December 31, 2016 will be a day for the Georgia Tech annals. The football team wins the TaxSlayer Bowl over Kentucky for just the 11th nine-win season since Bobby Dodd’s retirement after the 1966 season and the basketball team pulls a stunner with a 75-63 win over No. 9 North Carolina in the Jackets’ ACC opener. (You can read the coverage here, with basketball reporting from my esteemed colleague Matt Winkeljohn.)
Other days and games stand out on their own merits, but the combination made Saturday memorable in a different way.
How does it compare in Tech’s history? It’s difficult to measure, but I found five comparable days. For sake of simplicity and the reality that most Tech fans value two teams above others, I limited this to days when the football and men’s basketball teams both won. Judge for yourself.
Jan. 1, 1929
William Alexander’s football team beat California to win the Rose Bowl and a share of the national championship to finish the season 10-0 in the “Wrong Way Riegels” game. The Golden Tornado, champion of the Southern Conference, finished a season in which it defeated Alabama, Auburn and Georgia in successive games by a combined 104-19 by edging Cal 8-7. Stumpy Thomason’s third-quarter touchdown and the safety that followed Roy Riegels’ wrong-way run were enough for the victory.
Roy Mundorff’s basketball team edged Rome YMCA 37-33 to improve to 5-1. It’s unclear if Rome YMCA was ranked that year. It bears mention that Tech won on the road.
Dec. 29, 1956
On the same site and almost 60 years to the day of Saturday’s triumph, Bobby Dodd’s football team, ranked No. 4, defeated No. 13 Pittsburgh 21-14 in the Gator Bowl to finish 10-1. It was Dodd’s eighth consecutive bowl victory. Pitt outgained Tech 313-207 but the Jackets forced four turnovers. Quarterback Wade Mitchell was Tech’s MVP. Video evidence.
Coach Whack Hyder’s basketball team took care of Texas Tech 79-66 in a loser’s bracket game at the All-College Tournament in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Red Raiders were 12-11 that season and had made the NCAA tournament two out of the three previous years. The Jackets went on to an 18-8 season in the first season at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
Nov. 28, 1998
Coach George O’Leary’s football team, ranked No. 14, ended a seven-game losing streak No. 12 Georgia in Athens 21-19. Brad Chambers’ 35-yard field goal with two seconds left finished a comeback from a 19-7 deficit late in the third quarter. It was tasty payback after the Jackets had lost in the final seconds to Georgia a year earlier.
Tech defensive end Nate Stimson: “I hope they feel bad.”
Coach Bobby Cremins’ basketball team held off West Virginia 58-53 in a winner’s bracket game at the Big Island Invitational in Hilo, Hawaii, to improve to 4-0. Darryl LaBarrie, who was on the Tech bench Saturday as an assistant to Josh Pastner, made one of two free throws late to help seal the game. Jon Babul, who called Saturday’s game, also played. Tech went on to the NIT in Cremins’ penultimate season. The Mountaineers were not a team of consequence. They were 2-3 after the loss and finished 10-19.
Nov. 14, 2009
The No. 14 football team clinched the ACC Coastal title with a 49-10 win over Duke in Durham, N.C. It was Tech’s eighth win in a row. The Jackets won after spotting the Blue Devils a 10-0 lead. Orwin Smith’s 83-yard kickoff return spurred the comeback.
“We’re excited, ” coach Paul Johnson said. “A lot of people have doubted them along the way, especially early. And they’ve just been resilient. Sometimes it’s not pretty, and they do some dumb things. But the bottom line is they found a way to win.”
The basketball team, featuring freshman Derrick Favors and a highly-touted class that also included Mfon Udofia and Glen Rice Jr., opened the season at Alexander Memorial Coliseum with a 100-59 win over Florida A&M at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Favors scored 10.
Dec. 5, 2009
In one of the most memorable games in Tech football history, the No. 12 Jackets outlasted No. 25 Clemson to win its first ACC title since 1998 and third overall, winning 39-34. Neither team punted, and the Jackets overcame C.J. Spiller’s 233 rushing yards with 469 yards of total offense and two touchdowns by Jonathan Dwyer, the second of which gave Tech the lead with 1:20 to play. Derrick Morgan clinched the game with a 4th-and-2 sack in the final minute of play. The win sent Tech to the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1966.
Scott Blair made four field goals, which, until Saturday, was the only time a Johnson-coached Tech team had done that. Tech was later required to vacate the championship as a result of NCAA sanctions.
On the same night, the basketball team, now unranked after a loss to a Dayton team coached by Brian Gregory, hammered USC 79-53 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, scoring the first 19 points of the game. The Jackets improved to 6-1 on their most to an NCAA tournament appearance, to this point Tech’s most recent trip.
Could’ve been a contender
Nov. 30, 1985 could have taken the cake. Coach Bill Curry’s football team beat Georgia for the second year in a row (for the first time since 1969-70) by a 20-16 score, a game most remembered for Gary Lee’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on a fog-enshrouded night at Grant Field. Cremins’ basketball team, starring Mark Price, John Salley and Bruce Dalrymple, was ranked No. 2 nationally after winning the ACC and making the elite eight the previous season and faced No. 3 Michigan in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic, but lost 49-44 in Springfield, Mass. Tech led 25-17 at halftime but lost, shooting 29 percent to Michigan’s 31 percent. Cremins’ assessment: “We were horrible. I’m embarrassed.”
It’s difficult to measure. Saturday’s basketball win is clearly more significant than any of the other five; it was probably the most surprising of any of the 10 wins in either football or basketball. It’s what made Saturday more memorable. It wasn’t that “Oh, the basketball team won, too,” which is what the other five days appear to be.
However, the import of the football team’s TaxSlayer Bowl win comes up short next to at least four, and probably all five. (The one debatable to me being the Coastal-clinching win over Duke, although I’d go with a game that clinched a spot in the ACC title game. Beating a seven-win team in a bowl game is not quite the same as earning the chance to go to the Orange Bowl.)
To me, though, the football games, being at the end of the season, carry more weight than the basketball games. To that end, in terms of importance, it’s hard to surpass any day that the football team wins a national championship.
That said, as noted previously, what made Saturday different was that it was meaningful and memorable wins by both teams, not just one. So, while I want to discount for recency effect, as far as the excitement and good feeling generated by both teams goes, though, maybe Saturday was the topper.