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November 27, 2009

* Admission of A Dawg Fan and Tech Hater

I do not like The Georgia Institute of Technology and I especially do not like its football team.

I somewhat respect the Yellow Jackets for their sudden turnaround with Coach Paul Johnson at the helm, but I certainly don't like them or their reversal of fortune.

When I started rooting for the Bulldogs in the early 1980s, unlike many decades ago, I believe many Dawg fans felt more sorry for Tech than those that disliked the Jackets. Hate was reserved for the likes of Clemson, Auburn, and maybe Florida.

This all changed for me when in 1984 I witnessed an underdog Georgia Tech team come into Athens, soundly defeat my Bulldogs, and tear up Sanford Stadium's hedges afterwards.

The next day, on the cover of the sports section of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tech coach Bill Curry was pictured loving on John Dewberry, a transfer from Georgia two years earlier (Photo). Dewberry, winning quarterback of the Yellow Jackets, was holding a piece of our beloved hedges.

This exhibition of disrespect would not be accepted, I decided. No more did I feel sorry for our neighbors to the west; I felt hatred.

However, there is one, and only one, single issue I will side with our in-state adversary. Most Tech and Georgia football fans are familiar with this controversy and the pair of asterisks that has made it renowned.

If you're unfamiliar with the dispute, I'm sure you'll hear about it this Saturday if you watch the 104th, or 102nd, meeting between Georgia and Georgia Tech; the game's television broadcast mentions it every year.

The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets cannot agree on how many times they've played one another in football. Georgia defends a 59-37-5 advantage, Georgia Tech claims a 39-59-5 disadvantage.

The disagreement lies with the games played between the teams in 1943 and 1944--both blowout wins for the Yellow Jackets by a combined 92-0 score. Georgia Tech counts the two games while Georgia does not recognize them.

By the start of the 1943 football season, World War II was raging. Because of the war, graduation, and injuries, lost was every one of the Bulldogs' lettermen from its 1942 national championship squad. Georgia's 1943 team was comprised of just 25 seventeen-year-old freshmen too young for the war's draft and a few older players who had not met the military's physical standards.

Many of the teams around the country were in the same predicament as Georgia and a good number of schools cancelled their '43 football campaigns. Only a day before the Bulldogs' season opener, Coach Wally Butts asked his team if it too wanted to cancel its season. They refused, joining only three other SEC teams, of its 12 members, who would play football in 1943.

"So we'll play football as long as 11 men are available to put a team on the field," said Butts.

Georgia Tech was one of the three other participating schools in the conference. The Yellow Jackets, unlike the Bulldogs, would benefit from the war.

Georgia Tech had the Navy V-12 Program, as did other schools, whereas any student who signed up could remain in school and continue playing athletics. The University of Georgia did not have such a program. In addition, Tech had a Navy flight school which drew students, including football players, from other universities.

In 1943, not only did the Yellow Jackets return most of their team from the year before but, according to Dan Magill, a long-time member of UGA's athletics department, they were also joined by the captains of Alabama and Vanderbilt and other players from various schools.

Georgia Tech appeared to have an overwhelming advantage over Georgia and it was evident on the gridiron with a 48-0 victory in 1943 and 44-0 in 1944.

Soon after his hiring as publicity director of UGA football in 1948, Magill told Coach Butts he would no longer count the 1943 and 1944 games in the series record between Tech and Georgia. In the football records, Magill placed asterisks beside the two Bulldog losses because "those were not true Georgia Tech teams," Magill has told me and countless others.

"There's no question about it, there's no way they are true Georgia-Georgia Tech games," Magill said. "There's no question about that. [Georgia] had a freshman team."

This is where I am in disagreement and admittingly side with the enemy.

That freshman team for Georgia in 1943 reached as high as number 20 in the AP Poll during the season. The following year, going into the Georgia Tech game, the Bulldogs were actually seen as only a slight underdog; some even placed even odds on the game. I have the feeling if Georgia would have been victorious in one or both of the '43 and '44 games, they would be recognized today and there would be no asterisks.

Both the NCAA and SEC acknowledges the two games as losses for the Bulldogs. Actually, Georgia also recognizes the losses in its yearly results and all-time record, just not in its series with the Yellow Jackets.

Soon after the beginning of the controversy, few stood by Magill and the Georgia records on their viewpoint or took the stance very seriously.

Only three years following Magill's debatable decision, the Athens Banner-Herald recognized the '43 and '44 games, announcing the 1951 Tech-Georgia contest as the "46th Annual Battle," not the 44th. Six years later, Furman Bisher of The Atlanta Journal jokingly responded to Magill's statement of "Henceforth our records will refer to those 1943 and 1944 games as Georgia versus the Georgia Tech Navy" with:
That being the case, Louisiana State, Wake Forest and Daniel Field, three other teams that defeated Georgia those two years, are expected to be notified in due time that their victories have been revoked.
The fact of the matter is, although Georgia basically had an all-freshman team during those two seasons while Georgia Tech was supported by a Navy program and had a few players from other schools, Coach Butts had asked his team if they wanted to participate or not and they agreed to play the '43 season, including against Georgia Tech. They consented to do so knowing the situation and what the consequences might be.

"I asked [the 1943 team] frankly if they wanted to pay the price in defeats they'll have to take," said Butts.

There were very few "bona fide" college football teams in 1943 and 1944. If all of these teams were not "true" teams, are they suppose to revoke their results from those two years? If the Bulldogs were not a "true" team in '43 and '44, should they discount the 13 combined victories they accomplished those seasons?

In its early years, Georgia played several athletic clubs featuring former college players and even a preparatory school or two; all of these games are recognized in UGA football's yearly AND series results although they do not seem to be "true" opposition.

In 1907, Georgia played against Georgia Tech with at least four "ringers"--former collegiate or professional players from the North--who were paid for their services. Because of this illegal action, Georgia's head coach would be eventually banned from coaching in the South forever. The result of this game, a 10-6 Georgia loss, is acknowledged in UGA's yearly and series results.

In the first Tech-Georgia game of 1893, the Red and Black played a professionally paid trainer at halfback while three of Tech's five touchdowns were scored by a 28-year-old doctor in the U.S. Army. In addition, the umpire of the game, who made several controversial calls in favor of Georgia Tech, was the brother of Tech's trainer. This 28-6 Georgia Tech victory is also recognized by Georgia.

In support of identifying the 1943 and 1944 as "true" games, I believe author Bill Cromartie put it best in his book on the Georgia-Georgia Tech football rivalry, Clean Old-Fashioned Hate:
If the games are not official, then the University [of Georgia] boys who got their teeth kicked in (so to speak), played the games for nothing. They would, most likely, want them to count.
I know Dan Magill well. He is the greatest NCAA tennis coach of all time, the foremost knowledgeable historian of UGA sports, has probably done more for UGA athletics than anyone ever has, and is a wonderful and kind individual, to name a few. However, and I say this with the utmost respect, I totally disagree with his decision from more than 60 years ago regarding the 1943-44 Tech-Georgia games--a decision he still vehemently stands behind today.

During the time of Magill's 1948 ruling, unlike when I was growing up, no Georgia football fan felt sympathy for Georgia Tech, just dislike. I suspect part of the decision by "Dangerous Dan," as Bisher tagged him in 1957, was because of this hatred for Georgia's, at the time, chief rival.

Nevertheless, Magill's judgement and asterisks will remain in the UGA football record books forever, whether I, the Yellow Jacket faithful, or anyone else likes it or not. Personally, I have and can certainly continue to live with the UGA icon's decision, especially if Georgia Tech football continues to prosper while the Bulldogs continue to falter.

At this rate, Georgia could soon not afford the two series losses to, as Magill has labeled, "The Enternal Enemy."

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