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Rearview Mirror: The Imponderables

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What if we just took things one day at a time?

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General Leonard Wood, former Tech football player, and the 1917 commencement.
Georgia Tech Archives/Georgia Tech Photography Collection (https://history.library.gatech.edu/items/show/20981)

I think if there’s something I’ve seen a lot of recently, it’s that we, as humans, love a certain question far more than any other: what if? What if we did [insert thing] about this coronavirus? What if we did [whatever] to make sure sports start soon? What if I just need [this thing that I took for granted] because it’s been so long?

We ask it about Tech, Atlanta, or whatever situation we find ourselves in in any given moment, too. What if we never left the SEC? What if Bobby Ross didn’t leave for the NFL? What if we never cut lacrosse? What if we never lost the School of Commerce? [Hootie and the Blowfish], Akshay and I wrote a whole column two weeks ago asking what if we never hosted the Olympics?

Sidenote: feel free to vamp on some what ifs in the comments. I like them a lot. Almost fell into that rabbit hole writing this.

I think that is a function of where we’re all at right now, at this moment in history. It’s weird and hard to write about history right now because now, more than any event in a while, it is not lost to a great number of people that we’re literally living history. I was reading old editions of the Technique to put together the Sideways column and noted that it seemed like, in hindsight so much more happened in any given issue than does in a week to week basis now. But, in hindsight, I don’t think that’s true. Ask any student on campus in the fall of 2017 - the eclipse, the last round of unrest, a couple hurricanes, you name it - and that feeling is surprisingly similar to what they feel now. Certainly not as strong, but it’s still the glaring discomfort of an unknowable, uneasy, and uncertain future smacking you right in the face.

I had a couple people reach out to me, asking if I could talk about how the events we see unfolding, particularly the now-internet-famous picture courtesy of former Reck driver Andy McNeil (seriously, just look up “andy mcneil photo” and you get coverage of it from as far afield as NBC’s Indianapolis affiliate), could effect history. But I’m not going to do that. That’s not really history. That’s the same conjecture everyone else is trying to do.

Asking questions like that is inherently a fallacy. A divination of what mysteries we can answer by staring into sepia-tinted antiquity or wisps of news about sports, the world as it stands, or what comes next is nearly impossible. We don’t really know much. Who am I to make these kinds of sweeping guesses? One day, we’ll get to a point where we can look on this moment in the full context of history, and I think it’ll all make sense. When you can see where we wind up, it’s a lot easier to see where we were going. What if the NCAA allows full stadiums? I can say it’s not likely, based on some guesswork, but other than that, I see no real point in asking the question. We don’t know. I’d say we’re right to feel uneasy when we see that.

According to the current writing schedule, I estimate we’ll get that column on approximately August 30th, 2021.

We do know a couple things now, though. The first is that life moves on. One day, we’ll have normal times again. We’ll probably have so much normal time that we get complacent and bored. Then something new will happen to shake things up again. That’s life. I would love nothing more than to be sitting here on this fine weekend day reliving the non-revenue sports highlights of the week and enjoying the sun. There’s a strong bit of irony in making a working outline to speed up writing Yellow Jacket Roundup each week four days before the season of every sport was abruptly put on hold. I don’t think any of us will complain about the pace of play in baseball in quite the same way, at least not at first, after this.

One year ago on the day I write this, Tech lost a sporting event in the most heartbreaking way imaginable when our ace allowed a walk off, come-from-behind home run with two strikes and two outs in the playoffs by an old rival in our own stadium. The next day, we regrouped only to have a game that was equally as fascinating, in its own way, a game of lead changes, bizarre conflict, and, ultimately, a victory. That’s uncertainty, too, but on almost designed to be comfortable and familiar.

I think it goes without saying that there have been times when we’ve faced situations like this, whether they were ubiquitous, national struggles, or our own personal stories. The reason McNeil’s photo has so much resonance is because we see hope in it. We see people in a similar situation to our being resonant and enjoying something we love, too, Georgia Tech football. We see signs that point to, “hey, we can get through this, too.” We see struggles and trying times and we enacted positive change. But we don’t have to turn to just photographs for hope.

We point to our legacy. One that started as young white mechanical engineers, a small group, that represented a dream for the industrialists and futurists of a wounded state. The phoenix metaphor is prominent throughout the city of Atlanta, but it is especially pertinent for Tech, seeing as half the school burned down before any of its students had even been able to graduate. We survived chronic underfunding, visionary presidents working themselves to death (literally), powers-that-be that not wanting us to exist, a first World War, a third of our academic program being forcibly amputated and shipped to Athens in the midst of economic turmoil, de-accreditation, and another World War. And what do we have to show for it? A school that graduated more engineers than any other this year, hosted multiple Olympic venues, served as the economic engine for one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and garnered host of countless other accolades from social issues to economic ones to national ones along the way. Our graduates change the world.

That’s progress, and that’s service.

So, no, I don’t know if we’ll have football, or if they do, if they’ll let us in. I don’t know what this moment in time means for the future. We’re left to sit here and wonder, to be an informed and driven citizenry, a proud bunch active in shaping a better future. That’s what it means to be affiliated with Georgia Tech. That’s what it means to be a helluva engineer. In the future, this moment will be a part of the stories we’ll tell. It’s up to us for how we fill the meantime.


Odds and Ends:

The column is a little more “rah rah we can do this” than “here’s a historical event” than usual because we took a break to plan out the next year of the column. If you want the full 66 week schedule, well, that now exists, but, at the least, here’s what’s coming up:

Expected Arrival at Modern Day: August 2021

  • June 8: Departure of Edwin Harrison
  • June 15: Historical Cross Country/Track and Field
    Non-revenue sports history repeats every other week after this, with swimming next. If time permits, these will move to midweek allowing the main column to move on.
  • June 22: The Adventures of Bud Carson
  • July 6: James Boyd: Heavy is the Head that (Briefly) Wears the Crown

What happens once we get to modern day? Edit, organize, and fill in any gaps. Then we’ll have the whole Tech story, in one place, here at From the Rumble Seat.

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.