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Georgia Tech vs Air Force: Re-visiting The 1978 Game

Tom Cooksey applies pressure to the Air Force QB in 1978.
Tom Cooksey applies pressure to the Air Force QB in 1978.

In 1977, the Air Force Academy Falcons came to Atlanta and lost to Georgia Tech 30-3. After a 2-8-1 season, Air Force's first ever coach, Ben Martin, retired. In an effort to shore up the Falcon defense, the Air Force Academy hired Texas Tech defensive coordinator Bill Parcells. Parcells brought in Ken Hatfield to run the offense from the University of Florida and Al Groh from the University of North Carolina to run the defense.

Tom McCollister contributed to both the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution. He wrote a preview Friday before the game in 1978.

...What Rodgers preached to the Jackets was [that] football is an outlet for service academy teams, not drudgery [so they must always be ready for a tough game]...Another problem is weather. The Jackets flew out of Atlanta Friday morning in balmy conditions. By game time Saturday (3 p.m. EST), the temperature in Colorado Springs is predicted to be in the 30s with a chance of sleet and snow...Tech has a six-game winning streak  and tailback Eddie Lee Ivery needs 56 yards to become the first Jackets' back in modern history to surpass the 1,000 yard-mark in rushing. He has 944 yards on 190 carries.

In 1978, the Yellow Jackets didn't care who the new coaches of the Falcons were, or how tough the opposition played, as they drubbed the Falcons. November 12th was a frigid Saturday in Colorado Springs, Colorado containing temperatures as low as 21°F. Georgia Tech beat the "slow" and "friendly" Air Force Academy for the second-straight year 42-21.

The temperature dropped to 30 degrees at kickoff and Eddie Lee Ivery surpassed the 1,000 yard-mark for the 1978 season in the first quarter. He also set an NCAA single-game rushing record that day against Air Force, amassing 356 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Tom Saladino of the Gettysburg Times paints the picture:

Neither snow, nor a howling 25 mph wind, not a gnarling stomach ache could deter Georgia Tech's Eddie Lee Ivery from becoming the NCAA's all-time single game leading rusher. The versatile halfback raced for 356 yards Saturday in Tech's 42-21 victory against Air Force, including touchdown runs of 57, 73, and 80 yards.

Few people realize Eddie Lee was suffering from the flu and was puking every time he came back to the sidelines. Despite this fact, he kept running over, under, and through the 1978 Grohfense. Jesse Outlar, the Atlanta Constitution's Sports Editor, also chimed in:

Tailback Eddie Lee Ivery, a one-man infantry, finally shot down the Air Force Saturday afternoon, but it took the most spectacular performance of any rushing back in NCAA history [to do so]...Ivery, who already held virtually all the rushing records in the Tech archives, put on his snow shoes and streaked 356 yards in 26 carries.

The game was so cold that Georgia Tech's home bound flight was delayed due to the plane being frozen. Kim King, one of Georgia Tech's most beloved figures, also dubbed "The Young Lefthander" recalls a story from the post-game in his book Tales From The Sidelines:

Pepper Rodgers was the Tech coach, and he came up to me and said, "Kim, how much money have you got on you?"  Growing up, I never had that much money. One of the things, even to this day, that is consistent with me is that I keep a good bit of money on me. I pulled out my money clip and Pepper grabbed it from me.

I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "What am I gonna do with all these kids? I'm gonna find all the beer I can find and we're gonna have a helluva beer party." Pepper found a guy who got us four kegs and set it up in a bar, and we had a beer party.

You could never do that now, of course. Nobody got out of hand. Nobody got rowdy. It was just Pepper's way of rewarding the kids while we were waiting to get out of Colorado Springs.

Ivery's record has since been broken by multiple individuals,but the memory of the feat will continue to live on in the eyes of Georgia Tech and the NCAA. Ivery was honored as an ACC Game Legend in 2009 during the ACC Championship Game in which Georgia Tech won against Clemson. The record is currently held by LaDanian Tomlinson who ran for 406 yards when TCU defeated UTEP in 1999.

After the 1978 season, Parcells was run out of town. Al Groh stuck around for a season after Ken Hatfield was promoted to head coach. Hatfield would retain his position until 1983 before leaving the AFA for Arkansas. Groh ended up reuniting with Bill Parcells as a linebacker coach in 1989 for the New York Giants.

Tech ended the 1978 season in slightly depressing fashion. They dropped the final three games to independent rival Notre Dame, Southern rival georgie, and their bowl opponent Purdue. During the georgie game, Eddie Lee Ivery was injured and would not be able to play in his final game of eligibility, a loss in the '78 Peach Bowl. Despite the injury, ELI still finished 8th in the Heisman voting, was drafted 15th overall by the Green Bay Packers, and played 8 years in the NFL.