With both Clemson and Georgia Tech on bye weeks this weekend before their showdown next Thursday, it’s a good time to sit back and relive a rivalry that has evolved into one of the premiere games in the ACC. Clemson is rivals with South Carolina because they are located in the same state. Clemson is rivals with Florida State because, after their inception into the ACC in 1992, the Seminoles cast a curse upon the Tigers that stretched until the 2011 season. Location, conference alignment, recruiting, close games and curses are all reason why rivals exist. There is one rivalry in the ACC that encompasses all of these features: Clemson vs. Georgia Tech.
It’s big-city Atlanta vs. small-town Clemson. It’s the engineers vs. the farmers. It’s The Ramblin’ Wreck vs. Howard’s Rock. It’s historic Bobby Dodd Stadium vs. Death Valley. It’s Clemson vs. Georgia Tech.
The game was first played in 1898, long before both schools were members of the ACC, but the rivalry’s evolution is due to the iconic games that were played between the two schools. Even in a down year, a chance to play spoiler against their foe was equally as satisfying as a conference championship. This rivalry had a stretch where every game came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. In the 15 meetings from 1996-2009, 12 times the game was decided by five points or less. In the 2009 ACC Championship Game, it was Georgia Tech who halted Clemson’s attempt to finally break the Florida State curse by defeating the Tigers 39-34 in the final two minutes.
The rivalry was at its peak from 1996-2001, a period of time where every meeting was decided by exactly three points each time. However, of all of the classics, there is one game that stands above the rest. The 2001 meeting between the Tigers and the Yellow Jackets may have been the greatest game ever played at Bobby Dodd Stadium, despite who came out on the winning end. The No. 25 Tigers were limping into Atlanta after a heartbreaking loss to Virginia while No. 11 Georgia Tech entered the game undefeated. The Georgia Tech defense had not surrendered more than seven points in each of its first three games and also had an offense that could light up the scoreboard.
Before 1999, when Clemson fans heard the name “Woody” it was always associated with the 1978 Gator Bowl when legendary Ohio State coach, Woody Hayes, punched Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman in the throat following a Buckeye turnover. Well, a dual-threat quarterback from Orangeburg, SC gave Tiger fans a new image whenever the name Woody was uttered. In 2001, Woodrow “Woody” Dantzler had a performance for the ages against Georgia Tech that will forever live in Clemson football lore.
Georgia Tech had dominated the first half until the final play before intermission. Down 19-7, Clemson was sitting at the Georgia Tech 38-yard line with the seconds ticking down before Dantzler took off and galloped into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown run as time expired in the second quarter. The spectacular play trimmed the Georgia Tech lead to 19-14 at half, but the fireworks were only just beginning. A wild back-and-forth second half was merely an appetizer for the final two minutes of the game. Georgia Tech had a 38-34 lead with the clock ticking down to two minutes remaining. Facing fourth-and-13 from their own 37-yard line, Dantzler heaved a beautiful pass that fell in the arms of J.J. McKelvey who trotted into the end zone to put the Tigers up 41-38 with 1:58 remaining in the game.
Despite the air being sucked out of the stadium, Georgia Tech quarterback George Godsey was able to move his team within field goal range. The Yellow Jackets made the field goal, tying the game 41-41 heading into overtime. After a Georgia Tech field goal, Dantzler saved his best trick for last. On third-and-six at the Georgia Tech 11-yard line, ABC announcer Sean McDonough described it like only he could. “Dantzler…keeps it….Dantzler…Touchdown! Clemson wins.” The Dantzler touchdown-run gave Clemson the 47-44 win in overtime. Dantzler was a magician, passing for 254 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
The 2001 edition between these familiar opponents holds a special place in ACC history. The compelling theatre that Clemson and Georgia Tech provided for four quarters left the crowd wanting more. Luckily for us, both teams came out for an encore in overtime before the final curtain dropped with Woody Dantzler stealing the show.
Travis Patterson, Writer For ACC Rantsports.com. Football Writers Association of America. Follow on Twitter @tpat20. https://twitter.com/tpat20