The last game of the first full weekend of the 2017 college football season might get overlooked among the 87 contests scheduled over the long holiday weekend. It should not.
On Labor Day night in Atlanta, Tennessee and Georgia Tech meet for the first time in 30 years. That drought need not diminish what once was one of the South’s best rivalries.
The schools first played in 1902, just eight years after then-President Grover Cleveland signed legislation marking the first Monday in September as a holiday honoring American workers. For most of us, Labor Day probably more accurately celebrates the end of summer and the start of football Saturdays running through Thanksgiving.
The Volunteers and Yellow Jackets played eight games between 1902 and 1911, then 35 more times from 1946-87, including some tremendous struggles during the halcyon days of the programs in the 1950s. Tennessee leads the series 24-17-2.
Both are steeped in college football lore, as some of the game’s most historic names have graced the series. Coaches John Heisman and Bobby Dodd of the Yellow Jackets, and the peerless Gen. Robert Neyland of the Volunteers rate among the sport’s giants.
Tennessee’s Johnny Majors, Doug Dickey and Bowden Wyatt, and Tech’s Pepper Rodgers, Bobby Ross and Bill Curry rank a rung or so down the ladder, but are notable nonetheless.
The lists of distinguished players from each squad are similarly crowded.
On The Flats in Atlanta, Frank Broyles, Clint Castleberry, Joe Guyon, Smylie Gebhart, Joe Hamilton, Eddie Lee Ivery, Calvin Johnson, Billy Lothridge, Eddie McAshan and Rock Perdoni have donned Old Gold and White. On Rocky Top in Knoxville, Doug Atkins, George Cafego, Beattie Feathers, Condredge Holloway, Steve Kiner, Hank Lauricella, Peyton Manning, Gene McEver and Reggie White have pulled on the Orange and White.
Even the announcing booths housed legends, most famously with Al Ciraldo of Tech and John Ward (“Give him six!”) of Tennessee.
The football lineage of the Vols and Jackets are most directly linked through their greatest coaches.
During his 21-year reign on Rocky Top, a span twice interrupted by military service, Neyland went 173-31-12, with a national championship in 1951 and some pre-polling claims in 1938, ’40 and ’50.
One of Neyland’s favorite players was Bobby Dodd, who played quarterback at Tennessee from 1928-30, helping the Vols compile a 27-1-2 mark during those years. In 1930, Dodd accepted a position on the staff of Bill Alexander (another of Tech’s legendary coaches), and remained as his top assistant until taking over as coach in 1945.
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