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Rearview Mirror: National Champions II, Part I

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Coach Alex struck gold the year after his audacious Plan.

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The good old boys, undefeated in the regular season.
Georgia Tech Archives/George C. Griffin Photography Collection (http://history.library.gatech.edu/items/show/21244)

Coach William Alexander’s audacious Plan for solving the prodigious kleptomaniacs up in Athens was the cap of a surprisingly solid run of play from his second string. These battle-tested veterans, along with the solid starting line they replaced for the back half of the season, would come in handy the next fall. The 1928 season would prove to be an interesting development for the Yellow Jackets after they dashed the hopes of the first “great” team from Clarke County in thrilling fashion.


The defeat of the 1927 “Dream” and “Wonder” team from a small town northeast of Atlanta was the feather in the cap of Coach William Alexander’s return from occasionally brilliant, but lately uninspiring, doldrums for much of the middle of his first decade at the helm of the Golden Tornado. Of course, they were only sporadically referred to by this epithet because, for much of that decade, they were more of a mild windstorm than anything tornadic. But that 1927 Notre Dame game, if you read that horribly executed “power rankings,” was the turning point - the original quality loss, if their ever was such a thing, which there wasn’t. Because there’s no such thing as a quality loss. All but one player returned off of that team. If there was ever a time to win, it was now.

1928 Football Season

Date Opponent Site Result
Date Opponent Site Result
10/6 VMI Grant Field, Atlanta, GA W 13–0
10/13 @ Tulane Second Tulane Stadium, New Orleans, LA W 12–0
10/20 Notre Dame Grant Field, Atlanta, GA W 13–0
10/27 @ North Carolina Kenan Memorial Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC W 20–7
11/3 Oglethorpe Grant Field, Atlanta, GA W 32–7
11/10 Vanderbilt Grant Field, Atlanta, GA W 19–7
11/17 Alabama Grant Field, Atlanta, GA W 33–13
11/29 Auburn Grant Field, Atlanta, GA W 51–0
12/8 u[sic]ga Grant Field, Atlanta, GA W 20–6
1/1/1929 vs. California Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA (Rose Bowl) ???
Tornadic activity spotted near Atlanta. me

Tech’s team was led by its captain, consensus all-American center Peter Pund, and its line was anchored by another all-American, tackle Frank Speer. It is somewhat unfortunate that Stumpy Thomason is the best remembered back, for reasons we will dive into later, in a field led by halfback Warner Mizell and complemented by Roy Lee Lumpkin, whose nickname “Father Lumpkin” has to be one of the more memorable classic unique monikers. The season opener against the Virginia Military Institute Keydets was a 19-0 shutout where Tech “tore the V. M. I. line to shreds.” Though they fumbled excessively, a game where there was no chance of scoring from the opponent was never really in doubt, and the Jackets rolled to their first victory.

In the second game of the season, Tech took a trip down to New Orleans to square up with formidable rival Tulane. The Jackets won just 12-0, but it should have been more, as a fumble deep in opposing territory yielded the ball to the Green Wave with Tech knocking on the door for another score. Thomason and end Tom Jones scored on the day. The next week, Notre Dame paid a visit to the Flats after having escaped the pre-Plan Jackets the year before in a game closer than the final score indicated. The Jackets would shut out a strong Knute Rockne-coached Fighting Irish squad 13-0 on the afternoon. Father Lumpkin nearly took one of his two interceptions to the house and the Jackets would score two touchdowns on the afternoon. Rockne was quoted saying, “I sat at Grant Field and saw a magnificent Notre Dame team suddenly recoil before the furious pounding of one man–Peter Pund...nobody could stop him. I counted 20 scoring plays that this man ruined.” Pund, Tech’s all-American center, was all Notre Dame could handle and then some. Of course, it helped that Tech still had one of the Four Horsemen on staff, as noted the previous season when they tore the Notre Dame Box to shreds against the Athenians, adding to Pund’s effectiveness.

Following their efficient dispatch of the Fighting Irish, the Yellow Jackets ventured up to North Carolina in their first visit to Keenan Memorial Stadium. The attendance was listed at 20,000, or, roughly the same amount it seemed were in a much larger edition of Keenan Memorial last weekend. The Jackets scored early, jumping out to a 20-0 lead, before coasting to a two-score win. Returning home, they next welcomed Oglethorpe to the friendly confines of Grant Field. The visitors were able to knot the score at 7 at the end of the first half, but that wouldn’t last long as Tech was able to smother their guests in the second half, ultimately winning 23-7.

The Jackets then welcomed one of the preseason favorites for the Southern title to the Flats the next weekend, hosting Vanderbilt. Tech slowly built a 13-0 lead, and, after allowing a long touchdown run to the Commodores, they answered with a touchdown of their own to seal the game and end Vanderbilt’s run at the conference crown. With three conference games to play, the Golden Tornado controlled its own destiny. That was especially helpful considering the vaunted Wallace Wade-led Alabama Crimson Tide rolled into town the next weekend. The Jackets scored twice in the first half, with the first coming on a botched punt by Walter Mizell, who picked the ball up and ran three quarters of the length of the field, yielding half a dozen points. Tech added another, but Alabama netted two of their own to deadlock the score at the half. The 13 points would be all that Tech would allow for the game, and, indeed, the most they would allow in a single game all year. They smothered the Tide in the second half, scoring three times and walking away with a tidy 33-13 victory.

Tech’s sixth home game came against an absolutely awful Auburn team, which would ultimately finish the season in dead last in the Southern Conference. The rivalry game wasn’t too competitive, with the Tigers in one of their program’s nadirs and Tech at perhaps its zenith. The Jackets would easily win 51-0, and without Mizell. The Jackets closed out their home slate and their regular season the following weekend against the noted rivals from the town of Athens, ye of three column arches and whatnot. Since the Jackets are polite hosts, the Athenians would score first, but that was all she wrote for the school out east, as Tech would go on to score 20 unanswered points and take the win over their archrivals. Get it? Stumpy Thomason and Father Lumpkin, which, again, are seriously excellent nicknames, each added a touchdown in the 20-6 victory. Florida’s upset of Tennessee made Tech the undisputed conference champions, and they would ultimately be honored with the ultimate prize - an opportunity to go at it with the best of the West in the Rose Bowl. Well, sort of. It’s slightly more complicated than that. With a national championship on the line and an opportunity for etching their names in the immortal annals of Tech history, the Jackets headed west. And that’s a story for next week.


If you thought I was going to resolve the cliffhanger from last week, you’re wrong! Here’s another. Next week, we’ll take a look at what came next for this 1928 squad as they ventured out west to take on the Golden Bears of the University of California, Berkeley in the Rose Bowl. To see what happens with “Ma Tech tied to the railroad tracks,” to borrow an excellent phrase, tune in for the Hate Week special. And, as always, if you have any interesting ideas for us to look at come December, let me know in the comments below.

A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Engineering the New South, and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column.


If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule (as the column is only planned out through Hate Week). What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Hope springs eternal on the Flats. Thank you for reading this latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.