ATLANTA - The Georgia Tech-Georgia game is about winning respect for more than just one week, but the clichDes about a year's worth of bragging rights fall short of describing all that is on the line for Tech seniors who have never beaten the Bulldogs.
For Gerris Wilkinson, Chris Reis and other Tech seniors, Saturday night's game will define their careers as well as the 2005 season.
If Tech ends a four-year losing streak in the rivalry with Georgia, then the Tech seniors can leave saying their final regular-season games were victories over No. 13 Georgia and No. 3 Miami.
But if Tech falls to Georgia for the fifth straight time, the big win over Miami will lose its value, according to Reis.
"It doesn't matter if you go 10-1 and lose to Georgia, nobody remembers that you went 10-1," Reis said Tuesday. "They just remember that you lost to Georgia.... So the Miami game, everything else, doesn't really matter if we don't beat Georgia. Nobody remembers it, they just remember if you beat Georgia."
Tech can't finish 10-1, but at 7-3 and ranked 20th by The Associated Press following the 14-10 win over Miami, it is in position to complete its best season under coach Chan Gailey.
Instead of being shipped to a remote and possibly cold bowl destination, Tech may be in line for a trip to the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte or the Jan. 2 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
"You can't put too much energy on that," said Wilkinson of the bowl speculation. "This game is big enough by itself."
As much as the Yellow Jackets want to protect the value of the win over Miami - the highest-ranked team to fall to Tech since No. 1 Virginia in 1990 - that game pales in comparison to the importance of beating Georgia.
"The game against Miami was like the biggest win I've been a part of since I've been here," Wilkinson said. "It's not going to mean that much if we don't come into this week and beat Georgia. It would just take away from it."
Wilkinson and Reis say they've heard former Tech players say the first question they are asked is how they fared against Georgia. As they prepare for their final home game, their thoughts have turned to facing similar inquiries.
"People will want to know if you beat Georgia and what you did while you were at Tech," Wilkinson said. "... I don't want to be somebody who leaves here saying they never beat Georgia."
Gailey also has felt the sting of never beating Georgia. The coach is 0-3 against the Bulldogs, and he says he has to deal with that negative every day, facing some of the same questions from fans that Wilkinson wants to avoid.
"Yep, you do," Gailey said. "You live with it 365 days a year.
"I don't say they always mention it, but it's your in-state rivalry. It's a big game. There's not a lot of other stuff that needs to be said.... If you are around the state the rest of the year, it's talked about. So you live with it 365 days a year."
Before Georgia's four-game winning streak in the series under coach Mark Richt, Tech won three straight years. But that was before the arrival of Tech's senior class.
The most agonizing of four losses to Georgia for the fifth-year seniors was last year's 19-13 setback when Tech quarterback Reggie Ball lost track of the downs at the end of the game.
"It's going to be an emotional game, especially for the seniors who have been there five years, like myself," Wilkinson said. "We have a lot of built-up emotion for this game because we haven't been able to beat Georgia since I've been here."
Gailey's 24-hour rule calls for his players to get past the celebration or disappointment of a game by the following day.
The bitterness following last year's loss lasted "more than the 24-hour rule," Gailey said.
Added Wilkinson: "It's been eating at us a lot. A lot of football is about respect, and no matter if you win 10 games a year, if you don't beat the in-state rival, it doesn't mean much in terms of respect."
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