College football rivalries in the Southland resemble a Hatfield-McCoy feud. They are intense, long-lasting, sometimes bitter, and always passionate. Think Auburn vs. Alabama, USC vs. Clemson, Florida vs. Florida State, Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State, and, of course, my favorite, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech.
It may sound like a random collection of words, but Clean Old-Fashioned Hate is not only a book title but an apt description for one of the great rivalries in college football. Since 1893, the annual clash of the Georgia – Georgia Tech football teams has been one of those end of season traditional in-state contests that makes the college game so much more fun to watch than the NFL. The Red and Black vs. the White and Gold, Bulldogs vs. Yellow Jackets, the Ramblin Wreck and Between the Hedges. Ah yes, college football has a passion and intensity unlike any other sport, except maybe soccer in Latin America.
The official mascots of the two respective schools are annually ranked among the country’s most favorite trademark representatives. Buzz, a stylized yellow jacket, is considered part of the cheerleading squad. Uga X is a pure white English bulldog that wears a custom-made jersey and resides on game day in an air-conditioned on-field doghouse. Sports Illustrated recently declared Uga X as college football’s top mascot. Rivals must have mascots that are beloved and memorable with equal parts adorable and feisty!
It was 1985, and this Georgia Tech graduate found himself living and working in Athens, Georgia, the home of my alma mater’s most hated rival, the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Though I received a vast amount of good-natured ribbing from my colleagues and neighbors who were die-hard Bulldog fans, living in a small college town, especially Athens, proved to be an enjoyable experience.
I had joined a local service club called SERTOMA, which stood for SERvice TO MAnkind, whose fundraising focus was on hearing health issues. We met monthly at the local Holiday Inn for a luncheon and to listen to a guest speaker. We had around 60 – 70 young professionals as members, almost all of whom favored the Red and Black. I, along with one other member, were the only Yellow Jacket alumni. 1986 found me serving as club President that year. In that role, I sat next to the podium and introduced our guest speaker.
At one particular luncheon, our speaker was none other than Vince Dooley, the legendary head football coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. Dooley was cordial and welcomed the opportunity to promote the UGA program. During his talk, he paused, leaned into the microphone, and in a slightly lowered voice, asked his spellbound audience if we would like to know his secret for winning football games. Everyone smiled, nodding their heads and leaning forward so as not to miss anything their beloved coach had to say. Dooley continued, “My secret is this…” Then he paused, stood up straight, turned his head, and while looking directly at me said, “Well, maybe not.”
Our club members howled in laughter, quickly realizing that Dooley had been informed that a couple of Yellow Jacket spies were among his listeners, and his tease about divulging game-winning secrets was just a ploy. College football rivalries, don’t you love it?
My earliest memory of this football feud tradition heralds back to my childhood. This unwavering, passionate loyalty to pigskin traditions was indelibly imprinted in my brain one hot summer day in 1961. I was ten years old. My parents and I dropped by to visit a family friend in their hometown of Winder, Georgia. I have long since forgotten the name of the family friend, but her words still linger in my consciousness. This prim and proper southern grandmother was the quintessential image of southern hospitality. We sat under the shade of a tree sipping, excuse me – I mean “sippin” ice-cold lemonade. With a southern drawl as thick as sorghum syrup, she inquired ever so politely if I had considered where I might go to college. Even then, I knew I wanted to go to Georgia Tech. With Winder being but a cow chip throw from Athens, this southern lady’s affections favored the Red and Black. After expressing my intentions, she responded with a smile and spoke in a sweet, hospitable tone that belied the words that followed. “Well, Buddy, Georgia Tech is a fine-fine school, it’s just that DAMN football team!” Of course, I later learned Tech had beaten Georgia seven of the previous nine seasons. Now almost 60 years later, I know the feeling.
Ironically, it was Georgia Tech that helped UGA secure its only National Championship in 1980. Near the end of the season, undefeated and #2 ranked Georgia needed a late touchdown (remember Run Lindsay Run) to beat Florida and remain in the chase for a National Championship. That same weekend, Georgia Tech, suffering through a one-win season, played undefeated and #1 ranked Notre Dame. Though Notre Dame was heavily favored, Tech pulled off one of college football’s biggest upsets by playing the Irish to a 3-3 tie and knocking them out of their #1 ranking. Georgia took over the #1 spot and won the title with a Sugar Bowl victory over that same Notre Dame team.
This year, the Bulldogs are ranked in the Top Five while my beloved Jackets, with a new football coach, are struggling to win more than they lose. Still, the passion and fervor will be heated as the church of Heisman gathers for their annual worship service. The air will be permeated with shouts of “Go Dawgs” and “Go Jackets.” The singing of the respective schools’ battle hymns, Glory Glory to Old Georgia and Up with the White and Gold, will echo across the gridiron.
UGA may have the number one mascot, but Tech has what many consider the best college fight song. Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech starts with the line “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech and a hell of an engineer.” The second stanza rings forth:
Oh! If I had a daughter, sir, I’d dress her in White and Gold,
And put her on the campus to cheer the brave and bold.
But if I had a son, sir, I’ll tell you what he’d do—
He would yell, ‘To hell with Georgia!’ like his daddy used to do.
The irony here is that while I have an Industrial Engineering degree from the Georgia Institute for Technology, four of my five children have degrees from the University of Georgia.
But all hope is not lost.
The first word spoken by my youngest grandson was “Buzzzzz!”