100 Years of Georgia Tech Football

World Record Game
1916: The most lopsided football win in history: Tech 222, Cumberland College 0.

Georgia Tech, which began one of the nation 's great football traditions in 1892, is celebrating its football centennial this fall Among its accomplishments, the Yellow Jackets have four national championships, wins in all four major bowls (Cotton, Orange, Rose and Sugar), and the nation's winningest post-season bowl record (17-8).

Tech has had only nine coaches--including legends John Heisman, Bill Alexander and Bobby Dodd. Four of Tech's head coaches have been alumni, including Alexander, CE'12; William M. "Bill" Fulcher; IM '57; Franklin C. "Pepper" Rodgers Jr., IM 55; and Bill Curry, IM '65.

The centerpiece of this year's centennial celebration will be a black-tie dinner at the Atlanta Hyatt Regency Hotel on Friday Oct. 16, on the eve of Tech's home football game with Florida State. Dr. Homer Rice, director of athletics, and head football coach Bill Lewis said that former head coaches, players, alumni and the general public are invited to attend the gala, which will feature dinner, dancing and a program.

A caravan of vintage automobiles led by the Ramblin' Wreck will travel to Macon, GA., on Nov. 5, the 100th anniversary of Tech's first football game, where a commemorative plaque will be presented to the city in ceremonies at Central Park. Tech's first game was a 12-6 loss to Mercer University.

Ramblin' Wrecks

The first gridiron hero at Tech was also a military hero--Leonard Wood, who had received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1885 for helping capture Geronimo.

An Army lieutenant stationed at Fort McPherson, Ga, Wood came to Tech in 1893 to help shape a football team that was one year old and winless.

Tech met Georgia for the first time on Nov. 4, 1893, in Athens. Wood led the scoring attack that gave the Technologicals a 28-6 victory and began a fierce football rivalry.

Bill Cromartie, author of Clean Old Fashioned Hate, relates that Tech students and fans were enjoying a victory train ride back to Atlanta when their train collided with the rear of a freight train stopped on the main tracks in Lawrenceville. The freight was headed for Atlanta, so the team and fans changed trains and arrived home after midnight. Since Tech had rambled over to Athens for the game, and had been involved in a train wreck on the way back, Cromartie mused, "Could it be that the 'Ramblin' Wrecks' were born that day?"

The Heisman Era

The victory over Georgia was the football highlight of the decade. Tech did not have a winning season until 1901, and the prowess of its athletic program was not established until John W. Heisman was hired in 1903 as the school's first paid coach, at an annual salary of $2,250 and 30 percent of the net gate receipts.

Heisman's priorities included establishing an athletic program that people would pay to see. But first he had to establish a field and put up a gate. The city of Atlanta provided convict labor to remove the rocks, stumps and brush from the flats, then put a fence around it.

Heisman was an innovator who transformed the game. His Tech teams dominated the South from 1904 through 1919. A play that Heisman witnessed in 1885 changed his concept of the game. In desperation a player tossed the ball to a teammate who then scored a touchdown. In that era, the forward pass was illegal, but Heisman realized it would open the game and "scatter the mob." He became a champion of the forward pass that was finally legalized in 1906. Heisman proceeded to usher in the new era.

In the book, The Heisman: A Symbol of Excellence, Gene Griessman writes, "Heisman's teams depended on speed and precision maneuvers to win. One of his best-known formations involved the jump shift, or Heisman shift, which he unveiled at Georgia Tech. That formation ... has been called the precursor of the 'T' and 'I' formations.

"Heisman's teams did not huddle. The quarterback would call plays and, sometimes, the teams would run a series of plays without any call."

In 1916, Heisman coached Tech to the most lopsided victory in football history, and gave it a place in the Guinness Book of Records, defeating Cumberland College by a whopping 222-0. It was a game that registered no first downs: Cumberland never made one, and Tech scored on every possession.

Heisman directed Tech to its first national championship in 1917, starting off the season by defeating both Furman and Wake Forest on the same day. During this time Tech established a 33-game winning streak and outscored opponents 1,599 to 99.

During his 16 years at Tech, Heisman compiled a 102-29-7 record. Heisman and his wife divorced, and in 1920, the coach known as "the Wizard" left Tech to become head coach at Pennsylvania, his alma mater. At the time of his death, Heisman was director of athletics at the Downtown Athletic Club of New York, the organization which presents the Heisman Trophy Award, symbolizing the best college football player in the U.S.

Coach Aleck

While the search for a "name coach" was being considered to replace Heisman, football players met with Tech President Kenneth G. Matheson and the athletic council to propose the head coaching job be given to Bill Alexander.

"Old Aleck," as Alexander was called, had played football under Heisman in '06 and '07. He had been an assistant to Heisman on the gridiron and a math teacher in the classroom.

With some misgivings, Alexander was named head coach. He silenced his critics in his first season, winning eight games and losing one.

Edwin Camp in his essay, Alexander of Georgia Tech, observed: "The grueling scrimmaging which Heisman had required was reduced, the hours of practice cut down.... The fundamental difference was that Aleck made you like the game.... Instead of fiery orations by the eloquent Heisman, Alexander's teams heard quiet talks that relaxed their tension and cleared their heads before they went onto the field...

"There had been a perceptible change in Tech's football style. The controversial jump shift remained but the attack was not the old slam-bang of headlong assault. It was more methodical, surer of continuity."

George Gardner, GE '25, captain of Alexander's 1924 team, recalled, "Coach Aleck was bright and innovative. He liked to quick-kick when the other team had the safety up. We gained field position by punting. We tended to be a little conservative on offense."

Alexander was the first coach to place his teams in the four major post-season bowl games of the time-Sugar, Cotton, Orange and Rose. His teams won three of the four bowls. The 8-7 Rose Bowl win, which earned his 1927 team the national championship, is the most celebrated because of the wrong-way run by Cal's Roy Riegels.

Alexander retired as head coach after the 1944 season, but continued as athletic director until his death in 1950. From 1920 until 1944, he compiled a 134-95-15 record.

Bobby Dodd

Bobby Dodd, who came to Tech as an assistant coach in 1931, was Alexander's choice to become the new head coach. Dodd lionized Coach Aleck.

"He taught me to treat athletes as men, not boys--to never use their failings as an alibi for a loss," Dodd said. "I never heard him alibi in defeat."

Dodd was a cool, calculating Atlanta icon known as the "Gray Fox"--a man who believed he was lucky and knew how to win. During his 22 seasons, Dodd became Tech's winningest head coach. He made Grant Field the place to be from 1945-66--unless you happened to be his opponent.

Dodd went 11-0-1 in 1951 and swept to a co-national championship in 1952 after a 12-0-0 year. His teams captured six straight victories in major bowls including the 1952 Orange, 1953 Sugar, 1954 Sugar, 1955 Cotton, 1956 Sugar, and 1956 Gator. His overall record was 165-64-8.

"When you look at his outstanding attributes, he was probably the best strategist that I have ever known," King said. "This is what really set him apart-his unusual ability to think and adjust during the flow of the game; the ability to exploit the opponent's weakness."

Dodd retired as head coach in 1966, and served as athletic director until 1976.

During the next 24 years, Tech went through some difficult football seasons. Assistant coach Bud Carson followed Dodd as head coach in 1967, and in five years broke even at 27-27. Former Dodd disciple Bill Fulcher held the job in 1972 and 1973, but the program struggles, Bill Lewis was an assistant to Fulcher, as was Jerry Glanville, who is head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. Flamboyant Pepper Rogers was hired away from UCLA in 1974, and in 1980, Bill Curry was named head football coach.

Curry Returns Jackets to Prominence

Curry, who had been a co-captain under Dodd in 1964 and had enjoyed a successful pro-football career, was a popular head coach. He had an intense, no-nonsense attitude, and a fervent belief in Georgia Tech and its traditions. Curry returned Tech to football prominence with a 9-2-1 year in 1985. But a 5-5-1 year followed, and in a move that stunned fans and media alike, Curry left Tech to become head coach at Alabama.

"Bill had asked Coach Dodd about it, and I think Coach Dodd told him he couldn't win a national championship at Georgia Tech," said Al Ciraldo, Tech's longtime radio play-by-play announcer.

"I think we are very close to where we were in the early '50s and late '60s with Coach Dodd," said Ciraldo. "The quality of the program is here. I think the national championship of 1990 was a hell of a coaching job."

Curry prepared the foundation, and Bobby Ross built upon it. "Ross took a program that was competitive and took it a notch higher," said former quarterback Kim King, IM '68. "Bill Lewis can take it a notch higher still."

"I think the integrity of Tech speaks for itself; that is why we have always been able to attract good people," King added. "I don't see anything that will keep Tech from being at or near the top in the future."

Don Hudson, IMGT '79, a writer for USA Today, contributed to this article.