When Mark Stoops’ Kentucky Wildcats take on Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl, the two programs will look much different than they did the last time they met 56 years ago on September 18, 1960.
The two teams first played in 1923, finishing in a 3-3 tie in Atlanta. Nine years later, Tech and Kentucky became two of the SEC’s 13 founding members. The teams started a regular series that year, with Kentucky winning the first two matchups, until a hiatus during World War II.
By 1960, a decade of excellence ended with Blanton Collier on the Kentucky sideline. Collier achieved moderate success with only two losing seasons in his tenure, but could never live up to the lofty expectations set by Bear Bryant.
Before they built a stadium bearing name, Bobby Dodd’s Wramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech raised plenty of heck in the SEC. The Engineers were consistently at the top of the SEC, bolstering winning records over Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, and their rival Georgia.
The battles between Bobby Dodd and Bear Bryant started at Kentucky and ended in disaster in 1964.
Battles Between Bobby and the Bear
Two legends of college football were new to head coaching when they first met in 1950. Little did they know this meeting would start a lasting rivalry.
In The Courier-Journal’s Sunday edition from October 29, 1950, legendary UK beat reporter Larry Boeck described the game between UK and Georgia Tech as a “rip-snorter.” If you don’t know what that means, it’s a “commendable, top-notch effort” from both sides.
Undefeated Kentucky hadn’t given up more than one score in a game all season when they traveled to Atlanta, but the Engineers were on the board early after Kentucky fumbled the ball on their own 28. The Cats trailed after one quarter, but that would not last.
All-American Bob Gain pulled the rug from beneath Georgia Tech’s feet. Early in the second quarter, Tech lined up to punt. “Gain, charging with ruthless desperation, blocked a Tech punt and recovered the ball on the Engineer 17,” Boeck reported. “Clayton Webb cracked over from the seven for the first Wildcat score.” Gain kicked the extra point following the touchdown.
With Tech now on their heels, Bear Bryant put the game in quarterback Babe Parilli’s hands. The Cats entered spread formations, uncommon for the time, and began throwing the ball frequently, “as if it were in a basketball game.” Frequently for 1950 was 18 passes, 12 of which were completed for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The spread wasn’t the only trick the Bear had up his sleeve. He also ran a Statue of Liberty play to Shorty Jamerson, although it wasn’t his biggest play of the day. Jamerson’s 3rd quarter 54-yard touchdown run put the game out of reach. Tech would score once more for a final score of 28-14. The only other team to score more than once on Kentucky in 1950 was Mississippi State, who posted 21 two weeks later.
Kentucky finished the season with a 7-0 loss to No. 9 Tennessee in arctic conditions on Rocky Top. Bryant’s Wildcats would defeat No. 1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl to cap off the greatest season in school history. Dodd’s Engineers were 4-2 in the SEC, but just 5-6 overall.
These were state-of-the-art graphics at the time, the largest piece on the front of The C-J’s “World of Sports.” The picture above is of Kentucky’s first touchdown in 1950; the picture below is from their last matchup in 1960.
Two interesting bits from the 1950 paper: Louisville lost their homecoming game to Duquesne at Manual Stadium. On the paper’s front page, President Eisenhower ordered an amphibious landing of 27,000 troops in Korea.
Kentucky was struggling to duplicate their success at the start of the 1951 season. Without All-American Bob Gain, No. 6 Kentucky lost on the road to No. 11 Texas in the second game of the season, and at Ole Miss in the next leading into a battle at home against No. 11 Georgia Tech. Larry Boeck’s spectacular lede:
“Throw another log on the fire, Kentucky fans, and board up the hen-house. It might be a long, hard winter.”
Dodd’s Engineers played spectacular, but something was off with Kentucky. After scoring in just nine plays on their first drive, thanks largely in part to a 68-yard gain by Johnny Hicks, Kentucky was held scoreless. Still, the Wildcats had a 7-6 lead with about ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, when one play decided the game.
On a fourth and two in their own territory, Parilli gambled. The Wildcats went for it, gained about a yard, but were stopped just short on “a play that will long be debated and wondered about.” Fans booed the spot of the ball, believing Kentucky got enough for the first down. Instead, it was Georgia Tech’s ball, the first of many controversial calls.
The Engineers took the lead shortly after, thanks to three penalties that incited more boos from the crowd, yet Kentucky still had a chance to win. They moved efficiently, making it near midfield, ““But up popped that ol’ Kentucky Bugaboo — fumilitis.” Rip-snorter is a fantastic 50’s phrase, but fumilitis takes the cake (doesn’t fumblitis make more sense?).
Dodd’s Engineers won by a final score of 13-7, paving the way to an SEC Co-Championship and a 17-14 Orange Bowl victory over Baylor. The following year, Georgia Tech went undefeated, capped off with a Sugar Bowl victory and a National Championship.
Even though Boeck thought all hope was lost for Wildcat fans, Parilli led Kentucky to seven consecutive victories before falling in the season finale to No. 1 Tennessee. Bear’s 17th-ranked Wildcats were invited to the Cotton Bowl, beating finally beating a No. 11 with a 20-7 win over TCU. Two seasons later, Bryant left Kentucky for Texas A&M.
What was happening around the world the last time these two played…
- Cassius Clay wins the heavyweight boxing Gold Medal in Rome.
- Sprite is introduced by Coca-Cola.
- A sweaty Richard Nixon doesn’t look so good in a TV debate with John F. Kennedy.
- Bert T. Combs replaces Happy Chandler as the Governor of Kentucky.
- America meets The Flintstones for the first time.
- The World Series ends with a walk-off homerun by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski. The Game 7 walk-off slam vs. the Yankess is still the only walk-off homerun to ever end a World Series.
- Adolph Rupp signs future three-time All-American Cotton Nash to play for Kentucky.
- The Number One song in America is lyric-less, Percy Faith’s “Theme from a Summer Place.” Three other timeless soulful classics are released: Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World,” Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” and Ray Charles records what would become the state song of Georgia, “Georgia on My Mind.”
- Elvis Presley returns from military service.
- Venetian Way wins the 86th running of the Kentucky Derby.
- Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho becomes an instant classic. John Wayne stars and directs The Alamo. Also released in 1960: Spartacus, The Magnificent Seven and Ocean’s 11.
- Construction begins on the Sherman Minton Bridge from Louisville to New Albany, Indiana.
The Final Bout
Replacing Bear Bryant was no small task, but Kentucky found the right guy on Paul Brown’s coaching staff, Blanton Collier. Collier would one day lead the Cleveland Browns to an NFL Championship, but the Paris, Ky. native got his first crack at head coaching at the University of Kentucky. In his first year Collier was named SEC Coach of the Year, leading UK to a 7-3 record, 5-2 in the SEC.
After ’54, Collier struggled to produce consistent winners. The Cats flirted around the .500 line. As the decade came to a close, the Kentucky football program was descending past its peak. The state of the program is reflective of Boeck’s reporting from the 1960 game against Tech in Atlanta.
Kentucky lost to Dodd’s Engineers 23-13. It was 23-0 when third string quarterback Jerry Woolum entered the game.
“The Richmond, Ky. youngster, a Courier-Journal All-Stater in high school but overlooked in the Southeastern Conference as a soph prospect to watch, saved the outclassed Wildcasts from utter humiliation. A third-stringer, Woolum quarterbacked a Kentucky that was behind 23-0 to two touchdowns in the final four minutes of play.”
Woolum accounted for 190 yards in the final 9:39 in the game, compared to the 36 Kentucky accounted for in the first half. “We shot a scared stick in the first half,” Collier said. Collier’s Cats finished the 1960 season 5-4-1. A year later, he left his old Kentucky home to return to Paul Brown’s staff in Cleveland.
The win gave Dodd a 5-3 record over Kentucky, winning their final two meetings. Dodd’s 1960 team finished just 5-5, but he would take the Engineers bowling in the following two seasons. Dodd still had plenty of good coaching ahead of him, but in the process he would make one grave mistake.
Tech Leaves the SEC
After the 1964 season, Dodd wished to reform the SEC. At the time, the SEC instituted a 140 Rule for recruiting players.
“SEC schools – there were 12, Tulane included – were allowed 140 scholarships for football and men’s basketball; football programs were allowed to sign as many 45 recruits per season,” according to Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Tech coach Bobby Dodd believed that other teams were overrecruiting, pushing aside underperforming players to clear scholarship space for newer ones.”
If a player didn’t work out, Dodd didn’t want the blame to fall on the player. He believed it should fall on the coach.
“That was an obsession with Coach Dodd,” said future Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky head coach Bill Curry. “I didn’t play very much my first two seasons. I was one of those he could have run off.”
The 140 Rule was brought up for a vote in the 1963 SEC Winter Meetings in Atlanta. Dodd campaigned rigorously to other coaches and athletic directors. What was once considered a longshot, Dodd believed he could whip enough votes, but it all depended on one person: Bear Bryant.
The familiar foes had tenuous relationship that culminated in a 1961 matchup with the Crimson Tide. Tech’s star running back Chick Graning let his guard down once a fair catch was called on a punt. When he wasn’t looking, Graning received a vicious elbow to the face, knocking him unconscious and eventually ending his football career. Following the game, Dodd asked Bear to suspend the player for the cheap shot. The Bear ignored Dodd, pitting the two at odds.
Dodd needed the Bear’s help to swing the votes against the 140 Rule. This time Bryant promised to put their differences aside and vote to change the rule…except he was not in Atlanta to cast a vote. Instead, Alabama President Frank Rose voted to keep the 140 Rule, creating a 6-6 tie and leaving the rule in place.
Curry, a junior at Tech at the time, relayed the message Dodd had for his team following the vote. “Coach Dodd met with us afterward and told us it was about that rule. It wasn’t just a moral thing. Coach Dodd believed he was being put at a competitive disadvantage (because others would oversign and Tech refused).”
On January 24, 1964 the Wramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech announced it would leave the SEC.
Even though they only played 19 times, players and coaches on each sideline left an eternal impact on the other. The first significant success in Bear Bryant’s career came at the hands of Dodd, who Bryant would eventually run out of the SEC with a future Kentucky head coach on Georgia Tech’s roster.
When the two foes meet on New Year’s Eve, history will be insignificant. These players plan on making an impactful history of their own.
This post would not be possible without the timeless reporting from The Courier-Journal and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.