While it was nothing to turn up a nose at, in many ways, 1953 was a disappointment after the heights of the previous years’ teams. The Yellow Jackets were still bowl-bound, still highly regarded, yet there really wasn’t much for them to do than to accept what they did get, losses and all, and hit the ground running again the next year. So they did that.
To most modern Tech fans, and college football fans in general, it seems to rarely dawn on them the true height of Georgia Tech football under Bobby Dodd in the 1950s. This is perhaps the first age of college football that would be truly recognizable to the modern fan. The two platoon system was, surprisingly, just legislated back out of existence, for about a decade, but by the 1950s, the wacky array of bowls was cropping up, the polls were about as accurate as ever, and teams were increasingly playing full schedules of modern Division 1 schools.
All this is to say that Tech was a giant in those days that were, though long ago in memory by now, not really all that long ago in the grand scheme of the game. Tech’s impressive string of what are now New Years’ Six bowl game appearances, and what were back then called, well, pretty much all the bowl games they had, is largely lost to the sands of time. Yet, even in their day, the pollsters were incredibly erratic in judging the Yellow Jackets and somewhat reticent to give Tech either the benefit of the doubt or a second look. I say that, of course, with rather strong personal bias, obviously, but, needless to say, the Yellow Jackets needed to take care of business to get respect. Largely they did. Yet, in the same breath, the individual years largely get swept aside in the clamor of the major headlines, be they a national championship in 1952, or the infamous debacle we discussed last week. And though stats and substitutes may fade from vivid to murky in memory, the achievements teams led by a man so iconic that the oldest stadium in FBS football is named in his honor don’t deserve to fade into the distance, at least not without a little bit on their accomplishments.
In 1954, Tech started off ranked no. 7 in the country, and beat Tulane to open the season, and rose their stock to no. 5 in the country. Florida, though, like the previous year, came right back again and mucked everything up with another stolen, but close, victory. Tech plummeted out of the rankings. The next three weeks proved Tech a team back on the rise, though, with the Jackets knocking off SMU, LSU, and Auburn in successive games, the first coming on the road at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Tech returned to the rankings, and wound up perched at no. 15 coming into the Homecoming game against Kentucky. Naturally, Tech, having raised the expectations up once more, lost a one-touchdown game in which the offense never really got clicking. They followed it up with a blowout at Duke the next week. To their credit, though, the 4-3 Yellow Jackets wouldn’t lose another game from there on out, dispatching Tennessee and Alabama in successive weeks at home, the latter one of the rare games on TV at the time, on WSB, before heading to Athens. The Jackets won yet another game out there, breaking the previous longest winning streak with their monumental sixth win in a row against their hosts. This, in turn, earned them a bowl invitation, this year to the Cotton Bowl Classic, and for the second year in a row, the Jackets were headed back to a stadium in which they already played and won a game for their bowl season destination. The unranked Jackets took on the Southwestern Conference champions, the no. 13 Arkansas Razorbacks, and walked away with a tidy 14-6 victory on NBC on New Years Day. Yet again, Dodd had led the Jackets through another solid season, and capped it with a solid underdog bowl win.
As I alluded to last week, the Jackets would go on to have another excellent season in 1955. While the nuts and bolts of the season would have a similar refrain, the convoluted political, social, and athletic dramas that all seemed to cross paths in one of those bellwether moments largely overshadowed the achievements in the moment. However, for at least one day in 1955, New Years Day, the Jackets were in the news for unashamedly great reasons. And that, as I alluded to in the Yellow Jacket Roundup on Monday, is such a refreshing and surprisingly rare sentence to get to write.
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.