Georgia Tech and Clemson will square off today in the 88th meeting of the storied ACC rivalry. Really, if you ask the conference, it is the most important for both teams. On Monday, it will also be the most important (read as: only) game in the FBS football world. After half a decade of historic previews, though, rather than look at their history as a whole, I thought it might be most fitting to look at the peculiar intersection of Tech and Clemson’s series and neutral site games.
After five or so years of writing this historic preview series, it feels as though I’ve covered the history of Clemson football inside, outside, and upside down. After a while, as much as I love playing our annual rivals — perhaps we can uncork some thoughts on the 2023-2026 ACC Football schedule later in the season — it gets a little dry to take the same looks year after year. Much like the take on the North Carolina game for last year’s Mayhem at Mercedes Benz, for this season, I figure I would shine the spotlight on three previous contests, with the main focus being on two in particular.
For those who might want to take a more traditional look at the history of Clemson, feel free to take a look at the HTS 2019 edition of the article linked below, which I find an especially interesting juxtaposition seeing as it was the first game of the Geoff Collins era.
The sixteenth game in Georgia Tech’s long and storied football history took place on November 24th, 1898. The day was of particular note for the average American, football fan or not, because it was a Thanksgiving. This game was not Tech’s first Thanksgiving game, but its third. In prior years, Tech had played St. Albans (1893, 6-0 L) and Ft. McPherson (1894, 0-34 L) at Piedmont Park and Athletic Park, respectively, before taking the entirety of the 1895 season off from playing football altogether. As it stood after the Ft. McPherson game, Tech had an all-time record of 2-7-1 over three seasons, with those wins coming in 1893 over Mercer and its infamous 28-6 win over the school in Athens on the road. As a matter of fact, over 50% of the total points Tech had scored in its first three years of existence (54) had come in that single contest that has since gone down in legend. Despite the poor overall record, due to the oddity of having played just that single road game, and that being the only contest to-date in Clean Old Fashioned Hate, Tech was both undefeated away from Atlanta and against their primordial rivals, with more squaring off happening under the Gold Dome than on the gridiron in those days.
Among the other 8 contests, Tech was a scoreless 0-2-1 against Auburn, including a 94-0 demolition in the game prior to hosting Ft. McPherson on Thanksgiving in 1894. Thus, after playing a season in which the team went 0-3 and got outscored 136-0, it made sense to, well, disband for 1895. Over the two seasons following the hiatus, a coach-less Tech team went 1-1-1 in 1896 before playing just a single game against the school out east in 1897.
This, of course, is all just the lead up to the season I actually planned to discuss, the 1898 slate. Oddly, the Thanksgiving contest mentioned previously was not the last game of the season, but rather the second of a three game slate. Whether the football seasons were later in the calendar due to heat or access to space, I do not know, but the 1898 schedule for Tech spanned November 5th-December 22nd, with the third and final game being a Christmastime trip to Athens, Tech’s second road shutout to the Athenians in as many years. To date, the school out east had not made the trip west to Atlanta, and, more oddly, Tech played that entire 1898 season away from the friendly confines of whichever Atlanta city park happened to be called home on a given Saturday.
That said, they were not all away games. Curiously, Tech played their first ever neutral site game against Clemson on Thanksgiving 1898. The location was a compromise, taking place in Augusta, GA, but the game went about the same as any other one in most of Tech’s pre-Heisman days, with the Tigers taking an early lead and keeping Tech off the board completely on the way to another shutout. On the season, Tech would manage 6 points against a Hesiman-coached Auburn squad, but would otherwise be thoroughly trounced in all affairs.
Interestingly, the neutral site Thanksgiving experiment was repeated in 1899, albeit this time at a different neutral site, and one located in the state of South Carolina. On Thanksgiving 1899, Tech ventured up to Greenville for their final game of the season. In their previous four, they had been shut out by Auburn, Sewanee, the school in Athens, and Nashville. In the return contest versus the Tigers, Tech managed five points in a loss, and finished their season 0-5.
It is probably somewhat obvious why I choose to focus on the neutral site games against Clemson for this week’s column, given the circumstances of today’s game. Sure, the stadium is close to campus, located in Atlanta, and it technically counts as a home game as far as most are concerned. All that said, Mercedes Benz is a very nice stadium, but it is certainly not Bobby Dodd, all things considered. Going to play downtown is an intriguing experience, and it is a very nice venue, but at the end of the day, it isn’t home. Neither, for that matter, was Augusta in 1898.
Interestingly, from 1905-1914, the Clemson game would continue to be Tech’s Thanksgiving feature. It is also worth noting that every one of those games, save for the 1908 edition, was in Atlanta. Tech would not play in Clemson after that season for nearly seventy years, despite the two teams squaring off 34 times between 1908 and 1974. Both the installation of Clemson as the Thanksgiving feature - and perhaps the selection of Auburn after them - and the ridiculously skewed home/away location splits are legacies of the John Heisman tenure. Heisman, as it is variously noted, was partially compensated via the gate receipts of Tech home games, and thus had a strong incentive to bring teams to Atlanta, which itself had the added advantage of being well-connected by rail to many of the more rural schools throughout the South. The location of games, in addition to the more obvious success on the gridiron, was a drastic departure in the Heisman era from the nature of his predecessors.
Despite the relative dearth of records, box scores, or details on those late nineteenth century games, there is one more neutral site game against Clemson, though perhaps the NCAA would rather it not be discussed. I am, of course, speaking of the 2009 ACC Championship Game, though the related article linked just below this does a better job than any summary I could ever hope to write.
Thus, today marks the fourth time Tech will take on Clemson in a neutral venue. It also marks the fourth time the two schools will match up in the 37th calendar week of the year, which, given the historic inconsistencies between Week 1 from year to year, I find a cleaner distinction to make. Among games played on September 5th, this marks Tech’s third, with the Jackets previously falling to Boston College in 1998 and defeating Jacksonville State in 2009.
For the 88th renewal of one of Tech’s great rivalries, though, that will take place under the lights of Mercedes Benz tonight.
Monday evening, Georgia Tech and Clemson kickoff at Mercedes Benz Stadium as each other’s opening matchup. Tune in here at From the Rumble Seat throughout the day for coverage via the gameday thread and the postgame recap, along with live updates via @FTRSBlog on Twitter.