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Rearview Mirror: Bobby Dodd and the Raiders of the Lost Orange Bowl

Guess what movie I watched half of last night...

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A nice drawing of Bobby Dodd.
Georgia Tech Archives/Georgia Tech Photograph Collection (

With a new coach to fill the shoes of a man that had aged, but underperformed regardless, the last few years, things were looking up for the program, at least a little bit.

A NOTE: Today would have been a really fantastic day to talk about Tyler Brown and the Pi Mile, and I promise that one is coming at some point, but I realized it after I already wrote a column and it’s my midterm week before Spring Break, so, that will absolutely be present on a Thursday in the future.

To begin, let me be blunt: William Alexander was never a bad football coach. No matter how it may come across when I compare him to his successor in this column, it is by no means intended to be a slight towards him.

That said, Alexander was both getting old, getting outmoded, and getting to be in poor health by the end of the 1944 season. Even though Tech lost one of the greatest to ever play on the Flats far too early thanks to the demands of war, perhaps missing out on winning Coach Alex’s second national championship, too, the one season of Clint Castleberry proved to be more of a mirage as the war dragged on. Oh, what 1944 could have been with the transcendent talents of the Jackrabbit. When the old man’s health started to fail, it was time for his protege, Bobby Dodd, to take over. With Mack Tharpe away at war, Dodd was the man for the job, out of equal parts necessity and competence. Ultimately, Tharpe, too, would never return home, as he perished near Iwo Jima in the waning months of World War II. With this awful news, Bobby Dodd was to take over the Tech football team for the 1945 season.

The Georgia Tech Football Media Guide has a pleasant summary of Dodd’s tenure, stating, “Legendary coach Bobby Dodd took over as head coach in 1945 and went on to coach 22 seasons. He compiled a record of 165-64-8 (.713). Dodd won two SEC championships and one national title. Dodd is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as both a player and coach,” (Georgia Tech Football Media Guide, 2018) but, unsurprisingly, the transition did not start quite as swimmingly for the Yellow Jackets, who would go on to finish 4-6 and 2-2 in SEC play, including losses to No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 2 Navy, and No. 18 Duke.

Things would turn up for the Jackets the next year, though, despite a week one loss to Tennessee in Knoxville. Tech proceeded to rattle off eight straight wins, with two of them coming against Duke and Navy, while knocking off rivals Tulane and Auburn in the process as well. This all led up a top-10 showdown between the No. 7 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the No. 3 team from the school out east between the bothersome invasive bushes. Tech lost, falling to 8-2, sending them to the Oil Bowl in Houston, where they proceeded to pound St. Mary’s, 41-19.

Remembering the loss they took the year before, Tech opened the season again against Tennessee, and this time, was out for blood. Tech, who opened AP polling ranked fourth, managed to win a 27-0 shutout on the Flats to make up for the loss the year prior. They followed it up with six more, including wins at Tulane, against Auburn, no. 6 Duke, and Navy, before rolling into Legion Field in Birmingham to face the no. 14 Crimson Tide, with the Jackets somehow having slipped two spots in the rankings over the course of their seven game win streak. Of course, Tech let a squeaker slide by, and proceeded to lose 14-7 and fall to 7-1. However, they pummeled Furman to assuage their grief, and shutout the Athenians, securing their first win in Clean, Old Fashioned Hate in three years and punching their ticket to the Orange Bowl against the Kansas Jayhawks. The no. 12 Jayhawks were no match for the Jackets, however, and Tech took the win in a 20-14 contest in Miami.

Of course, expectations were through the roof for the next season on the Flats. There was even a wild new technology called “television” for one of the games, a week two showdown at Grant Field against Tulane on WSB. Tech didn’t disappoint, at least at first. A win at Vanderbilt was followed by a win in the Tulane game, and two shutouts against Washington & Lee and Auburn, and another pair over Florida and Duke. The Volunteers rolled into Midtown unranked, while Tech sat at no. 6. Tennessee won, 13-6. The next week, unranked Alabama showed up, while Tech was ranked no. 11. They won, too, 14-12. Tech smashed The Citadel the next week, but followed it up with a loss on the road in Athens. So there was no bowl, or even postseason ranking, for the Yellow Jackets, in a season that had so much promise, the Jackets had very little to show for it.

Tech would finish with an identical record the next year, but without the drawn-out drama of a 6-0 start, thanks to an early loss to a no. 4 ranked Tulane team. That’s right, there was a time when the Tulane Green Wave was a top-5 team. Not only that, but upwards of 55,000 people came out to watch them on any given weekend. Anyways, a season with wins agains Auburn, Tennessee, and that school from that place over to the east of Lawrenceville would usually be considered pretty successful, and I suppose this one was, since expectations weren’t quite as high as the year before, but it still stings to know you’re a few breaks away from a bowl or better.

Tech wouldn’t bottom out until the next year, 1950. The 5-6 record was Dodd’s worst since his inaugural campaign at the helm of the Yellow Jackets, yet he still managed to beat Auburn and the school with a three column arch in which the third column is absolutely unnecessary and defeats the purpose of having an arch-shaped structure. So that’s something. But that does little to change the fact that Tech looked abysmal for long spells of the season, including a 54-19 shellacking by Alabama in the rather unfriendly confines of Legion Field. It seemed that Bobby Dodd had peaked with his Orange Bowl champion team, and was mostly saddled by disappointment in winnable games and bad luck in ones that were more even.

It seemed that Tech football had hit a doldrum for the foreseeable future.

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. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading this latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.