Clemson-Georgia Tech Gridiron Memories

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The Clemson University Tigers and the Georgia Institute of Technology (Tech) Yellow Jackets have played 79 football games against the other, the first taking place in 1898. Tech leads the series 50-27-2. For some undocumented reason, the schools played 29 games in Atlanta from 1902 through 1973, and after one game in Clemson in 1974, the series returned to Atlanta the next three years. The series ended briefly after 1977 but resumed in 1983 when both schools competed as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). Tech and Clemson have met every year since then with each winning 16 games. The two schools actually met in the ACC Championship game in 2009 but the National Collegiate Athletic Association vacated Tech’s victory and ACC title after it found Tech used an ineligible player during the last three games of the season. The Tech-Clemson rivalry ranks as one of the South’s oldest and has produced some poignant memories.

In 1902, for example, Clemson coach, John Heisman, played a ruse on the Tech program worthy of a Broadway production. The day before the game between the two schools, Heisman sent a group of Clemson students by train to Atlanta with the instructions to pose as football players and conspicuously party the night away. The day of the game, members of the Tech program received word of the actions of the fake Clemson players and assumed they would be in no shape to compete on the gridiron. Unbeknownst to Tech, Heisman had his real players stay at a hotel in nearby Lula, Georgia. Much to the surprise and chagrin of the Tech team, the well-rested Clemson boys routed the Yellow Jackets, 44-5.

After the 1903 Clemson team routed Tech 73-0, the largest margin of victory for either team, Tech lured Heisman to Atlanta with a 25 percent pay raise. Heisman coached on the Flats for 16 years, overseeing 102 wins, three undefeated seasons, the 1917 national championship, and the beginning of Tech’s 15-game winning streak over the Tigers.

In 1977, Tech officials announced the series would end after the game that year. According to an SB Nation article, Clemson faithful bemoaned the thought of not staying in and enjoying Atlanta, at least every other year. Clemson booster George Bennett concocted a plan that he hoped would convince Tech and Atlanta officials that a game with the Tigers in Atlanta would be an economic boost for the city. For the 1977 game, Bennett encouraged Clemson supporters to pay all of their expenses in Atlanta with two-dollar bills stamped with tiger paws. While the plan did nothing to change the minds of Tech or Atlanta officials, it did spur a road/bowl tradition—the Two Dollar Tiger Bill.

After Tech joined the ACC in 1983, Clemson won four out of the first seven games. The 1990 game marked only the third time in series history that both schools were ranked in the polls (1959 and 1984 were the previous encounters), Clemson 15th and Tech 18th. Tech led 14-3 at halftime on two touchdown passes from Tech quarterback Shawn Jones but the Tigers repeatedly moved the ball in the second half only to settle for field goals. With the score 14-12, Tech’s Kevin Tisdel returned a kickoff 87 yards to set up a T.J. Edwards touchdown run to make the score 21-12. Clemson took the ensuing kickoff and drove all the way to the Tech one-yard line before the Tech defense held on fourth down. After a Tech fumble on the Tech 41-yard line, Clemson scored on a DeChane Cameron 3-yard run with 3:27 left in the game to make the score 21-19. After Tech punted, Clemson had one last chance, but All-American kicker Chris Gardocki missed a 60-yard field goal at the end of the game. Tech’s win that day proved pivotal as the Jackets would become the United Press International’s national champions at season’s end.

Six games from 1996-2001were all decided by three points, Tech won four of those. Clemson came to Atlanta in 2001 ranked 25th to face off against the 9th ranked Yellow Jackets. Both offenses marched up and down the field but Tech had no answer for Clemson quarterback Woody Dantzler. With 15 seconds before halftime, Dantzler scored on a 38-yard run that became known in Clemson annals as the “Hail Mary Run.” Regulation ended tied at 41, and after a Tech field goal in overtime, Dantzler worked his magic again by scoring from the Tech 11-yard line on third-and-six for a 47-44 Tiger victory.

Clemson’s last victory in Atlanta came in 2003 when Coach Tommy Bowden led the Tigers to a rout of the Chan Gailey-coached Yellow Jackets, 39-3. Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst passed for 298 yards and three touchdowns. The rout marked Clemson’s largest victory over Tech subsequent to the Heisman-led 73-0 pasting in 1903.

Since 2003, Tech has won eight out of the twelve games, including the 2009 ACC Championship contest. In the 2014 game at Grant Field, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and the Tigers’ offense left the game with a first-quarter knee injury. The Tech defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns, held the Tigers to 190 yards of total offense, and the Yellow Jackets cruised to a 28-6 win.

One of the South’s oldest rivalries will add another chapter this Saturday in Death Valley. The oddsmakers favor Clemson by more than a touchdown but don’t be surprised if the outcome of the contest comes down to a final bit of trickery. John Heisman would not have it any other way.

 

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