I’m enjoying the lap of luxury today, for I’m ruminating on the annual display of "good old-fashioned hate," as the late Lewis Grizzard described gridiron battles between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Writing before Thanksgiving Day, knowing this will appear the day after the pigskin tilt, constitutes that luxury; I can express myself freely, unencumbered and unembarrassed by the final score.
Although sometimes I feel older than dirt, my experience with Tech-Georgia goes back only a few coaching changes. Today’s young folks are accustomed to coaches jumping from one school to another for higher salaries; when I was a kid coaches demonstrated something a bit foreign to today’s athletics — loyalty. And loyalty worked both ways between a coach and the school’s fan base too. People understood there would be great years and lean years, and stood behind their coach through thick and thin. That was before legions of collegiate boosters took the late Vince Lombardi’s comment — "winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing" — to heart and applied it to collegiate coaching, which gave us coaches who follow money wherever it shows. Their loyalty is still apparent, but applied to financial gain instead of building a place called Special – and staying there.
I came along in 1951, when Georgia Tech’s coach was just the third in that institution’s history, the legendary Bobby Dodd. Dodd coached Tech from 1945 through the 1966-67 seasons, winning two Southeastern Conference championships and a National Championship in 1952. Dodd won eight straight over the Bulldogs from 1946-1954 and finished 12-9 against Georgia.
Georgia’s head coach back then was the equally legendary Wally Butts. Butts won four SEC titles, one consensus National Championship in 1942 plus a claimed title in 1946, and headed the Bulldogs from 1939 until 1963.
The early years of my life featured one tumultuous week of angst annually — because Daddy was a Georgia fan and Mama was a Georgia Tech fan. Both were from the really old, historic Atlanta of "the roaring ’20s," when loyalty to Tech or Georgia often was a matter of family lineage and honor.
Until I was 7, we lived in Decatur on a street that formed the boundary between the cities of Atlanta and Decatur. America’s society was not yet mobile in the 1950s, so as a Georgia fan Daddy was pretty much in the minority in Atlanta. By default, then, in my early years I was a Georgia Tech fan.
But in 1958 we moved to tiny Greensboro, originally chosen as the site for America’s first land grant school. But apple farmers feared college kids would raid their orchards and raised such a ruckus that the University of Georgia was founded 32 miles north in Athens.
That’s a true story.
As a Boy Scout I ushered in Sanford Stadium during my formative years, and count atop my cherished memories seeing Bobby Dodd’s Yellow Jackets play Wally Butts’ Bulldogs "between the hedges." But in my Greensboro days I found that being so close to Athens placed me among a very small number who cheered for Tech. Indeed, not counting my family members, in the early 1960s there were only three other Yellow Jacket fans that I knew of in all of Greensboro.
That, in part, led me to see the light. It’s a long story, but along about 1964 I became a Bulldog, and have never looked back.
Now, however, in the security of my maturity comes the 2009 bloodletting between the Dawgs and the Humble Bumble, and a couple of twists in the plot for me to consider.
I was not initially a Mark Richt fan when he was named to head up Georgia’s program, but he has won me over. In the hot seat because two stars failed to honor their commitment by jumping for big dollars to the NFL, Richt has displayed nothing less than exemplary behavior. He’s a gentleman, a fine coach, and I’m hoping he’s "the Big Dog" for decades to come.
Meanwhile, across I-75 from The Varsity, Paul Johnson has taken the reins at Tech. I purely admire Johnson’s offense, having had opportunity to run it in my high school coaching days. And Paul’s a throwback to the days of yore, a pure coach who leaves the politics to others. Adding to my conundrum this year, Tech’s quarterback’s hometown is my own Greensboro.
So, from the lap of luxury, I can confidently tell you that I hope Johnson and his Bees did well yesterday, but that at the end of the day Richt and his Bulldogs triumphed.
Ultimately, though, I hope that Johnson and Richt will battle in the fashion of their legendary forebears, Dodd and Butts, for decades to come. If that transpires, from a pure fan’s perspective, we’ll all be winners.
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.