With one of college football’s dominant programs in the first half of the twentieth century, the Georgia Institute of Technology has won four national championships in four different decades and provided some of the sport’s most memorable characters and moments.
Since fielding its first football squad in 1892, Georgia Tech’s program has been led by some of college football’s most successful coaches, including John Heisman (1904-19), William Alexander (1920-44), Bobby Dodd (1945-66), and Bobby Ross (1987-91).
Heisman, Alexander, and Dodd are all members of the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame. The national memorial to Heisman, the Heisman Trophy, is presented annually by New York City’s Downtown Athletic Club. The trophy has stood as college football’s highest individual honor for a player since it was first given, in 1935.
Georgia Tech won national championships in 1917, 1928, 1952, and 1990. The Yellow Jackets also have won championships in four different conferences, including three in the old Southern Conference, five in the Southeastern Conference, and two as part of their current membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference. As of the 2005 season the Yellow Jackets also rank among the top ten National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) programs in bowl game wins (twenty-two) and winning percentage (0.667, 22-11).
Georgia Tech’s home stadium, now known as Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, was built in 1913 by members of the student body. It is the oldest on-campus stadium in NCAA Division I-A football and underwent a $75 million expansion and renovation prior to the 2003 season.
As of 2016, sixteen former Yellow Jackets have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, including eleven players, three coaches, and two former players who were enshrined as football officials.
Memorable Moments and Personalities
On October 7, 1916, Georgia Tech defeated Cumberland University, 222-0, in the most lopsided game in college football history. The trouncing was inspired in part by Cumberland’s 22-0 whipping of the Tech baseball team the previous spring. Allegations were made suggesting that Cumberland had used professional players in the game, and Tech football coach Heisman (who also coached the baseball team) vowed revenge. Georgia Tech scored thirty-two touchdowns, rushed the ball for 978 yards, and did not attempt a pass in the blockbuster win.
William Alexander, a seldom-used backup player for Heisman in 1908, later joined the coaching staff, becoming head coach in 1920, when Heisman left Tech to coach at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. “Alex” was the first coach to lead his team to all four of the major bowls of the day: the Rose Bowl in 1929, the Orange Bowl in 1940, the Cotton Bowl in 1943, and the Sugar Bowl in 1944. Alexander also coached Tech to the 1928 national championship.
Bobby Dodd, who began his career as an assistant under Alexander, was the head coach at Tech from 1945 to 1966 and led the Yellow Jackets to the 1952 national championship. Dodd also led Georgia Tech to a thirty-one-game winning streak from 1951 to 1953, including an undefeated national title season in 1952. His Jacket teams won eight consecutive bowl games and six high-profile bowls in a six-year period (1952-56), including the Orange (1952), Sugar (1953, 1954, 1956), Cotton (1955), and Gator(1956).
Already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame from his days as a player at the University of Tennessee, Dodd was inducted as a coach in 1993, becoming the second man to be inducted as both a player and a coach. (Amos Alonzo Stagg was the first.)
In 1990 Tech won its fourth national championship as an underdog team, overcoming long odds to win the title. Coached by Bobby Ross—who was the unanimous choice as 1990 national coach of the year and would lead the National Football League’s San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl four years later—the Yellow Jackets had won only five games total during the two previous seasons. After entering the 1990 season unranked in the national polls, the Jackets ended the year as the only undefeated team in major, or division I-A, college football.