The University of Georgia ended its regular season last weekend as the toprated college football team in the country, but things weren't always so good down in Athens. This Southern breed of Bulldogs got its name because the school's first president was a Yalie, and, like its northern counterpart in New Haven, once had to face a Harvard squad on the gridiron. The result: On October 15, 1921, Harvard came away with a 10-7 win.
I've sprung this bit of trivia on some innocent bystanders in the last few days. Most of them replied with one of those half-coughs that you use to hide a laugh and looked just a little surprised. They shouldn't have been. Georgia was probably lucky to come that close. They were the first team to score a point on the Crimson that season.
You see, in those days Harvard was an honest-to-goodness football power, with seven national titles already to its credit. If Georgia hangs onto its ranking, this will be its first. Harvard had also already chalked up 13 undefeated seasons. Just check the Crimson's record to that point against these present-day national powers: Michigan 4-0, North Carolina 1-0, Penn State 2-0-1.
But by 1921 Harvard had already begun its slide from the top. The Crimson took home its last national championship in the 1920 Rose Bowl with a 7-6 win over Oregon. Georgia didn't really join the upper echelon until 1927, when it beat Yale and got its first Rose Bowl bid.
Now Georgia is the perennial contender, and Harvard shoots for the Ivy League crown. But the differences between the two teams and the atmosphere that surround them go farther than this. Sitting at the Georgia-Georgia Tech game last Saturday and counting down the yards Herschel Walker needed to break Tony Dorsett's freshman rushing record, these differences became clear.
Harvard-Yale and Tech-Georgia are both the type of rivalries that can dominate a season. A win makes a losing season sweet. A loss, and even the league title is bitter. Yet the tone of the two events could hardly be more different.
Try to imagine a Harvard-Yale game where two senior All-Americans come into the field for a kickoff midway through the fourth quarter with the game well in hand and then suddenly turn to the sidelines and lead 63,000 people to stand up and yell. Scott Woerner and Rex Robinson did just that in Athens Saturday.
Most of the time the crowd didn't need any such cheerleading. Without any outside prodding, the two sides of the stadium periodically broke into chants. I don't mean just the band and some of the rowdier students, but at least 10,000 warm bodies on each side of the field, in unison and without direction.
Each time the freshman tailback came up with a big gainer, the North stands would shout out "Herschel," and the South stands would come back with a big "Walker." Then the North would do its line again, and each side would keep on trying to out-yell the other. When this game died out they would start up again with something like "Georgia-Bulldogs" of "Third Down-Hold 'Em."
But the people in the stadium don't tell the whole tale. The 4,000 or so fans that spent the entire game on the railroad tracks at the east end of the field, pressed against a construction fence and without much of a view, are a marvel in themselves.
For many the tracks are almost a ritual. One Georgia fan claimed that he hadn't been absent from his post for a single home game during his whole four years. Some Tech fans also took their places behind the fence, and, even in defeat, they kept up enough commotion to make sure that their presence was felt.
Somehow I just can't imagine an Ivy League fan spending the afternoon sitting on a railroad tie. Maybe that's as it should be. But there is something that those folks on the tracks have, something that they really enjoy, and it's not just splinters.