Sports Columns

November 30, 2013

Loran Smith: Turkey day traditions are missed

There have been some very exciting games between Georgia and Georgia Tech. In the old days when freshmen were not allowed to compete in varsity competition, the annual Thanksgiving Day battles between the Bullpups and Baby Jackets often were classic thrillers.

A rule change eliminated that game which was a novel Thanksgiving Day affair. People would gather for near sellout crowds at Grant Field as the two teams played for the children of the Scottish Rite Hospital. The Varsity was overrun with fans who were always in a good mood as they enjoyed a chili-dog lunch before going to the game. They were anxious to see how the varsity stars of tomorrow would perform.

After the game, everybody went home for Thanksgiving dinner. When freshmen became eligible to compete with the varsity in 1973, that sounded the death knell for the Scottish Rite classic. An attempt was made to match up the junior varsity teams, but it proved futile. A great tradition ended.

An interesting development took place in the 1957 game. The Georgia freshmen, led by Pat Dye and Fran Tarkenton, defeated the Tech freshmen 13-7, but Dye did not hang around for the varsity game. He returned home to Blythe and listened on radio. When Tech took the opening drive and marched down the field, it appeared that they would score. Nat Dye, Pat’s brother who played right tackle, remembers Pat telling him he thought Tech would win the game. Pat turned the radio off and went bird hunting.

Tarkenton remembers that when the freshmen gathered for practice in September, they vowed they would turn the series in Georgia’s favor.

“We made a commitment that Tech would not beat us in the years that we were in school. We were able to pull it off, too,” he says.

There are a lot of grandfathers out there who remember that 1957 game at Grant Field on a bitter cold day. After eight depressing years, Georgia finally got back in the win column in this ancient series. There would be only one touchdown scored, the one by Theron Sapp breaking the drought. When the game was over and the Bulldogs had taken a 7-0 win, Georgia fans engulfed Sapp and Coach Wallace Butts.

Those who remember the game considered it a classic. Georgia won only three games that year but was victorious in the most important game on the schedule. It would be the start of a four-game winning streak for the Bulldogs, and when Georgia won in Athens the next year, 16-3, the memorable line was, “Look who is saying ‘wait till next year.’”

Butts and the Georgia people had suffered dreadfully during the streak, but when Sapp scored the most beloved touchdown in Bulldog history, nobody celebrated with more affection than Dan Magill, who had organized the Bulldog clubs across the state of Georgia with the notion that the university’s strength was in its numbers. “We are the majority party,” Magill, the greatest loyalist, proclaimed. He felt that Georgia should have the advantage in the rivalry.

Of all the great games in the series, I often think about the 1978 game which, for pure electrifying fun, may be the greatest Tech game I ever saw. Not the most important one, perhaps, but how can you top the script for that masterpiece?

Tech got out front 20-0, and depression set in on the south side of Sanford Stadium, but Buck Belue would lead the most spirited comeback you could imagine. He got a little help from Scott Woerner, who intercepted a pass and returned it to the Tech 39 to set up Georgia’s second touchdown in the third quarter.

That score made it 20-14, but it greatly lifted the spirits of the Bulldog faithful. Six plays later, Woerner returned a punt 72 yards and Georgia gained the lead 21-20.

Spirits then flagged as Tech returned the kickoff, made a two point conversion and regained the lead 28-21.

With 5:52 left in the game, Belue “led the Bulldogs 84 yards to glory.” On fourth down, he scrambled to his right and appeared to be headed for disaster, but his scramble drew the Tech defense toward him, and he found Anthony Arnold open for a 42-yard touchdown pass.

There was work still to be done. After Tech was flagged for pass interference on a pass attempt to Mark Hodge, everybody thought Georgia would send tailback Willie McClendon over the top.

The Bulldogs crossed Tech up by running the lead option, Belue pitching to Arnold who danced into the end zone untouched for a 29-28 victory.

Never has the chapel bell rung so furiously!

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@ sports uga.edu.

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