Like I promised, here’s a more sports-centric issue. Of all the Tech of events of the 19th century, this is the one you will probably know, but, because it’s important, here we go, even though I could probably drone on about Tech political wrangling and old buildings forever.
The young Tech school, in its early years, was fiercely regimented. Early to bed, early to rise, and the like. There wasn’t much for the young men, and yes, they were all young men, to do besides school, work in the shop, eat, and sleep. Leisure activities arguably found their first on-campus home years later when John D. Rockefeller donated the money for the Tech YMCA, now known as the L. W. “Chip” Roberts Alumni House. In those early years, organized sports was one of the few extracurricular distractions permitted by the rigid authority structure emanating from the office of first Institute president and physics professor, the Rev. Isaac Hopkins.
By the fifth fall on the Flats, a loosely organized band of students of the Georgia School of Technology formed a small team to compete in the game that was sweeping the nation: football. The Blacksmiths, as they were originally called, played three games in 1892 and lost all three.
1892 Football Record
|11/5||@ Mercer||L 6-12|
|11/19||vs. Vanderbilt||L 10-20|
|11/25||vs. Auburn||L 0-26|
Desiring a moderate improvement from their dismal inaugural campaign, the Blacksmiths recruited a new coach, who was taking graduate classes at the school at the time. Leonard Wood, who would go on to famously help future president Teddy Roosevelt organize the Rough Riders, leading the brigade to famous victories at Kettle Hill and San Juan Heights, going on to be Governor-General of the Philippines, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and Governor-General of Cuba. Already having a degree in medicine, Wood was enrolled at Tech in the fall of 1893, and became the team’s player-coach, leading them to a 2-1-1 record, including their first-ever win. This infamous matchup with the school out East, Tech’s inaugural victory, is subject to much hand-wringing even to this day.
1893 Football Record
|11/4||@ u[sic]ga||W 28-6|
|11/11||vs. Mercer||W 10-6|
|11/30||vs. St. Albans||L 0-6|
|12/7||vs. Auburn||T 0-0|
Before the Jackets and the Athenians even met on the field of play, the uniforms themselves were the source of controversy. Truly, what would we discuss without drama about apparel? In 1891, the older school had declared its colors to be crimson, black, and old gold. Old gold, or yellow, as it was deemed, was declared to be a color of cowardice. Of course, there was the lingering tension about the separation of the technological school from the older state university, and the tech school had just selected old gold and white to be their school standard that same year. Splitting hairs about a shade of gold - what a concept. The color officially remained a part of the repertoire of the school out East. For now.
When it came time for the season opener, November 4th, 1893, the Jackets took a train out to Athens. The Tech faithful, every prescient, decided to recruit some fans to help them cheer on their team. The Lucy Cobb Institute, an all-girls finishing school about a mile and a half from the site of the game, Hearty Field. The sight of 200 local girls, decked out in white and gold ribbons, deemed by the boys from Athens to be “their girls,” added insult to injury when the Blacksmiths jumped out to an early lead. By halftime, that Tech lead was entirely thanks to several touchdowns by the aforementioned Wood. The Athenian fans grew restless.
Early in the second half, with Tech now ahead by four scores, the tension snapped. Debris rained down from the stands as the crowd pelted the Blacksmiths with rocks, or whatever they could get their hands on, with several striking the visitors. Ever the genial hosts, one of the boys in red and black pulled a knife on a Tech star. Altogether, one of many classy moves by the citizens of the classic city. The sidelines, commonsense field boundaries, were almost nonexistent as the game devolved into chaos. The players were poked, prodded, and tripped by sticks, rods, and canes as they ran along the edge of the field. Spectator incursions onto the field were rampant.
Ultimately, the Blacksmiths prevailed, running away with a 28-6 victory over the boys from Athens. The citizenry then literally ran them out of town, chasing the exhausted and battered Tech boys through the streets of the old city on the way back to the train. The train, the same one that had whisked them out to Athens that morning, was a special for the game, meaning it would run express back to Atlanta with the team and its supporters. This was all well and good until it slammed into a slow-moving freight train outside of Lawrenceville. The Techs had been wrecked, as the newspapers reported the next morning. It didn’t stop the Blacksmiths from getting revenge on Mercer for the previous year’s loss the next week in the refreshingly friendly confines of Atlanta. Regardless, the Ramblin’ Wrecks from Georgia Tech, as they famously became known, had secured their first win in probably the most challenging circumstances possible - with no winning pedigree to speak of, on the road, in an incredibly hostile enviornment - and defeated the school in Athens.
Dr. Charles H. Herty removed old gold as a school color following the game. All that drama about a shade of gold. Leonard Wood might say we won the battle, but, as for the war, Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate rages on.
A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Cracking the Solid South, 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 delve into it when I am back in Atlanta, as my selection of resources here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine is a little bit thinner than what I have on my shelves in Atlanta. I am open to all ideas!