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Rearview Mirror: The Benefit of the Doubt

Tech swung back, but would it last? Spoiler alert: no.

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Jimmy Thompson versus Duke, fall 1960.
Georgia Tech Archives/Georgia Tech Photograph Collection (

Tech may have been able to bounce back, but would it last?

Whereas the previous few season had resulted in middling teams at best, being behind a confident, third year starting quarterback in the form of Fred Braselton was sure to be a much-needed positive sign for Georgia Tech. And, off the bat, it was prescient. Tech once more headed out on the road in Lexington, where they narrowly edged the Kentucky Wildcats 14-12. Tech, in those days, was often looked on with rose colored glasses, as, despite a few years of checkered success, they climbed not just into the top 25, but all the way to the no. 16 spot. They returned home to host no. 6 Southern Methodist, and won 16-12. Once again, they would play host to the no. 6 team in the country when Clemson rolled to town. Tech, though, would go on to win yet again over a top ten team, 16-6. Perhaps the rating was more deserved than just given to a noted blue blood.

For the third week in a row, Tech would face a top ten team, this time as the no. 3 team in the country. The Jackets stomped into Knoxville, and easily walked out with a 14-7 win. Somehow, they slipped a place in the polls. As is tradition. The now-no. 4 Yellow Jackets returned home to the Flats to host the no. 11 Auburn Tigers. The difference in the game was an extra point in the visitors’ favor.

The next week, Tech headed back on the road to New Orleans. They easily handled Tulane, 21-13, in one of their best wins of the season. Tech would only slip further from there, though, dropping the homecoming game to an unranked Duke team. It’s all too easy to lump the Jackets’ last win of the season in with the general decline, too, though. But, that sixth and final win happened in a small Indiana town called South Bend. Tech has 6 wins in 35 tries against the Fighting Irish. But, in this one-off game, in years that were pretty mediocre for both teams, Tech scored a rare win in Notre Dame Stadium. Tech would close out the regular season with back-to-back losses to Southeastern Conference foes, with no. 15 Tech falling to an unranked Alabama team 9-7 in Birmingham. They laid a 21-14 egg against the school in Athens in front of a sellout crowd. Georgia Tech being Georgia Tech in those days, though, got them lots of eyes come bowl season, and they were invited to play Southwest Conference co-champion Arkansas. They would add a fifth loss to their total in Jacksonville.

The next year, it was time for Tech to start fresh at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, the coach’s son, Robert Dodd Jr., signed to play for Florida. We’ll get to them in a second. Tech once again led off the season with Kentucky, and once again dispatched them in short order, with a 23-13 win. They exchanged their second opponent, though, with a different private Texas school that used to be good in the post World War II football landscape. Tech, though, handled Rice 16-13 in Houston. for the second year in a row, they sidled into the top 25 after a close win. Bobby Dodd Jr., though, would rain on the winning parade in week 3, hosting his father’s team and promptly seeing that they left disappointed after a narrow 18-17 loss.

Tech assuaged their loss the next week with a 6-2 smashmouth win over LSU. They couldn’t exorcise their many Legion Field demons the next week though, with another loss there, this time to Auburn. A homecoming win over chronically-average Tulane the next week notwithstanding, the wheels fell off the bus yet again to end the year. Or did they? Sure, Tech lost three of their last four games, to Duke, Alabama, and the school in Athens, but what about that one win? Oh, yeah, that was over Tennesee, who was yet again ranked in the top ten. It was at home, sure, but that doesn’t discount the solid 14-7 victory. Granted, all the losses were by one score, but Tech was inexperienced and slipping dangerously close to another mediocre year. And that they were, at a nice, round 5-5.

Yet, they once again clawed their way back the next year.

It began with a rare trip to Los Angeles, as Tech ventured to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to pay a visit to the University of Southern California. To their credit, they made the most of it, with a 27-7 drubbing of the Trojans to kick off the season. Rice, ranked no. 7 in the country, paid a return visit to Atlanta the next weekend. Tech took that one, too, in a dominant 24-0 win. An oddity had driven out of the tunnel before the team took the field on that sunny September day, though. A car painted a bright, yellowish gold, a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe, to be exact, preceded the team on to the field. Suddenly, they were ranked third in the country. This is the highest Tech would reach in the AP Poll until November 19th, 1990. Must have been good luck, or something.

Tech immediately wilted under the ranking back on the road. They dropped the next game in Death Valley West to an unranked LSU team 10-0. They fell completely back out of the AP Poll. Not dead yet, though, were the Yellow Jackets, who showed resilience in rattling off four straight victories, defeating Duke at home 21-0, reclaiming a top 10 spot in the polls, taking down rival Auburn at home the next week, dispatching Tulane with ease 35-0, and returning home for a homecoming rout of the Florida Gators, shutting out their opponent for the second straight week in a 20-0 victory.

This, of course, set up a great showdown with Tennessee in Knoxville. This time, though, Tech was the top ten team, and Tennessee was the willy underdog. They, much like LSU, managed to befuddle the Yellow Jackets. Tech again fell out of the top 25. This was a seemingly anticlimactic turn before yet another trip to Legion Field to face Bear Bryant and his no. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide. The deck seemed stacked in favor of the home team. Tech’s rollercoaster ride of a year had taken another downward turn into the ides of November.

With all the sharp turns that had happened so far that season, the controversy that ensued that afternoon in Birmingham seemed, well, inevitable.

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.