Friday, August 25, 2006

Ramblin' | by Jay

Gettin' ready for kickoff... Paul from Classic Ground, who's not too far from Atlanta, was gracious enough to pull together this overview of the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech series. Enjoy!

Overshadowed by the prominent rivalries with Southern California and Michigan and the ongoing series with Purdue, Michigan State and Navy, the history between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech often goes unnoticed. But Notre Dame has a rich legacy with the Yellow Jackets (that goes beyond fish-throwing, believe it or not). Overall, ND has squared off against Georgia Tech 32 times, with the very first meeting between the two schools coming in 1922.

The series with Georgia Tech came about as part of Knute Rockne’s plan in the 20s to make football a financial asset for the University, to build fan enthusiasm (especially among Catholics), and to take his “rambling” squad out to play the best teams from around the country. But the first match-up with Georgia Tech did not get scheduled as quickly as Rockne and Georgia Tech officials would have liked. One of the ongoing conflicts between Rockne and the priests under the Golden Dome involved the road games -- how many, and how far away -- and Rock often quarreled with the Faculty Board of Control of Athletics, which held veto power on football scheduling.

In late 1920, Rockne and Tech agreed in principle to a game in Atlanta in 1921, only to have the ND Faculty Board deny the arrangement; thus forcing Tech to schedule Rutgers instead. Cliff Wheatley, writing a sports editorial in The Atlanta Constitution on January 29, 1921 had this to say:

“For want of a better reason for Notre Dame’s withdrawal it looks like ‘cold feet,’ and a case of a business manager [Rockne] ‘biting off more than he could chew.’”
In November 1921, Georgia Tech turned down an invitation from Evanston, Illinois to play Notre Dame at Northwestern in a post-season game for the benefit of the American Legion. This time, the Georgia Tech faculty denied the game. Coach Rockne finally got the Faculty Board to agree to let him take the Notre Dame football team to Atlanta in 1922.

1922: North vs. South
The famous Walter Camp, in a pre-season article, described the first Tech-ND fixture as “a startling exhibition of the development of shift plays” and “a great contest.”

Notre Dame’s first trip to the Deep South was both financially significant and symbolically important. Atlanta was the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, and Catholics were one of the Klan’s primary targets for hate. The Georgia Tech-Notre Dame game was also being promoted as a clash of cultures, as what The Atlanta Constitution writer Craddock Goins called the “skillful,” “keen, graceful and merciless” “Indianans” against “the spirit of the south.” In the week leading up to the game, Goins penned a column in the local paper hyping the North versus South trope for the football contest. He wrote:
“The game between the Yellow Jackets and the great Notre Dame team will draw the eyes of southern football lovers from every gridiron in the nation Saturday, and the attention of football students throughout the land will be largely turned to what promises to be one of the greatest exhibitions of flash and fly in the history of the modern game...

It is southern football’s greatest opportunity...It will mean the greatest possible impetus to football in this section.”
He then set the stage, in the un-politically-correct and flowery way typical of the “Gee Whiz” sportswriters of the Roaring 20s:
“Followers of Tech teams of the past few years have been fairly well agreed that the Tech team is almost unbeatable on its Grant field. This view seems to be well taken for the game of the ordinary type, but Notre Dame has a team far from the ordinary type, and its game here will be far from the ordinary kind...It was for the fixed purpose of adding Tech’s scalp to its long pelt that the Indianans consented to come to these parts, and the magician [Rockne] will have his team instructed to show all of its stuff.”
Notre Dame Coaches
versus Georgia Tech:
Knute Rockne
Elmer Layden
Frank Leahy
Joe Kuharich
Ara Parseghian
Dan Devine
Gerry Faust
Bob Davie
The magician did have his Fighting Irish ready to play smart and opportunistic football. After a scoreless first quarter, Georgia Tech kicked a field goal early in the second quarter to take a 3-0 lead. Later, Tech fumbled a Paul Castner punt, and the Irish recovered in Yellow Jacket territory. Seven plays later, Harry Stuhldreher passed to Castner for the Notre Dame touchdown. Castner than connected on the extra point, and the Irish took a 7-3 lead to the locker room. Punts, turnovers, and fourth down failures marked the offensive struggles for both teams in the third quarter. Stuhldreher would add a fourth quarter rushing touchdown, and the Irish held on for a 13-3 victory.

Paul Warwick, in an Atlanta Constitution article that pre-dates Grantland Rice’s famous description of The Four Horseman, waxed poetic about the first meeting between the two schools:
“Epic is the word. For the 20,000 people who jammed those stands Saturday afternoon will never blot from memory the sixty hair-raising minutes of ripping and tearing, doing and daring performed by the two teams who had foregathered to do each other battle. It was one of those struggles that cause sane people to write books, an event that was shot to the core with romance and drama. It was one of those reasons small boys believe the dime novels, for it proves nothing colorful is impossible to red-blooded men.”
Rockne usually gave one emotional locker room pep speech per season, and the Georgia Tech game was his choice for 1922. According to witnesses, Rockne quietly went over the game plans and starting lineups. Then, as he usually did, Knute read a number of telegrams from significant well-wishers. Finally, he pulled out a crumpled telegram from his pocket and hesitantly offered that the team’s unofficial “mascot,” his own six-year-old son, Billy Rockne, was in the hospital and extremely ill. Billy’s message to the team: “PLEASE WIN THIS GAME FOR MY DADDY. IT’S VERY IMPORTANT TO HIM.” The Notre Dame players reacted by roaring out of the locker room.

Back in South Bend a couple of days later, the Notre Dame football team arrived at the train station to a large celebration by students. According to the papers, Coach Rockne and the players “were carried several blocks on the shoulders of cheering students, who thronged the downtown streets.” One of the people at the South Bend train station was, according to Irish halfback Jim Crowley, “rushing up, whooping and hollering.” It was Billy Rockne. Crowley recalled: “You never saw a healthier kid in all your life. He hadn’t been in a hospital since the week his was born.”

1928: Gold Wave Fills Streets
Rockne and Notre Dame dominated the early years of the series with Georgia Tech. Including the first victory in 1922, the Irish ran off six straight wins over the Yellow Jackets. In 1923, the Fighting Irish, with Don Miller as star, played rude hosts to Tech, drubbing the Jackets 35-7 at Cartier Field. Miss Josephine Crawford, Southern belle and Georgia Tech “mascot,” traveled to Indiana with the Yellow Jackets but could not prevent a loss in 1924. Back in Atlanta in 1925, Rockne and the Irish shut out Tech 13-0. The signing of Four Horseman Don Miller as Tech’s backfield coach did nothing to prevent Irish victories in 1926 and 1927 at South Bend.

1928 would turn out to be Coach Rockne’s single worst year – the Fighting Irish would finish 5-4. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, would eventually be declared national co-champions and win the Rose Bowl that season. October 1928 was also a terrible time for the Catholic school’s football team to be visiting Atlanta. The Ku Klux Klan and fundamentalist preachers were begging southerners to abandon the Democratic Party and vote against Al Smith, the Catholic presidential candidate. The pre-game build-up focused on the Irish jinx over Tech.
“The lull before the storm has arrived,” wrote Dick Hawkins in The Atlanta Constitution, “and there remains nothing between the football-mad populace of Atlanta and a perfect day but a victory for Tech over Notre Dame this afternoon at Grant field...Just for today the future is forgotten. The past is just a little memory.”
Georgia Tech beat Notre Dame 13-0. The October 21st edition of The Atlanta Constitution had this headline: “Gold Wave Fills Streets/ As Tech Conquers Irish.”
“Down Peachtree thundered the roaring Tornado. The golden avalanche burst forth in all its fury. Shopping mothers hurriedly gathered up their ambling offspring. Noncombatant males sought neutral ground. Up and down, back and forth surged a shouting, shrieking, yelling, swaying mass of young manhood. Georgia Tech had downed Notre Dame – a feat unparalleled in the institute’s football history.”
Two Tech spectators collapsed and died of heart attacks at the game. The loss to Georgia Tech and the defeat of Al Smith in the presidential election would lead to Rockne giving his most memorable speech that November -- “Win One for the Gipper” -- to inspire the Irish over Army.

1929: Win Without Rockne
Coach Rockne’s health declined in 1929, a full year of away games and neutral site contests as Notre Dame Stadium was being built. Before the game against Navy in Baltimore that October, Rockne suffered an attack of phlebitis and a blood clot in his right leg threatened to move to his heart. Assistant Coach Tom Lieb led the Irish, with Rockne offering pep talks and instructions via telephone, to a 4-0 record before taking the team to Atlanta. The Rockne-less Irish got revenge for 1928, beating Tech 26-6. The Jakcets jumped out to an early lead, but Jack Elder and Frank Carideo each scored touchdowns, and had scintillating “dashes…through the entire Tech team.” The 1929 contest would be the last Irish-Jacket tilt for almost a decade. Rockne’s health would improve in 1930 and he would witness the dedication of Notre Dame Stadium.

1953: Streakbusters
Over the entire history of Notre Dame football, the Fighting Irish have ended many an impressive winning streak by opponents -- Army in 1946, Oklahoma in 1957, Texas in 1971, Southern California in 1973, Miami in 1988, and Florida State in 1993.

The October 25, 1953 edition of the New York Times described the second significant unbeaten streak broken by the Irish in its history: “Georgia Tech’s string of football games without a defeat was snapped at thirty-one today by Notre Dame. With an eye-catching display of power” at Notre Dame stadium, Johnny Lattner and Neil Worden headlined Frank Leahy’s rushing offense -- the #1 Irish dominated the statistics with 323 rushing yards to the Jacket’s 131. Leahy fainted due to a lower chest muscle spasm while walking into the dressing room at halftime and missed the second half. Meanwhile, Tech had not allowed a pass for a touchdown in an amazing 22 games before a Ralph Guglielmi throw in the third quarter. The Irish triumphed over #4 Tech 27-14. The win came on Lattner’s birthday: “I remember scoring the final touchdown while the student body was saluting me with their rendition of ‘Happy Birthday.’” Leahy would recover and Lattner would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that December.

1967: 500th Victory
Under Coach Ara Parseghian, the Notre Dame football program reached a milestone -- 500 wins -- with a 36-3 crushing of Georgia Tech on November 18, 1967 in Atlanta. Tech jumped out to a 3-0 lead, only to see the Irish score 36 unanswered points. Led by Terry Hanratty, backs Bob Gladieux and Rocky Bleier, and receiver Jim Seymour, Notre Dame outgained Tech 360 yards to 182.

1975: Rudy Tackles Rudy
The Hollywood version of the story is already well-known thanks to the major motion picture. Unlike the drama in the movie, Dan Devine gladly issued Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger jersey #45 and allowed Rudy to dress for the November 8, 1975 game against Georgia Tech. Notre Dame held a late lead over Tech and Devine wanted Ruettiger to enter the game on offense. But Rudy was a walk-on, scout team linebacker and did not want to go in on offense. Notre Dame scored and Devine put Rudy in on the kickoff team, allowing him to officially earn his letter. With just 22 seconds left in the game, Georgia Tech had 2nd and 10. Tech quarterback Rudy Allen dropped back and was sacked by Ruettiger, and the clock ticked away for a 24-3 Irish victory. His Notre Dame teammates carried Ruettiger off the field on their shoulders.

Just this past June, the two Rudys met for the first time since the play in 1975.

1977 and 1978: A Rout, Mackerel and Whiskey Bottles
In South Bend, Joe Montana passed for three touchdowns and ran for one to lead Notre Dame to a 69-14 blowout victory over Georgia Tech. As with some other Irish wins in the series history, Tech actually led 7-6 after the Yellow Jackets returned a kickoff for 97 yards. The Irish defense forced six turnovers, leading to five Notre Dame scores. The following year in Atlanta, Vagas Ferguson rushed for a then-school record 255 yards and scored one touchdown as Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 38-21. Joe Montana, who scored a touchdown and passed for two more, also set a then-school record by completing 10 straight passes.

The 1978 game was delayed for about five minutes when Georgia Tech fans behind the Notre Dame bench threw mackerel and whiskey bottles at the Irish players. Coach Dan Devine took his team to the center of the field until order was restored.

1980: Yellow Jackets Earn a 3-3 Tie with #1 Irish
Unranked Georgia Tech, having one of its worst seasons in decades, ended Notre Dame’s chances for a perfect season with a 3-3 tie against the top-ranked Irish. Ironically, Tech’s moral victory in Atlanta pushed the rival Georgia Bulldogs into the #1 spot. The Yellow Jackets scored on a 39-yard field goal in the second quarter while Notre Dame’s scoring came late in the fourth quarter on a Harry Oliver 47-yard field goal. The Irish lost three fumbles in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame would follow up with another trip to the Deep South, versus Alabama in Birmingham, the next week, and a third southern trip to the Sugar Bowl against Georgia on New Years Day.

1981: Kiel to Howard and into the record books
In Gerry Faust's first year, the Yellow Jackets travelled to South Bend for a late-season matchup, a 35-3 whitewash at the hands of the Irish. Quarterback Blair Kiel hooked up with Joe Howard for a 96-yard touchdown, still the longest touchdown pass in ND history. Here's the clip.

1997: Re-dedication of Notre Dame Stadium
In Bob Davie’s debut as head coach, and in the newly-expanded (and flooding) Notre Dame Stadium, the Fighting Irish held off George O’Leary’s Yellow Jackets 17-13. The first crowd of 80,225 ever at Notre Dame -- and the 131st consecutive home sellout -- witnessed two Autry Denson touchdowns and an uneven performance from quarterback Ron Powlus (18 for 29, 217 yards, and 2 fourth quarter interceptions). The Notre Dame defense held Georgia Tech and quarterback Joe Hamilton without a first down in the fourth quarter.

1998: Green Jerseys for the Gator Bowl
On January 1, 1999, Bob Davie and Notre Dame traveled to the Gator Bowl to take on the Yellow Jackets and George O’Leary. Georgia Tech wide receiver Dez White returned to his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, and caught four passes for 129 yards and two long touchdowns. Wearing green jerseys, #17 Notre Dame fell behind 21-7 at halftime. Behind Autry Denson’s three rushing touchdowns, Notre Dame rallied to tie #12 Tech 28-28 early in the fourth quarter. Trailing by a touchdown late, the Irish got the ball twice in the final three minutes only to fail to move the ball on offense, and lost 35-28.

Thanks to Paul for putting this together. His Classic Ground site is terrific, by the way. Check out Paul's latest essay, an exploration of the iconography behind a classical pose in an advertisement featuring Brady Quinn. Where else on the web are you going to find such a wonderful synthesis of visual art, sport, and Notre Dame Football?