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Rearview Mirror: Second Time’s the Charm

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After going undefeated in 1951, what was it actually going to take for the pollsters to see Bobby Dodd’s gang of Ramblin’ Wrecks as legitimate?

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The 1952 team: just guys bein’ dudes.
Georgia Tech Archives/Georgia Tech Photograph Collection (http://history.library.gatech.edu/items/show/7522)

Thanks for waiting. It’s finals week here in Midtown.

Snubbed by all the major polls - really, who thought it was a good idea to release the final poll before the biggest games of the year for every team? - despite being named by an oddball selector or two, Bobby Dodd and his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets had to go back to the drawing board despite not having lost a game since 1950.


I was not subtle last week - stopping just short of openly campaigning for Georgia Tech to claim the 1951 National Championship - when I said that Tech got robbed in 1951. Despite going undefeated, and scoring a huge Orange Bowl win, which is in and of itself a good prize, they were essentially playing fifth fiddle to four schools that would eventually claim championships that year - including some that lost their bowl games.

Tech returned a fair portion of its roster in 1952. With George Morris, Buck Flowers, and Pepper Rodgers poised to explode, with the latter two building on already-solid years the two seasons prior, and Rodgers a relative unknown, the Jackets had the veteran leadership to build on the previous season. Once again led by the Pride of Kingsport, Tennessee, Tech rolled into the season having not lost a game in their previous fourteen, and sitting high atop the polls at no. 3.

The Citadel, who will be making yet another trip to the Flats this fall, was the ritual sacrifice to start the season. In front of a paltry home opener crowd of just 22,000 at Grant Field, the Jackets demolished their guests 54-6, mostly as expected. They stayed at home the next week to host Florida. The game was a tighter contest, but despite the Gators lack of a ranking, they were nonetheless a conference opponent, and the 17-14 margin was wide enough to escape with a win for Tech, but also narrow enough to knock the Jackets down three spots in the AP poll to no. 6. Georgia Tech paid a return visit to Southern Methodist, who welcomed the Jackets to the Cotton Bowl for their first road game of the season. This one wasn’t as close, however, and Tech would take it by two scores, 20-7.

Something must’ve clicked on the train back from Dallas, though, because the Jackets rocketed into the stratosphere from there. Tech spent the next three weeks in the friendly confines of Grant Field, and didn’t give up a single point in the homestand, despite playing three rivals. They opened the October home slate against Tulane, who, despite their modern reputation, always played close contests with Tech back in the day. No. 4 Georgia Tech took the win, 14-0. The next weekend, Tech took their eleventh in row from Auburn in a 33-0 rout of the Tigers. Vanderbilt came to town the next weekend for homecoming, and the Jackets again took the win, 30-0, their fourth in a row against the Commodores. In the homestand, Tech had scored 74 points, let up none, and took three wins against quality SEC rivals. A good month.

It was back on the road again, after that, as Tech headed to Duke. The 40,000 that showed up to Wallace Wade Stadium would be unimaginable to anyone familiar with the attendance numbers of the Blue Devils today. Hint: they are much smaller. Anyways, Tech, remembering their unfortunate tie the previous year, avenged the loss with a 28-7 throttling of their hosts, who were ranked sixth in the nation at the time.

Tech came home for three more after that, and the fans turned out in droves to see the sensational Yellow Jackets take on Army. Tech handled them, as well, 45-6, sending them up to no. 2 in the polls in time to play no. 12 Alabama. In the only televised game of their regular season, Tech and the Crimson Tide played the most riveting game, with both defenses standing stalwart, only letting in one score apiece. In the end, it was Tech that came out on top, with their score being a touchdown, as opposed to Alabama’s field goal. It was Dodd’s kind of weather, to paraphrase Bear Bryant, who could never shake the demons of Dodd’s “luck” from his psyche. The final home game of the season was less eventful and less attended, as Tech faced some young upstart team called Florida State from a small, out of the way town called Tallahassee. Only 25,000 people turned out to see the no. 2 Yellow Jackets down the Seminoles 30-0.

As always, the final game of the season was the annual edition of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate, and Tech rolled into Athens at just no. 3 despite winning while ranked second. The Jackets had little issue dispatching the Athenians, winning 23-9, and securing a perfect regular season, winning all eleven games, including seven against conference opponents, and taking another SEC championship. For their efforts, they were given a Sugar Bowl berth in the stadium of Tulane, their New Orleans rival.

The bowl pit Tech against another SEC team, oddly enough, as they were slotted to play no. 7 Ole Miss. Despite sharing a conference for decades, Tech had only played Ole Miss one other time, to date. In front of more than 80,000 people, no. 2 Tech defeated the Rebels 24-7. However, since the polls didn’t come out again after bowl season, they would remain at the number two spot, despite there win. However, the undefeated season led to Tech’s selection by multiple awarding committees, and they were able to split the national championship with Michigan State.

A third national championship for the White and Gold.

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.