. David’s Greene and Pollock had their long, winning run. Tech countered with four years of Reggie Ball, throwing out-of-bounds on fourth down and becoming academically ineligible for his last game. Sure, UGA had their miscreants. They were dealt with, for the most part. Tech coaches achieving one-season success are rewarded overwhelmingly (see Gailey and Hewitt). Hopefully Paul Johnson won’t continue this recent trend. I can’t honestly say “Tech does it the right way.” No one was brought to their knees.

When Tech WAS bowl eligible, the bowl was usually minor at best (Seattle, Emerald Nut, Humanitarian, etc). Bowl selection season was embarrassing, with Tech shut out time after time. Even when they won the national championship, they only went to the Citrus Bowl. Tech travels much worse than most, with alumni spread thin across the country. Due to the high-tech curriculum, a lower percentage of Techsters are even sports fans. While necessary, some ticket promotions are embarrassing.

To my dismay, at games (and blogs) devoted Tech fans consider themselves superior to rival fans, schools, and teams. With what justification? UGA was obviously superior on the gridiron since the late 70’s, and it’s almost tougher to get into UGA academically these days. There were the minor scandals at UGA, but Tech wasn’t exactly lily-white either. While legions of UGA fans are rabid, it’s my impression that most Tech alumni attend games to be seen, to achieve a higher status in their own eyes.

This was particularly evident at the Miami “white-out” game. While 99.9% of the students wore white, the alumni didn’t get it. “Why would I want to do that?” and “White? That’s not even Tech’s color!” were repeatedly heard. Uh, yes, white is a school color. Tech looked foolish on national TV, again. Why would a blue-chip recruit consider a school with such lackluster support?

When new AD Dan Radakovich was hired I appreciated some of his first comments, in an alumni magazine article. While he appreciated Tech’s fantastic football heritage and traditions, he understood that elite teenage high school athletes considering colleges have vastly different priorities. That he even had to mention this underscores that most Tech alumni don’t get it.

These issues are problems at most schools. Clemson, Ceil’s alma mater, considers themself a football factory. Year after year they fall on their face. Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Penn State, and Ohio State have stumbled. At least they haven’t let apparel corporations screw-up great uniforms. Sports today is a billion-dollar industry, filled with coaches and players seeking money and stardom – from Little League to the Senior Tour. Guess I’m jaded - I choose not to get caught up in it. I will watch for fun.

Taken all together, perhaps you can see why my attention has strayed. But without fail, come Thanksgiving Saturday I find myself working up a “clean, old-fashioned hate” for UGA. When toe meets leather, I always root for Tech over UGA. No matter how often they break my heart.

I love the Yellow Jackets, how ‘bout you! I just don’t LIKE them sometimes.

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