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The Duke-Georgia Tech Rivalry Is Better Than You Think

These teams have gone at it for decades.

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Georgia Tech v Duke
DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 18: Mark Gilbert #28 of the Duke Blue Devils defends a pass to Jalen Camp #80 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on November 18, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 43-20.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Duke and Georgia Tech have met 85 times on the football field. Only North Carolina (104) and Wake Forest (98) have been more common opponents for Duke. The Blue Devils and Yellow Jackets first met in 1933 and haven’t missed a season since then, a pretty long run for two schools that aren’t in the same state and weren’t in the same conference until 1979.

Georgia Tech leads the series 51-33-1, the gap the result of the two decades Duke football wandered in the wilderness after Steve Spurrier’s 1989 departure.

Georgia Tech was one of the first southern schools to take football seriously. From 1904 through 1966 they were coached by John Heisman, then William Alexander and finally Bobby Dodd, all members of the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1916, Georgia Tech beat Cumberland 222-0, one of college football’s most famous, or infamous games, depending on one’s feelings about running up the score.

Heisman also coached baseball and basketball at Tech, while occasionally writing an article for local newspapers explaining the nature of the sports he coached.

Heisman left Tech after the 1919 season, so Duke—which still was Trinity and didn’t play football in those days—never squared off against Heisman. But Alexander (1920-44) and especially Dodd (1945-66) were familiar opponents. Given that Duke was coached by either Wallace Wade, Eddie Cameron or Bill Murray from 1933 to 1965, there were numerous games with national implications.

During the early days of the rivalry, Georgia Tech developed a habit of upending great Duke teams and seasons.

Take that first match, back in 1933. Duke visited Tech with a 9-0 mark. There was no AP poll in those days and only a handful of bowl games. But 9-0 is 9-0.

Until it was 9-1. The home team evened their record at 5-5 with a 6-0 upset.

This was the first of three times Wallace Wade took a Duke team to a 9-0 start, only to lose the final game. The other two were the 1939 and 1942 Rose Bowls.

Duke started off 4-0 in 1935 before again losing at Tech, 6-0. Duke finished 8-2.

Tech defeated nationally-ranked Duke teams in 1946, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1957.

Duke was 5-0-1 and ranked seventh when they lost 13-0 to unranked Tech in 1957.

Tech handed Bill Murray’s last great Duke team one of its two losses in 1962.

Duke did get in some shots. They won six straight in the rivalry, from 1936 through 1941.

In 1951 Duke tied fifth-ranked Tech 14-14.

That Tech team finished 11-0-1 after beating Baylor in the Orange Bowl. They finished fifth in the final AP poll, possibly losing a national title because of that Duke tie.

Both teams slipped off the national radar screen by the late 1960s but continued what had become a spirited rivalry. The highlight of my freshman year—1968—was a 46-30 slugfest in Wade.

It was the most points a Tom Harp-coached team scored in his five seasons at Duke. Leo Hart passed for 237 yards, while Phil Asack rushed for 140 yards. Steve Jones rushed for 149 yards in a 20-14 Duke win in 1972, Tony Benjamin for 181 in a 12-10 Tech win the following season.

Duke overcame a 24-9 deficit to defeat Tech 25-24 in 1977, a seven-yard pass from Mike Dunn to Tom Hall the winner, with 13 seconds left.

That game was in Atlanta.

All this happened with Georgia Tech either in the Southern Conference or as an independent.

That changed in 1979, when Georgia Tech joined the ACC, again making it an eight-team league after the departure of South Carolina, following the 1971 academic year.

However, due to the nature of college-football-scheduling, Tech was not eligible for ACC football titles until 1983.

Through 1982, Tech led the series 25-24-1.

It would soon become more one-sided.

We’ll continue tomorrow.