Three column arches. Alabama Lite (pick your vintage: 2016, 2017, or 2018). Cesspools. Calendar hacking. The stories are many. The timeline is long and seemingly unceasingly, peppered with stories dating back to even before the establishment of the school that proudly stands on North Avenue. This is Clean, Old Fashioned Hate.
“What is this beta trial of Hate Week 2018?” one may ask. After all, Clean, Old Fashioned Hate in its truest form - football - famously falls upon the final Saturday of the season every year. Last I checked, this is week three. Tech plays their fierce Pittsburgher rivals in beautiful Heinz Field, while the Athenians play the vaunted and vicious Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Actually, in 1918 the former was probably true, and the latter in 2012. But, no matter! This is a history column meant to set your blood to boil. Or at least to entertain you while you contemplate taking another trip to the water cooler. Because that’s how life works.
Tech football may not play the school in Athens this week, but the Yellow Jackets do host their arch-nemeses in volleyball, hence, Hate Week comes early. If you’re already planning on going to what is almost certainly the best sports atmosphere on the Flats, excellent. If not, hopefully this aggressive pitch for the hittin’ wonders helps - you can also find them on ACC Network Extra. Regardless, however, everyone can appreciate this run up for the game steeped in a healthy dose of rivalry, cowardice, deceit, and, as always, shenanigans.
The Great War nabbed President Kenneth G. Matheson from Georgia Tech, at least for a spell, as he headed across the Atlantic Ocean to volunteer for the Red Cross with the American Expeditionary Force. The core of Tech’s vaunted 1917 championship team, that stockpile of able-bodied men, was deployed from the Institute over the course of the next few months, with the most notable departure being star back Everett Strupper, who was next in line to captain the reigning national champions in their journey to secure back-to-back crowns.
Tech, as we’ve learned, was well-stocked with young, athletic men during these days. After all, the war was probably a blessing in disguise for the young, cash-strapped school. The federal government, finally seeing what the state had been blind to for years, provided Tech with resources, both financial and physical, to train not only the nation’s next generation of officers, but made a substantial investment in the next generation of the country’s best and brightest engineers. It only helped that the investment would trickle down to generations more beyond. The war was a blessing for Tech.
Meanwhile, up in Athens, the situation was completely reversed. While the Atlanta technology school was a military training ground teaching both enlisted men in technological professions, as well as churning out batches of officers and engineers, the Athenians were left with what could be described as a relative ghost town. Enrollments were down. The men were enlisted and sent overseas, or to other schools, forts, and camps to train.
For two years, the school in Athens was so starved for young men that it did not field a football team. Their men, in the meantime, were some of the players that formed the backbones of military teams like the ones from Camp Gordon, the 11th Calvary, and other interesting units and organizations that filled the void left by some teams in the wartime years. Not only were the wartime years a boon for Tech financially, but they were also when Heisman’s juggernaut reached its zenith, securing a small flock of Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles, as well as the 1917 national championship. As one would expect, the folks who backed the boys from Athens were less than pleased by the successful exploits of the Tech men. But things were hardly peachy between the two before the state of Georgia was thrust into the heart of the conflict.
Matheson had been fighting the Athenians in the statehouse for legislature and budget reasons since the beginning. He had also been whipped up in several controversies in his time as president regarding their athletic relationship. According to McMath’s Engineering the New South,
“Relations between Tech and [the school out east] were so strained in the spring os 1911 that officials of both schools considered cutting all athletic ties. Instead they agreed to enforce diligently a ruling of [the school in Athens’] Board of Trustees that barred all signs and pictures from their respective athletic fields which might ‘excite feeling of resentment’ among visiting teams and spectators,” (McMath, 142).
In the year before the war came, Tech was “grossly insulted” when seniors from Athens dumped a pile of manure in front of the visiting bleachers as part of the pregame festivities. Though the school in Athens had referred to old gold - “yellow” - as a color of cowardice since the two school first met on the gridiron, the game was rife to references to how that color reflected the true spirit of the Tech men. After all, the Athenians dropped old gold in a hurry after the White and Gold came into Athens and humiliated them that day in 1893, before, of course, getting run out of town by an angry, pitchfork-wielding mob. Because fleeing violent deranged fanatics with weapons is obviously dishonorable, silly engineers.
The subsequent apology was deemed so wholly inadequate that it could not repair the festering, open wound. In the meantime, the Athenian athletics shriveled like sad leaves on an ugly tree during the first frost of fall. They were gone, for now. The hate was left to simmer, to feed the Yellow Jackets.
Somewhat ironically, it was not Georgia Tech who struck the next blow come 1919 when play resumed between the two. After winning the middle game of the series, the Athenians, ever classy from the “Classic City,” began snatching Rat Caps wherever they could pluck them from the heads of unsuspecting freshmen. Meanwhile, an alumnus of that distinguished place of learning in Athens recklessly swerved his car through the crowds leaving the game on North Avenue, causing injury. More hats were stolen and clean, old fashioned brawling ensued. The unease continued throughout the remainder series. To prevent it from boiling into the return trip to Athens the following weekend, officials from each side met and laid out ground rules: act like gentlemen and leave the abducted Rat Caps at home.
Three years, give or take, since the last controversial senior parade, the most mature boys Athens had to offer were out on the march again. This time, however, they were led by a float of a tank labeled “Argonne” on one side and “[the school out east] in France, 1917.” Immediately following the tank was a car filled with three boys in Tech sweaters and donning Tech caps that read “Tech in Atlanta.” The Athenians didn’t stop there, though, passing out a flyer hammering home the same point throughout the stands, “while a patriotic [Athens] was fighting in France, a cowardly Tech was playing football in Atlanta,” (McMath, 143). These insulting remarks and other shenanigans continued throughout the contest. The Tech men were incensed. Tech severed all athletic ties with the Athenians.
Matheson was furious. Never mind the false accusations and other circumstances - a healthy Tech was deemed absolutely vital to the national war effort - but he himself had served his country abroad. As long as he was president, without due apology, the Athenians would not play the Yellow Jackets. Additionally, several of their home games previously scheduled for the convenient Grant Field in Midtown Atlanta were cancelled. Tech’s third president was absolutely serious about his principles.
The two rivals met just once in the intervening years, in the postseason SIAA basketball tournament of 1921. Even after Matheson left for Drexel, the cause he stood for lingered on. Pressures from local businessmen, journalists, and, most importantly, alumni, were consistently pressuring the miffed men of Tech to resume athletic relations with the Athenians. In 1924, athletic director J. B. Crenshaw and the chancellor of the school in Athens, S. V. Sanford had a series of meetings. Relations, still wary, were renewed some time later.
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.
Hand meets...well, whatever a volleyball is made of...Friday night at 7:00 PM as the Yellow Jackets host the school in Athens in the raucous O’Keefe Gymanisum. For those that can’t attend and want to watch online, here’s the link.
If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below. Until next time, go Jackets!