Tech's Ford is Better than Samford
Sept. 8, 2007
By Jack Wilkinson -
Woke up, got outta bed, dragged a comb across my head and started to fret about Georgia Tech.
That sensational start in South Bend notwithstanding, would the wheels come off back home? Would Tech fail to fire on all cylinders? Or perhaps sputter, even stall? Would I exhaust my supply of bad car puns even before Tashard Choice sat down for the afternoon, his work day - and Samford - quickly done?
Not to worry. Not on this sultry, sun-kissed Saturday, when the afternoon's only suspense came 2 minutes and 40 seconds before kickoff. Out of a misty cloud in the northeast corner of Bobby Dodd Stadium, it suddenly appeared:
The Ramblin' Wreck. Tech's vintage 1930 Model A Ford, which had spent nearly two months on combustion-engine injured reserve following a harrowing highway wreck on June 15th. This was a game-time decision: Would the Wreck be repaired in time to lead the Yellow Jackets onto Grant Field for the home opener versus Samford?
In a word: are you serious? This is the Georgia Institute of Technology, where they know their NAPA from their Napa, their carburetors from their cabernets. Where the FOW's - Friends of the Wreck, those alums and current undergrads who've driven the Wreck at every Tech home game since its debut in 1961 - rallied 'round the ramblin' Wreckage and donated nearly $50,000 in cash, goods and services towards the convertible's restoration.
And there it was, emerging out of the mist and glistening in the September sun: the Wreck, with Tech cheerleaders perched on its running boards and waving their pompons. With Buzz the mascot waving hello while standing inside the Sport Coupe. With John Bird again behind the wheel, this time in control.
"The goal is to get it out there," Bird, a Tech senior, had told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in mid-week. He was driving in June, towing the Ramblin' Wreck to a wedding in Savannah, when some serious damage was done.
On Saturday, Bird drove deftly through a large on-field banner declaring, "Our Ford is better than Samford." Bird then steered smartly toward midfield in front of the Tech bench, hitting nothing, hitting no one. He then reversed his field, a maneuver even Choice or Jonathan Dwyer would've envied, completed a full lap of the stadium and finally drove off the gridiron and out through a tunnel in the southwest corner.
And with that, a helluva, helluva home opener was underway. ESPNU was here in TV force. So were thousands of Tech fans, and a small, red-clad conclave of Samford partisans tucked traditionally into the southeast corner. As resounding as last week's 33-3 humbling of Notre Dame was, that was taut compared to this. Indeed, with Taylor Bennett, not Bird, in the driver's seat for Chan Gailey, the Jackets were in complete command from the outset. Neither stuck in first-and-10 gear nor flat. I say, "App State," you say, "Hey, could it happen again here"? No way. Not after Gailey gathered his players last Sunday night.
"It was mentioned," the Tech coach had said Tuesday, in regard to Appalachian State's monumental upset at Michigan last weekend. "A great reminder," Gailey termed the two-time defending Division I-AA national champions' victory over the Wolverines. He'd even referenced Appalachian State's mantra: "Anything can happen."
Not this day. App State? Not apt. What's the good word? Samford ain't App State. Tech took nothing for granted, and Tashard remains the People's Choice.
The senior, who shredded Notre Dame for 196 yards rushing and two touchdowns, added 110 more Saturday. They came on just 11 carries, all in the first quarter. Seventy-three yards _ the longest carry of Choice's career _ gave Choice his second TD of the quarter and Tech a 21-0 lead with 1:01 left in the period. It also gave him a seat on the bench for the rest of the day, his school-best ninth consecutive 100-yard rushing game securely in the record book.
The carnage, though, had barely begun. Consider:
* Dwyer, a true freshman tailback, was truly spectacular: 138 yards in just nine carries. Three were for touchdowns, including a 65-yard excursion late in the third quarter in which Dwyer broke three tackles - at least - before zig-zagging to the end zone.
* Bennett misfired just once in nine passing attempts, threw for 89 yards and wasn't sacked.
* When Tech scored its sixth touchdown on Jamaal Evans' 6-yard run, the Jackets had only 10 players on the field. But since seven were on the line of scrimmage, they weren't penalized, the TD stood and that made it 45-0 at halftime.
* The nine Tech rushing touchdowns set a school record. The Jackets have scored more points in their first two games (102) than any Tech team since 1936, when Bill Alexander's boys trounced Presbyterian (55-0) and Sewanee (58-0).
* Tech's margin of victory was its largest since a 70-7 win at Navy in 2001. Not since 1916 had a Tech team scored 45 points in a half. That, of course, was the historic 222-0 Cumberland College massacre in which John Heisman slightly ran it up in the first half (leading 126 at intermission) before calling off the Jackets in the second (just 96 points).
* Not since 1921 had Georgia Tech scored as many points at home. That year, the Jackets rang up 69 on Furman. In 1983, I-AA Furman pulled off a memorable 17-14 upset here in Atlanta.
There would be no such upset this time. Not on a day when the Ramblin' Wreck's 40-horsepower engine ran smoothly, when the Yellow Jackets roared like a NASCAR racecar, when poor Samford was a relative horse-drawn buggy.
And John Bird? There he was, back in the driver's seat again at halftime, as the fully-restored Ramblin' Wreck reappeared on the field as a mock-vintage video was shown on the scoreboard. The predicament: With the car disabled, how would Buzz get to the game? By skateboard? By scooter? By dog sled (a, uh, bulldog trying to pull Buzz, seated on a kid's Hotwheels bike)? "This Dawg won't do!" flashed on the big screen.
"Where's the Ramblin' Wreck when you need it?" the film wondered. With that, 16 people - former student drivers - paraded toward midfield and then stood sentry around the gleaming, glistening old auto. A tradition that began with a Sept. 30, 1961 Grant Field against Rice, and continued for 292 consecutive more home games, continued anew, against all odds, and a scheduled 1:30 kickoff time. And, as the vintage video and P.A. announcer declared...
"Long live the Ramblin' Wreck!"