Separated by 70 miles of interstate between Atlanta and Athens, Georgia, and founded 100 years apart, The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and the University of Georgia (UGA) have been rivals since 1893 in more than just football. Competing for everything in the state of Georgia, from potential students and fans to government grants and academic recognition (Georgia Tech is an engineering research university while UGA is a liberal art research university). However, it is on the gridiron that this rivalry excels.
The dislike that these two schools have for each other probably started right after the Civil War when it was decided that a new technological school should be founded. Then UGA president Patrick Mell attempted to convince legislators that the new school should be located by Georgia’s main campus in Athens. Despite his efforts, The Georgia Institute of Technology was established near the city limits of Atlanta in 1885.
It didn’t take long for the first hostilities to begin only a few years later, in 1891 over, of all things, the school colors. UGA’s school magazine declared the school colors to be gold, black and crimson. Georgia’s football coach felt that gold was too close to yellow, which he felt symbolized cowardice. However, that same year, the Tech student body voted white and gold as the official school colors. In their first-ever football game against Auburn, Tech would use gold on their football uniforms. Some felt like a slap in the face of Georgia. After Tech defeated Georgia in their first football game, two years later, gold was forever removed from Georgia’s school colors.
That first fateful game took place in Athens on November 4, 1893, with Georgia Tech, then known as the Blacksmiths, winning by 28 – 6. But it was who scored those 4 touchdowns that sparked the rivalry. Leonard Wood was a 33-year-old US Army Physician officially registered as a Georgia Tech student only a few days before the game. However, being a full-time student, he was eligible to play. This fact upset Georgia fans since during and after the game, they hurled rocks debris at all the Tech players. The next day an article in the Atlanta Journal by an Athens sports writer mocked that Tech’s football team was nothing more than a collection of Atlanta residents with a few students thrown in.
A rivalry was born.
For the next several years, Georgia Tech’s football program would perform very poorly. As a result, they decided to hire a new coach from another rival school, Clemson. In 1904, John Heisman was paid $2,250 and 30% of attendance fees to be Georgia Tech’s football and baseball coach. (NOTE: after retiring from coaching football in 1927, he became of the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan in 1935. After he died in 1936, the club’s trophy for the best collegiate football player has renamed the Heisman Trophy). Heisman immediately turned Tech’s football program around, going 8-1-1 in his first year. By 1908, Georgia alumni had Tech’s recruiting tactics investigated by the SIAA (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association). The accusations were unproven, and the SIAA later ruled in favor of Tech. In his 16 seasons at Georgia Tech, Heisman led the Golden Tornado (as Tech was known) to three undefeated seasons, including a 32 game winning streak and an all-important 23 – 6 victory over Georgia. Heisman also led Tech to the highest-scoring football game ever played with a 222 – 0 win over a totally outmanned Cumberland State in 1916 (too bad it wasn’t Georgia!).