By Sam Blackman
It’s only appropriate that the Tigers and Georgia Tech are meeting on Hall of Fame day at Clemson. The long time rivals have played many memorable contests involving so many great athletes through the years, and the game with Georgia Tech on Saturday will probably be no different.
The series with Georgia Tech got off to a colorful start with two Thanksgiving Day games and later games involving legendary Coach John Heisman. Heisman served as the head coach at both schools, Clemson in 1900-1903 and Georgia Tech in 1904-1919. With his winning record and innovations, it’s only appropriate that the trophy going to the best college football player annually is named after him.
In the first two meetings with Georgia Tech, the games were played at neutral sites. In 1898, the first ever game between the two schools was played in Augusta, GA on Thanksgiving day with Clemson winning 23-0. In this first game, the Tigers made a miraculous goal line stand. With Georgia Tech only six inches from the Tigers’ goal line, the Clemson men stopped the Yellow Jackets. This changed the momentum of the game and Clemson dominated the rest of the game.
In 1899, Clemson and Georgia Tech met in Greenville, SC on Thanksgiving Day and the Tigers were victorious 41-5. An interesting trick play was used in this game as Clemson’s W.C. Forsythe faked an end run with his head gear tucked under his arm, and while the whole Tech team pursued him, M.N Hunter ran 40 yards down the sidelines alone and untouched to pay dirt.
The Famous “Trick of All Tricks” Played on Georgia Tech
In 1902 the Clemson-Tech game was an important contest in Clemson history because it was probably the first Clemson football story to be printed coast to coast in detail, as it made the Associated Press feature wires.
During the week before the game, Heisman gathered some willing Clemson cadets and reserves and sent them into Atlanta to enjoy the big city, to have a grand time and pose as the Clemson Tiger football team. Many Tech supporters saw the imposter Clemson team arriving at the train station Friday afternoon and were surprised by the Tigers’ friendliness to the opposition and willingness to celebrate and “live it up” the day before the game.
As soon as they checked into their quarters, the Clemson cadets posing as the Tiger football team started hitting the Atlanta nightspots to have a big Friday pregame party. After some preliminary parties, Tech fans began helping the Tigers celebrate by buying them mugs of beer and supplying dancing partners. The Tech fans, after helping the Tigers have a great time in the wee hours of the night, started making large wagers on the Yellow Jackets as quickly as they found people willing to bet. After all, nobody could play football after a night on the town like those assumed Clemson football players had spent!
The cadets followed Heisman’s instructions to the letter, “Be sure to enjoy yourself so the Tech team can’t help hearing about it.” The Georgia Tech officials saw the happy Clemson “football players” on Friday night. Word traveled quickly to the Georgia Tech football team and the Yellow Jackets were confident of an easy victory. “At last, we will defeat Heisman and his Clemson Tigers,” they must have thought.
On game day, Heisman arrived in Atlanta with the real Clemson Tiger football team. They had spent the night in Lula, Ga., a small railroad stop just a few miles north of Atlanta, and had a very restful night. The “real” Clemson football team had a really easy day by disposing of the stunned Yellow Jackets, 44-5. The Georgia Tech fans and supporters, along with their wallets, were also stunned as well.
(The 1903 Clemson football team is pictured below. John Heisman is on back row second from left. Walter M. Riggs is on back row on the far right.)
Plenty of Apples in Tigertown
When you think of rivalries in the south, the Clemson-South Carolina series comes to mind, but the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry is a bitter one too.
In the 1903 campaign, Clemson defeated the Georgia Bulldogs 29-0. The Tigers and the Bulldogs then became fast friends. The victims of the defeat made an agreement with Clemson after their game that year, offering the Tigers a bushel of apples for every point that Clemson would score above the 29 that Clemson had scored against Georgia.
The Tigers didn’t disappoint their Athens Allies.
The Tigers piled up a record 660 yards of offense on 55 carries while Georgia Tech rushed for only 28 yards on 35 carries in route to a 73-0 score in favor of Clemson.
Needless to say, there were plenty of apples at Tigertown that winter for the Clemson cadets to enjoy, 44 bushels of wine saps.
In the 1902 Clemson-Georgia Tech game Vet Sitton had such a great game at his end position, that the Yellow Jacket players thought that Sitton was the whole Clemson team. On hearing that Sitton was injured and would not in able to play for the Tigers in the 1903 Clemson-Georgia Tech game, Yellow Jacket fans starting to bet against Clemson.
Some however used caution remembering what happened the year before. What is Heisman up to this time? This was a question on a lot of people were asking. They said Sitton may be in Lula, GA and would be in Atlanta before game time. When assured that Sitton was really out of the picture, their courage returned and people bet heavily on Tech.
What they did not know was that Gil Ellison, a substitute end, was a great player. Although not as fast as Sitton, he was large and strong and could block and break up end runs on defense. He must have had a great game with the 73-0 rout of Georgia Tech.
An interesting note on Vet Sitton is that he was a great baseball pitcher for Heisman’s baseball teams at Clemson. He had an 18-4 career record for the Tigers and played professionally with the Cleveland Indians.
The Atlanta Series
In the previous 80 meetings between Clemson and Georgia Tech all but 21 of those games have been played in Atlanta. Probably the reason is that being in a large city, more people would attend and this would mean more money for both schools. Long time Clemson Head Coach Frank Howard commented on their trips to Atlanta in a previous interview.
“I appreciated the treatment on the gate receipts when we went to Atlanta. It was better than going to a bowl game. I used to tell people I laughed all the way to the bank. We needed the money for our program and this money really helped us. But our record against Tech certainly would have been better if we had played a few more in the Valley,” said Howard.
The first time Georgia Tech played at Clemson was in 1974. The Tigers were victorious 21-17 in a classic. The 1977 game in Atlanta was to be the last in the series because of a disagreement between the two schools. Clemson wanted a home and away series with the Yellow Jackets, but Tech wanted to play in Atlanta every year. This disagreement even brought the Presidents of both schools, Dr. R.C. Edwards of Clemson and Dr. Joseph Pettit of Tech, to discuss this difference in scheduling. But even the two high officials could not find a solution so the series was cancelled.
However Georgia Tech joined the ACC in 1978 and the two schools began playing a home and away series in 1983, and have played every season since.
It’s been almost 117 years since the first Clemson-Georgia Tech football game. Since that time the series between the two schools has developed into one of the best in the South and the stories at the beginning of the series are some of the most unique anywhere.
May 16, 2021