In the spring of 1964, the new regime at Georgia was busy preparing for its first football season.
Spring practice had been completed and the staff was touring the state for Bulldog Club meetings, organized by the incomparable Dan Magill.
In May, there would be the spring meetings of the member institutions of the Southeastern Conference. Most often at those meetings, there were morning sessions in which there was more convivial conversation than decision making. Everybody played golf in the afternoon and swapped small talk at the evening cocktail hour and dinner. Officials of the league’s members might argue and fret on Saturday but for the most part they were civil and compatible.
Along about that time, there was a move to hire a publicity director. One athletic director said, and not in jest, “We gotta have a PR guy. Too much stuff is getting in the papers.”
He was, as I recall, chagrined initially by the media, but he may have been concerned that too much of the news about Georgia Tech considering a plan to leave the conference was being published amid a plethora of leaks and unofficial comments about Tech’s plan.
When the dust settled, Tech did leave the conference. Several schools wanted Tech to remain and lobbied to school officials to keep its membership in the league. Some, like the Mississippi schools, were offended with Tech’s stance which smacked of a holier-than-thou attitude toward those schools.
If you recall, 1966 was the year when the Braves’ move to Atlanta became legal. The new owners announced plans to move in 1965, but a binding contract with the city of Milwaukee forced them to remain in Brew City for another year.
About this time, the National Football League, under the leadership of Commissioner Pete Rozelle, converged on city officials. Gov. Carl Sanders brokered a deal with his UGA fraternity brother, Rankin Smith, who was the principal owner of the Life of Georgia Insurance company to became the franchise owner of the newest NFL team. Rankin named his team, “Atlanta Falcons.”
History suggests that professional sports would be a piercing blow for Georgia Tech football. If you evaluate the status of college teams in major cities, you conclude that as popular as college football is, it has flourished pretty much in the last 4-5 decades in only one major city — Los Angeles. At the moment, Southern California and UCLA are struggling.
Pittsburgh, Houston and Dallas, once home to outstanding college teams, see their college teams struggling with poor attendance which has been the case for years. Minnesota is a latent success story in Minneapolis, but based on tradition is likely to be an anomaly. The University of Washington in Seattle has done the best over the years — other than the years when Southern Cal has been dominant in West Coast competition.
As soon as Georgia Tech officials realized the mistake of leaving the SEC, they couldn’t wait to return to conference membership and joined the Metro Conference and subsequently upgraded to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1983.
What would the story have been if Tech had never left the SEC? The Southeastern Conference has gone all out to make Atlanta an SEC city. Playing the conference championship game at the Mercedes Benz Stadium and the Georgia Dome before has not only put money in the offers of the SEC teams, it has elevated the image of the league which, under Commissioner Greg Sankey, wants to promote basketball as well as football.
It is not difficult to make the assessment that membership in the SEC has meant both survival and a significant upgrade of financial resources to enable the better teams in the league compete for national championships.
Since Georgia Tech withdrew from the SEC, the Bulldogs and the Jackets have met 55 times with Georgia holding a 41-14 edge. All the while, SEC related dollars have enabled Georgia, along with a generous helping of alumni contributions, to develop one of the finest athletic physical plants in the league with more upgrades and expansions on the drawing board.
Nobody wants to tinker with the rivalry which was best described by the late Bill Cromartie, who wrote a book on the rivalry, “Clean Old Fashioned Hate.” That would be apropos. The rivalry is intense, but it has not become bitter such as what takes place with our neighbors to the West, Auburn and Alabama.
Alumni of both schools interact on a daily basis throughout the city of Atlanta — from business to social settings to friendly games of golf. They will draw swords this weekend, however. The heat of the rivalry still exists.