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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson-Georgia Tech

The Tigers and Yellow Jackets will add another chapter to a long and bitter rivalry between two storied southern football programs when they square off at high noon on Saturday, November 15, 2014.

At the ten-game mark of this season, our Clemson Tigers will ramble down I-85 to Atlanta seeking to wreck the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. Tiger defensive coordinator Brent Venables and his wrecking crew have talked all week about playing with "good eyes" and "sound technique," but don't be surprised if Jackets head coach Paul Johnson pulls out all the stops on and off the field to ensure that the Tigers' eyes wander, first to all of those Tech coeds that will undoubtedly fill the stands, and then to all the Yellow Jacket players down on their knees begging these never-before-seen coeds for a date "blocking." Currently, this guy is getting all the dates on campus:


Perhaps the Yellow Jackets should heed his words of wisdom as they attempt to accomplish some lifelong goals like: non-awkward conversations with other human beings? Getting a date (with an actual person, not an avatar or a meme)? Beating the Tigers? "They are at Georgia Tech, and they can do that! ....maybe, though statistics indicate a high probability of epic failure due to adverse conditions emanating from inherited genetic deficiencies"....ah, sigh...nerds will be nerds.

Moving away from this lack of "game" to the series on the gridiron, Georgia Tech has legitimate reason to boast with an all-time record of 50-27-2 against Clemson, more wins over the Tigers than any other team. But that dominance deserves an asterisk, as every game (36 total) between 1907 and 1974 was played in Atlanta, with the Tigers claiming just four victories, in 1907, 1936, 1945, & 1969. Prior to that Clemson and Tech had squared off just seven times, all but one in the state of Georgia (a 41-5 Tiger victory in Greenville, SC in 1899). In seventy-eight all-time meetings Clemson has played just eighteen home games against Georgia Tech, compiling a 12-6 record, which means the Tigers are just 13-43-2 on the road in Atlanta, and 2-1 at neutral sites (1898: 23-0 Tigers in Augusta, GA; 1899: 41-5 Tigers in Greenville, SC; 2009: 39-34 Jackets in Tampa, FL for the ACC Championship).

Despite a bevy of common historical traits: both were founded in the late nineteenth century (Tech-1885; Clemson-1889); both were all-male until the 1950s (Tech-1952; Clemson-1955); both desegregated in the early 1960s (Tech-1961; Clemson-1963); both have renowned engineering and architecture programs, and both have traditionally strong athletic departments and traditions, including famous fights songs (Tech-Ramblin' Wreck; Clemson-Tiger Rag) and stadium entrances  (Tech-The Ramblin' Wreck; Clemson-The Hill & Howard's Rock), the Tigers and Yellow Jackets have just never gotten along, on or off the field.

Perhaps it's because Tech owned the Tigers for so long on the field. But maybe more recent history is to blame; since Tech football joined the ACC in 1983, the two teams are 16-16 head-to-head, including an unprecedented streak from 1996-2001 in which every game was decided by exactly three points. Twelve of the last nineteen games have been decided by five points or less, and eleven of the Yellow Jackets last thirteen wins have been by seven points or less. Since 1983, in other words, it's been tight, it's been heated, and many-a-time for many-a-Tiger-fan, it's been heartbreaking: Shawn Jones, Joe Hamilton, George Godsey, Kerry Watkins, and Calvin Johnson all ripped our hearts right out; Bobby Ross, George O'Leary and Paul Johnson, even Chan Gailey (in spite of himself) have all been the bane of our existence more than we'd like to admit. In short, the Yellow Jackets have stung us one too many times, and each one still hurts.

But enough buzzing about past Yellow Jacket success. Our Tigers have inflicted some pain of their own over the years, and even the mean streets of Atlanta have not been able to prevent several Tiger teams from realizing some epic moments of greatness. Another connection between the two programs, Hall-of-Fame Coach John Heisman, shaped much of the early history of the rivalry, perhaps accounting for the persistent hostility that has existed between them ever since. Heisman had brief coaching stints at Oberlin College (1893 & 1895), the University of Akron (1894), and Auburn University (1895-1899) before becoming the fourth head coach in Clemson football history, a position he would hold for four seasons (1900-1903), compiling a record of 19-3-2 (15-0-2 in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association or SIAA) good for an .833 overall winning percentage, still the best mark in Clemson football history.


In 1902, Heisman and his Clemson Tigers pulled off one of the most elaborate schemes in the annals of college athletics. The day before their scheduled gridiron grudge match with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Heisman loaded a group of Clemson cadets on a train bound for Atlanta, instructing them to pose as football players and to engage in a conspicuously raucous "night on the town." The ruse worked to perfection, and most associated with the Yellow Jacket football program assumed these Clemson "players" would be in no shape to play, much less win, a football game the following afternoon. But much to their chagrin, those rowdy Tigers of the night before were not Heisman's grizzled gridders, whom he had holed up in a hotel in nearby Lula, GA. The fully rested and confident real Tiger squad jumped all over the surprised Yellow Jackets, dominating en route to a 44-5 final tally. Tech would finish the year winless at 0-6-2, while Heisman's Tigers would finish 6-1 (6-0 SIAA).

Clemson Tigers 1903

In 1903, Heisman's Tigers again traveled down to Atlanta to take on the Yellow Jackets, but this time no hijinx were necessary as the Tigers absolutely mauled the Jackets 73-0, still the largest margin of victory for either team in the series. Georgia Tech would finish the year just 2-5, while Clemson ended the year at 4-1-1 (4-0-1 SIAA). However Tech would get the last laugh, as it managed to lure John Heisman away from rural Clemson, South Carolina to the big city lights of Atlanta with a fat contract later that off season. Heisman would coach sixteen seasons at Georgia Tech, compiling a 102-29-7 record that included three undefeated seasons, a thirty-two-game winning streak over the 1915, 1916, and 1917 seasons, and the 1917 national championship. These marks and the innovations Heisman pioneered made him a legend of the sport, a status still annually confirmed by awarding the sport's most valuable player with its highest honor, the Heisman Trophy.

In 1906, Coach Bob Williams led his Clemson Tigers to a 10-0 victory over John Heisman's Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Thanksgiving Day. Williams beat Heisman at his own game by employing the first forward pass in Tiger football history. Left End Powell Lykes dropped back to kick, but instead lobbed a 30-yard pass to George Warren, leading to the game's only touchdown and helping secure the win for the Tigers. The victory pushed the Tigers' overall record against Georgia Tech to 5-1-1, and capped off an undefeated 4-0-3 (4-0-2 SIAA) season, while Heisman's Yellow Jackets finished the year 5-3-1.

Most Tiger fans generally agree that the 1977 season sparked the resurgence of Clemson football onto the national scene. And the matchup with Georgia Tech that season certainly contributed to that rise to prominence. Charley Pell's first Tiger team had just pulled off an upset of #17 Georgia (7-6) the week before between the hedges in Athens, and now made the short trip down to Atlanta to take on Pepper Rodgers's Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.


Officials in the Georgia Tech athletic department had earlier that year announced their intention to end the series with the Tigers, which rankled many among the Clemson faithful who enjoyed the bi-annual trip to Hotlanta. One especially prominent voice of dissent was Clemson athletic booster George Bennett, who went on a personal crusade to preserve the game. Bennett and many other Clemson fans, having been deprived of a bowl trip since 1959, relished the trek to Atlanta as a unique way to experience Tiger football. To further prove the worth of the rivalry, Bennett encouraged Clemson supporters to pay for all of the expenses in Atlanta that year with two-dollar bills stamped with tiger paws, to demonstrate the economic boon provided by the Clemson fanbase on a game weekend, and a Clemson road/bowl game tradition was born: the Two Dollar Tiger Bill.

Tiger Two

Clemson won the game in dominating fashion 31-14, and went on to an 8-3-1 (4-1-1 ACC) season that garnered the program's first bowl berth in nearly two decades at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. Georgia Tech finished the year just 6-5, unranked, and home for the bowl season. The two would not play again until 1983, when the Jackets joined the ACC in football and renewed the annual rivalry.

In 1995 Tommy West's second Tiger team rode into Atlanta unranked at 4-3 to take on George O'Leary's 4-3 Yellow Jackets on homecoming weekend.


Just three days before Halloween that year, Clemson's ground game was frighteningly effective all afternoon against LB Keith Brooking and the Tech defense, as stud RB Raymond Priester ran for 78yds on twenty carries, while FB Emory Smith racked up 100yds on twenty-six carries to pace a powerful ground attack that churned out 197yds in the game. QB Nealon Greene completed 10/13 passes for 167yds, and WR Antwuan Wyatt hauled in six catches for 123yds and two touchdowns, one a 61yd bomb, the second from 12yds out, putting the Tigers up 21-3 heading into the half. Clemson rode its power running game and a dominant defense led by LB Anthony Simmons and S Brian Dawkins the rest of the way to gain a 24-3 victory, ruining Tech's homecoming festivities and stealing part of the Sunday Atlanta Journal-Constitution's headlines from the World Series Champion Atlanta Braves.


Georgia Tech would win two of its last three games to finish the year unranked at 6-5 (5-3 ACC) The win was the second of five straight to close out the regular season for the Tigers, but they ended the year at 8-3 (6-2 ACC) and unranked after a Gator Bowl loss to Donovan McNabb, Marvin Harrison, and the Syracuse Orange,

In 2001 Tommy Bowden brought his 2-1, 25th-ranked Tigers into Atlanta to take on George O'Leary's 3-0, 9th-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The game went back-and-forth all afternoon, with both teams struggling to keep the opposing offense out of the endzone. The first half ended with one of the most iconic plays in recent Tiger football history, as QB Woody Dantzler dropped back with just fifteen seconds remaining on the clock at the GT thirty-eight yard line, escaped the defensive rush, knifed through the Yellow Jacket secondary all the way for the score. Dantzler's "Hail Mary Run" put the Tiger deficit at just 19-14 heading to the locker room. The second half saw more big plays and scores, as both squads threw repeated offensive haymakers hoping to strike the definitive blow. But the shootout couldn't be decided in regulation, and with the score knotted at 41, the game headed into a thrilling overtime period. Reggie Herring's much-maligned Tiger defense held Tech to a field goal on their first overtime possession, setting up a magical finish for the Tigers. Facing a third-and-six from the GT eleven yard line, Dantzler dropped back, then sprinted forward on a designed QB draw into the endzone for the "walk off" touchdown and the 47-44 Tiger victory.


Clemson was led by Woody Dantzler, who amassed 164yds and two scores on twenty-five carries, and completed 18/32 passes for 182yds and another two touchdowns. RB Travis Zachary added 79yds and three touchdowns on twenty-two carries, plus seven catches for 46yds. WR JJ McKelvey hauled in two catches for 68yds, including a 63yd scoring strike from Dantzler, while WR Derrick Hamilton added seven catches for 75yds. Clemson finished the year a disappointing 7-5, dropping four of their last eight regular season games before closing out the year with a 49-24 Humanitarian Bowl victory over Louisiana Tech in the snow on the blue turf in Boise, Idaho. Georgia Tech ended the year at 8-5 and #24 in the final polls, after which George O'Leary exiled himself to a future of mediocrity after accepting his dream job as head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, only to be fired for "resume padding" just a few days later. After a brief stint as an NFL assistant coach, he resurfaced in Orlando, Florida to take over a struggling University of Central Florida Black Knights program, where he has enjoyed considerable if largely obscure success in building a consistent mid-major winner.

For video of the full game, click here.

In 2003, Tommy Bowden's fifth Tiger team carried 2-1 record into an early season matchup with Chan Gailey's 1-2 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. The Tigers, apparently inspired by the purple jerseys on white bottoms they broke out for this road bout, racked up 436yds of total offense, led by QB Charlie Whitehurst's 13/38 for 298yds and 3tds, to jump out to a 23-3 first half lead, and put the game away with two more scores and a defensive safety in the second half for a 39-3 rout. It was the largest margin of victory for the Tigers over the Jackets since the 73-0 drubbing handed out by John Heisman's Tigers back in 1903.

Tony Elliot

Current Tiger running backs coach Tony Elliot caught the first of Whitehurst's three scoring strikes, while WR Kevin Youngblood hauled in five catches for 101yds and Whitehurst's second td.

A. Currie

Airese Currie capped the first half scoring with a 33yd touchdown catch from Whitehurst. Youngblood would add a second touchdown catch on a fade rout from a yard out in the second half, and RB "Hurricane" Duane Coleman scampered for a 25yd score to complete the Tiger's offensive onslaught.

Georgia Tech would finish the season unranked at 7-6 (4-4), while Clemson ended the year on a miraculous run. After dropping a 45-17 decision at Wake Forest on the first of November, Bowden's Tigers reeled off four straight victories, including a 26-10 triumph over #3 FSU the following week, a 63-17 demolition of the arch rival Gamecocks in the season finale, and a dominant 27-14 thrashing of Philip Fulmer's #6 Tennessee Volunteers in the Peach Bowl to close out a 9-4 (5-3 ACC) season at #22 in the final polls.

For video of the full game, click here.

That victory in 2003 was the Tigers' last in Atlanta against the Yellow Jackets, so Dabo Swinney's 2014 Tigers will be looking to give Tiger fans a taste of victory at Bobby Dodd Stadium for the first time in over a decade. The game this year marks just the seventh time Clemson and Tech have both been ranked entering the contest, and Clemson has gone just 2-4 in the previous six (Tiger home wins in 1991 & 2006, Tech home wins in 1959, 1984, & 1990, and a Tech neutral-site win in Tampa for the 2009 ACC Title) so Swinney and the boys will also be seeking the first Tiger victory in Atlanta when both teams are nationally ranked. Furthermore, the 2014 Tiger seniors can claim their 40th victory with a win over the Jackets Saturday, which would tie them with the 1990 senior class for the most ever.

Brent Venable's defense boasts a top-five ranking in nearly every meaningful category entering the game, while Paul Johnson's option offense has hit its stride and is putting up its usually dominant rushing numbers and third-down conversion rates, so something's got to give. With kickoff at noon, this one has all the makings of an old Wild West shootout, and the last team with the ball may very well prove the victor. With Deshaun Watson back in the gun this week, the Tiger offense should regain some of its former firepower, and with Venables' vaunted defense corralling the Jackets' option attack, our Tigers should be able to out duel PJ and his honeycombed henchmen and continue the march towards a fourth consecutive double-digit-win season. 10-2 begins with you, Paul Johnson, and in the words of Georgia-native John Henry "Doc" Holliday, "you're no daisy, you're no daisy at all!"