Georgia Tech vs. Tulane at Yulman Stadium. How fitting is that?
The Green Wave opens college football’s newest arena against not only one of Tulane’s most storied opponents, but the one who has played on the oldest site in the sport. The Yellow Jackets have played their home games at Grant Field since 1913, the longest tenure at one venue in what we now call FBS football.
The baptism of Yulman Stadium on Saturday is just one of a series of ties that have bound the ancient rivals that so resemble each other, since they started playing one another 98 years ago, in 1916 — the same year Tech recorded the most-lopsided score in football history, 222-0 against Cumberland College.
That year, the first in which the Golden Tornado and Greenbacks (then the nicknames of the schools) played, coach John Heisman had no pity on Tulane either. Five minutes into it, Everett Stupper, who a season later would become one of Tech’s first two All-Americans, ran a punt back 75 yards to ignite a 45-0 Tech victory.
That game made Tech a benchmark for Tulane. Tech has more victories against the Green Wave (35-13-0) than any opponent other than the Wave’s oldest rivals: LSU (69-22-7) and Ole Miss (42-29-0), though the Greenies have certainly gotten their own licks in.
That aside, there are more similarities than disparities between the schools: Both are considered high academic institutions; both are located in urban settings; and both programs have followed similar paths.
A shared history
Consider the curiosity that both have been charter members — or among the earliest entrants — together in four conferences. Tulane and Georgia Tech were among the first to join the first football league below the Mason-Dixon line, the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association, in 1894, a loose confederation that would eventually encompass an unwieldy 27 schools.
After splitting off, the Golden Tornado entered a rival league made up of a more workable 14 schools in 1921, the Southern Conference. Tulane followed in 1922 when membership swelled to 20.
They were both then in the vanguard of programs to join the Southeastern Conference in 1932. And they both left the SEC within two years of each other three decades later to compete as independents. Tech departed the SEC in 1964 (ostensibly in opposition to the “over-signing’’ of football recruits so as to keep prospects from playing against them later), and Tulane in 1966 (ostensibly to play a national schedule against schools with similar entrance standards – and more importantly, according to the late Rix Yard, Tulane athletic director at the time, simply to lighten the schedule to give the Green Wave a reasonable chance against its opposition).
A decade later, both became charter members of the basketball league Metro Conference in 1975, which morphed into the all sports Conference-USA. Tech left in 1978 to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, where it still resides. Tulane joined the American Athletic Conference this year.
For all their meanderings, Tech and Tulane have each enjoyed success. The Yellow Jackets have won 15 championships in four leagues. The Green Wave has won nine titles in four conferences.
The schools once shared the same throne. In 1939, Tech, Tennessee and Tulane were tri-champions of the SEC, each unbeaten in the league (a not uncommon occurrence when the vague SEC rules of the day let each school make their own schedules, with a minimum of five conference games). Both Tennessee and Georgia Tech were 6-0-0 while Tulane was 5-0-0 – one fewer conference game, a fact noted by some observers, and detractors, of the day.
It was left for wire service voters to sort things out. Tennessee (10-1-0) finished the season ranked No. 2, Georgia Tech (8-2-0) was 16th, and Tulane (8-1-1) was No. 5 — the highest ranking the Green Wave ever achieved in the AP poll.
Tech coaches migrate to Tulane
The model for present-day Tulane athletics comes with a definite Georgia Tech flavor. Three of the more prominent Green Wave coaches of recent times matriculated from Peach Tree Street to Willow Street, near Tulane’s sports headquarters.
Basketball coach Perry Clark (1989), who guided Tulane from its notorious point-shaving embarrassment to three NCAA tournament appearances, was named National Coach of the Year once and Conference Coach of the Year twice.
The recently retired baseball coach Rick Jones (1993) coached Tulane to 818 victories and two College World Series appearances.
And Lisa Stockton (1994) coached the Green Wave women to 14 basketball postseason berths.
There was a reason for these hires — and their successes.
Clark put it succinctly when he said Georgia Tech was “like boot camp’’ in preparing for Tulane.
“Both are academically driven,’’ he said, “and neither depends solely on student bodies from their home states. Tech draws a lot of kids from outside of Georgia, and Tulane pulls in students from away from Louisiana.’’
Jones said: “Georgia Tech is a state school, and Tulane is private. But they are like-institutions academically, and both are in metropolitan areas. They both have to recruit nationally, and they both have to overcome obstacles other schools do not. As an assistant at Georgia Tech, I had to market, promote, and fund-raise, just like a place like Tulane has to do. But (Georgia Tech) coach Jim Morris and (Athletic Director) Homer Rice gave me a lot of responsibility and leeway. So when I was hired at Tulane, I was able to hit the ground running., up-grading camps, trade-outs with sponsors (to save money).
“I was also a recruiter. And when I left Georgia Tech, they were No. 1 in the country, and I recruited that team. That gave me credibility with the Tulane fan base, with them realizing I could bring in not only promising prospects but kids that fit in at Tulane.’’
Stockton agreed: “You always want to know what are your chances for success. We have to reach a long way sometimes to get the kind of kid that can make it on the court and in the classroom. When I was offered the position at Tulane, I looked at Tech as a guidepost.
“Bobby Ross had just won a national championship in football (1990) , and Bobby Cremins had just taken the Yellow Jackets to the Final Four (1992). So we knew it could be done by schools like ours. Tech sort of prepared me for Tulane.’’
In the near-century they’ve played, Georgia Tech and Tulane have rubbed each other’s nose guards in the gridiron.
High on the list for the Yellow Jackets is this tidbit: Eight times since 1960, Georgia Tech has scored two or more defensive touchdowns – and three were against Tulane.
The unkindest cut of all came in 1970 when a fumble return and an interception return went for touchdowns in the closing minutes of the game at Grant Field.
The Green Wave was locked in a scoreless tie at the Tech 39 with 12:20 left in the final period. Thirty seconds later, Georgia Tech led 14-0 on a rain-soaked field when a snap of the wet ball went over the head of Wave punter Ken Sanders, who rushed back to the 30 and tried to get the ball off. But it was blocked by Tech’s Jeff Ford and picked off in the air by defender Rick Lewis, who zipped 30 yards for a touchdown.
On the first play after the kickoff, Mike Wallace’s pass was tipped, and Lewis stepped in again, picked it off at Tech’s 44 and returned it for a touchdown. Final: Tech 20, Tulane 6.
That was a crusher, especially for a Tulane team that would end the season in the Wave’s first bowl in 30 years.
Three years later, in Tulane’s watershed season of 1973, when the ranked Green Wave defeated LSU for the first time in a quarter-century and played in the postseason for just the second time since before World War II, the Wave got one of its greatest accolades after beating Georgia Tech.
Bowl fever reached a peak as Tulane raised its record to 6-0-0 with a 23-14 victory over the Yellow Jackets in front of before representatives from the Sugar, Liberty, Gator, and Fiesta bowls.
Fiesta Bowl member John Reid evaluated the Wave by saying, “The best compliment I can give Tulane is the fact it might be too good for our bowl.’’
Tech was once again Tulane’s measuring stick.