Dodd Leads Georgia Tech to Three Sugar Bowls

By Furman Bisher

The Bobby Dodd era at Georgia Tech was just warming up when his team was invited to the Sugar Bowl in 1953, the first of three appearances in four seasons. And in what amounted to a Southeastern Conference championship matchup, the Yellow Jackets played Ole Miss, and there was a good deal of fervor involved.

Georgia Tech had steadily refused to include Ole Miss on its regular season schedule.

"Whatever is there to go to Mississippi for," Dodd said. "We like to take our fans to exciting places, and Mississippi isn't one." Ouch!

So this game began with a controversy, heightened by a disputed touchdown that Tech scored just before halftime. Ole Miss had scored first, but never scored again, and Tech eased home by a margin of 24-7, in the course of which the Jackets nailed down a share of the national championship (with Michigan State).

The Bobby Dodd era at Georgia Tech was just warming up when his team was invited to the Sugar Bowl in 1953, the first of three appearances in four seasons. And in what amounted to a Southeastern Conference championship matchup, the Yellow Jackets played Ole Miss, and there was a good deal of fervor involved.

Georgia Tech had steadily refused to include Ole Miss on its regular season schedule.

"Whatever is there to go to Mississippi for," Dodd said. "We like to take our fans to exciting places, and Mississippi isn't one." Ouch!

So this game began with a controversy, heightened by a disputed touchdown that Tech scored just before halftime. Ole Miss had scored first, but never scored again, and Tech eased home by a margin of 24-7, in the course of which the Jackets nailed down a share of the national championship (with Michigan State).

Back again the next year, this time to meet West Virginia, Dodd's Tech team turned the game into a rout, 42-19. Nothing was more astonishing than the passing performance of Tech quarterback Franklin "Pepper" Rodgers, who was not noted for his passing. During the season he had thrown only 53 times, but against West Virginia he threw 26 passes for a then-Sugar Bowl record 196 yards, including three touchdowns.

Strangely enough, though Tech cruised to the victory, five Mountaineer players later moved into the NFL, where they became stars, none more prominent than Sam Huff, a guard in college, but a Hall of Fame linebacker for the Giants and Redskins. However, the Sugar Bowl defeat was a lesson in humiliation. "We'd never been to a big-time bowl like the Sugar Bowl, and a place like New Orleans," Huff said later. "We just sort of made a party out of it and the game got out of hand before we could catch our breath."

As a coach, Bobby Dodd had an off-the-wall philosophy of dealing with his players. His practices often developed into volleyball games. Dodd often spent as much time entertaining reporters assigned to his football coverage as coaching. He may have been the first coach to preside over the practice field from a tower, and if not, he was among the first. He had his own particular view of head coaches and how they went about their work.

He delegated.

"Head Coaches Don't Coach Any More," was the headline of a story that he co-wrote for Look Magazine during his prime, in which he laid out his view on the theory of delegating. Assistants who benefitted later from the Dodd experience were Frank Broyles at Arkansas, Ray Graves at Florida and Bud Carson at Tech, and then in the NFL. Broyles would go on to surpass Dodd in Sugar Bowl appearances, taking the Razorbacks to New Orleans on four occasions.

While Dodd delegated much of the coaching duties, he was very actively involved in recruiting the players who found their way to Georgia Tech. Of the team that won the Sugar Bowl in 1953, six players were All-Americans (in the days of platooning): George Morris, Ray Beck, Hal Miller, Bobby Moorhead, Buck Martin and Pete Brown. Morris and Beck are in the College Hall of Fame. In the latter days of his life, Dodd concluded that Morris, a linebacker, was the greatest of them all.

Dodd's third trip to the Sugar Bowl I have reserved for last, mainly because it came about only after an unhappy political interference. Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh had been invited to play the game of 1956, Tech's third visit in four seasons and the first Sugar Bowl invite for Pitt. It was the Yellow Jackets' fourth bid as they had defeated Tulsa, 20-18, in the war year of 1944, Bill Alexander's final season.

The drama with the 1956 game came when Marvin Griffin, the Georgia governor, learned that the Panthers had a black player, Robert Grier, on the squad. Griffin decreed that Tech should not be allowed to play in an integrated game. A wretched time followed, in which Tech students (the governor's own son among them) marched in protest of Griffin's stand, other politicians and the press squared off in a sullen exchange, while Dodd stood his ground.

The uproar finally subsided when the governor backed down, and the game went on. Even then, though, the unfortunate Grier became a major figure in the outcome, called for pass interference on a play that set up the lone score of the game. After the penalty, quarterback Wade Mitchell sneaked across for the only score of the afternoon. All of this in the first quarter, and as the game then settled into a defensive wrestle, including a pair of goal-line stands by Tech. A lineman, All-SEC guard Franklin Brooks, was voted the most outstanding player.

Dodd, who was an All-American quarterback at Tennessee, joined Georgia Tech as an assistant in 1931 with Alexander. He took over head coaching duties in 1945 and coached through the 1966 season, winning 165 games, appearing in three Sugar Bowls and capturing one national championship. He was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1959 and as a coach in 1993. The golden era of his time at Georgia Tech was the 1950's, in which his teams won not only three Sugar Bowls, but had an undefeated streak of 33 games. His place in Georgia Tech history is preserved in the stadium which bears his name, said to be the oldest on-campus stadium in the NCAA.

Furman Bisher has been a sportswriter for nearly 70 years, serving as the editor of multiple newspapers and also as President of the Football Writers Association of America. A member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, he co-wrote the first biography of Henry Aaron and, in 1949, had the only interview with Shoeless Joe Jackson regarding his role in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

 

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