Originally created 11/28/98

More than bragging rights up for grabs



ATHENS, Ga. -- The prodding starts from the moment one steps on campus. There may be other rivalries, may be other big games. But don't dare lose to your in-state rival.

For late November's annual Georgia-Georgia Tech slugfest is more than just four quarters of football. It's as much about one game as it is the feelings that players, coaches and fans harbor and brag upon for the next 364 days.

"All I know is you've got to win this one," Georgia offensive lineman Jonas Jennings said. "It's something you've got to do. God put this game last, and it's just like putting a cherry on top of your sundae. If you lose this game, the last seven years go down the drain.

"It's something you've got to do. It's part of your scholarship requirement."

The Bulldogs have fulfilled that requirement for seven straight years. This afternoon at Sanford Stadium (noon, CBS), 12th-ranked Georgia can equal the longest winning streak in the series, which is held by Tech from 1949-56.

Tech hasn't beaten Georgia since 1990 and is 0-4 against the Bulldogs under coach George O'Leary. Last November's crushing defeat in Atlanta certainly lingers as the most painful of all.

Tech took a 24-21 lead on a Charles Wiley 3-yard run with just 48 seconds left. The Bulldogs then marched 65 yards in 40 seconds, culminating with an 8-yard TD pass from Mike Bobo to Corey Allen for a 27-24 win, its seventh straight in the series.

"Last year's game was tough for us," Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton said. "I think we were able to put Georgia in the back of our mind for a little bit because of the bowl bid, but it still hurts."

The 17th-ranked Jackets are pointing at this game more than any other in recent memory. One can sense their excruciating urge to eradicate the dismal streak.

What better time than this afternoon, in what may be the most anticipated meeting in more than 30 years.

Just two years ago, these two were playing against each other as empty seats littered the bleachers at Sanford Stadium.

Sanford will be sold out today, as both teams are ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 1966 heading into the rivalry. Both carry 8-2 marks and appear headed for New Year's Day bowls.

"We haven't done it, I haven't done it and nobody here has done it," said Hamilton, the top passer in the ACC this season. "Last year, that moment in time when we scored until they scored in the last seconds, to feel that you just want to get a win."

But the Bulldogs also have something to play for beyond mere bragging rights. After all, Georgia Tech wrapped up its postseason destination last weekend. Regardless of today's outcome, the Jackets are heading to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Gator Bowl. Win impressively, lose in a blowout, it doesn't matter.

The Bulldogs, however, face a much more tenuous situation. This game is paramount in their postseason destination. Their bowl outlook depends heavily upon their performance this afternoon combined with results from another few games.

"It's going to be a heated rivalry," Georgia safety Kirby Smart said. "There's a possible good New Year's Day bowl. There's a lot on this game. It's a huge game."

With some help from Arizona State, Southern Cal and Miami, The Bulldogs could still squeak into the Citrus Bowl, provided they knock off Tech today. With no help and a win, a return to the Outback Bowl looks certain.

But lose to Tech and the scenarios become increasingly puzzling. The Peach. The Music City. The Independence. Who knows?

"I'd be lying to you if I said it didn't cross my mind," linebacker Adrian Hollingshed said. "We know there's something riding on this. You just try not to let it interfere with how you perform."

Because you'll remember that performance for the next 364 days, before the cycle begins anew.

Five memorable Georgia-Georgia Tech matchups

1927 -- Tech 12, Georgia 0

Georgia goes on to capture the No. 1 ranking at the end of the season. But Tech spoils the Bulldogs perfect season with a stunning victory in rain-drenched Athens.

1942 -- Georgia 34, Tech 0

Georgia came in ranked fifth, Tech second, and the winner earned a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Bulldogs upset previously unbeaten Tech, as two of the four Bulldogs to have their numbers retired -- Frank Sinkwich and Charlie Trippi, played in the game.

1952 -- Tech 23, Georgia 9

Tech's Chappell Rhino made the most of his only play in the contest, tossing a 10-yard TD to Buck Martin that put Tech ahead for good. He earns the nickname "One-play Rhino" and Tech goes on to capture its third national championship.

1957 -- Georgia 7, Tech 0

Theron Sapp earns the moniker of "drought breaker" when he scored on a 1-yard plunge to give Georgia the upset. The win snaps the Jackets' eight-game win streak in the series.

1997 -- Georgia 27, Tech 24

Charles Wiley scored a 3-yard TD to give Tech a 24-21 lead with 48 seconds left. But Georgia drove 65 yards in 40 seconds and when Mike Bobo hit Corey Allen for an 8-yard TD, the Bulldogs had their seventh straight win in the series.

Todd Graff covers college football for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or tgraff@augustachronicle.com.