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Technical Knockout

Georgia Tech Football Is a Unique Experience

(This story was published in 2003).

By: Todd Heustess

Sine, Sine, Cosine, Sine, 3 point one four one five nine!!

That has to be one of my favorite college cheers, courtesy of the Georgia Institute of Technology or Georgia Tech, as it’s better known to sports fans. The student section at Tech used to do that cheer at football games, at least the ones I attended in Atlanta in the late '80’s and early '90’s. I’m sad to report that at the Georgia Tech-Auburn game that I attended in September, the student section did not cheer their ode to ∏ but nonetheless it was an enjoyable college football experience as the Yellow Jackets--huge underdogs--shocked highly favored Auburn, 17-3, setting off a celebration that rocked the Tech campus and brought down not one, but two goal posts.

With the academic focus on engineering and computer science, a relatively small student population, and small alumni base, Georgia Tech is a perennial underdog surrounded by SEC and ACC behemoths Florida State, Clemson, Georgia, Auburn and Florida. Atlanta is definitely a college town, an urban magnet for graduates from all the schools in the surrounding states, but it’s difficult to find a lot of Tech alumni in the area. The Yellow Jackets seem to draw on support from the casual Atlanta sports fan as much as they do from their students and alumni, and I think that’s one reason I’ve always enjoyed going to games there and pulling for the Jackets. Unless they’re playing Wake Forest or Duke, or a non-ACC patsy, Tech is usually the underdog in their own stadium so every victory feels big and appreciated. Certainly Tech has had some good teams, and they own a national championship from 1990 (which they shared) but there’s always a sense that a win on their home field is worth celebrating and it makes for a fun college football atmosphere.

In the game against Auburn, Tech debuted the newly renovated Bobby Dodd stadium, which sits right in the heart of not only the Tech campus in Midtown Atlanta, but in the center of Atlanta itself, bordered by dorms, the Olympic Village and the I-75/85 interstate that runs north-south through Atlanta. The historic stadium built in 1913 and now with a seating capacity of 55,000 (a 9,000 increase), feels as though it has been squeezed right into the middle of Tech and Atlanta. There’s no spare real estate around it, which of course means parking is a nightmare. However, when you’re sitting in the stadium, looking up and around at the skyscrapers that dot the Midtown Atlanta landscape, you appreciate how unique of a setting it is for a college football game.

And because of the urban setting, the tailgate scene is quite different from many other southern football schools. For starters you could take rapid transit to the game via MARTA, the “subway” system of Atlanta. It’s probably a better bet anyway, since there are precious few parking spaces to be had in the vicinity of the stadium. Many of Tech’s fraternity houses are on or around Techwood Drive, the street that borders the east side of the stadium. The fraternity houses’ front lawns are the scenes of raucous tailgating parties and as you walk up Techwood Drive through the campus to the stadium it feels like a giant street party with everyone drinking their beer or cocktail of choice and having a great time, not just on the front lawns of the fraternities, but in front of all the on-campus housing near the stadium.

There’s a lot of grilling and cooking out in the various parking lots around the campus, which is where many of the alumni seem to tailgate. Kegs are everywhere and so is bourbon. As with many Southern universities, the fraternity and sorority students dress up for the game, with the guys wearing ties, dress shirts and khakis. Of course the majority of the students are in T-shirts and shorts or jeans, depending on the weather.

The game against Auburn was typical of the atmosphere surrounding the campus and the stadium for big games. It was a sellout crowd of over 55,000, but anywhere from 15,000-20,000 were orange-clad Auburn fans. In fact the new upper deck that was just added to the North end zone, looked like a giant pumpkin as many of the Auburn fans were sitting there. When Tech sells out a game at Bobby Dodd, it is usually as a result of a large visiting fan contingent from schools like Auburn, or Clemson, or Florida State, and especially against their archrival Georgia, when nearly half the stadium can be red-clad Bulldog fans. All these schools have larger alumni bases in Atlanta than Tech does (or so it appears) and many of the big-name schools that Tech plays have loyal fans that travel with their teams so a large crowd at the old stadium usually means a lot of the opposing team’s fans are there, which just adds to the general perception that Tech will be the underdog in the game. This also means that in general, Tech fans don’t take the games as seriously as fans of surrounding SEC and ACC schools do, which adds to the upbeat, “let’s enjoy the party” atmosphere that permeates the campus and stadium before and during games.

However, when the Tech students and fans sense that victory is within their grasp, they do turn up the volume and provide home-field advantage to the Jackets. As the game against Auburn progressed, it not only became apparent that the Jackets were capable of pulling off the upset, but that the Ramblin’ Wreck (Tech like Auburn has two nicknames) was actually the better team. In the third quarter, when the Tech band played the infamous “Budweiser” cheer the entire stadium seemed to be moving up and down in unison with the excited fans. Heck even the Auburn fans joined it. At least once or twice a game, the Tech band plays the Budweiser song, with the students and fans singing along and moving up and down in unison, making the stadium appear to be a giant wobbly beehive of activity. At the end of the song, everyone yells out the refrain, “When You Say Budweiser, You’ve Said it All!” and even the visiting team’s fans join in when they realize what’s going on.

As the clock wound down, the Tech fans began celebrating one of their biggest victories in years. At the end of the game, the students rushed the field and tore down both goalposts and somehow managed to get both goalposts out of the stadium and paraded them down Techwood Drive towards fraternity row. I remembered thinking that there’s no way they could get the goalposts out of the stadium. Then I realized that these were a bunch of engineering students (surprisingly cute ones, too). They probably had a harder time concealing their flasks of bourbon in their khakis than getting the goalposts out of the stadium. Go Tech!