While not an official NCAA record, it was a most unlikely distinction, particularly given how much longer it had lasted compared to the vast majority of their power-conference brethren and also that Tech’s powers to sustain it were not always robust.
In the ACC, for instance, eight of the 14 members’ most recent home shutout has happened since the start of the 2003 season or later, and another four date back to 1993 or later.
With Tech’s home blanking, Louisville now holds the title, having last been held scoreless at home in 1987. Getting shut out at home isn’t the normal, but it’s hardly the seeming impossibility that it became for the home team at Grant Field.
For example, Georgia, last shut out at home in 1995, lost seven times at Sanford Stadium by shutout during the length of Tech’s streak.
Further, it’s not as though the streak has been fueled by a string of powerhouse teams gushing with NFL talent. Of the six other teams whose streaks date back prior to 1980, four are no surprise – USC (1966), Michigan (1967), Nebraska (1968) and Texas (1976). The other two are Utah (1967) and Texas A&M (1971).
Over the streak’s 61 full seasons, there were 15 Jackets teams that finished with losing records. Indeed, Tech was shut out 14 times on the road in the streak’s first 40 years. At home, there were no fewer than 10 games when the Jackets could scrape together no more than a field goal and many more when it could only generate a single touchdown.
Still, it survived five visits by eventual national champions and 23 games against Associated Press top-five teams.
The penultimate visit from both a top-five team and an eventual national titlist was Clemson in 2016. The streak got a particular scare that Thursday night, as the Tigers held the Jackets scoreless going into the fourth quarter. However, a Dedrick Mills two-yard touchdown run kept it going.
The streak was at its healthiest with offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen calling plays for quarterback Joe Hamilton, and later when coach Paul Johnson directed his offense (without a play sheet, of course). In 1998 and 1999, the Jackets averaged 35.5 and 40.7 points, ranking second nationally the latter season.
Johnson’s 2014 team averaged 37.9 points per game, 11th in FBS.
Its health was perhaps most in peril in its infancy, when the Jackets averaged 9.3 points in 1958 and three times were held under 10 points at Grant Field, including a 7-7 tie against No. 2 Auburn. The 1980 team, coach Bill Curry’s first, never cleared 20 points in a game all season but managed to pull off a most memorable result, a 3-3 tie with No. 1 Notre Dame with emergency quarterback Ken Whisenhunt at the heldm.
Unfailingly, as sure as the Ramblin’ Wreck led the team onto the field (although the Wreck debuted in 1961, in the streak’s fourth season), the Jackets managed to find some way to get on the scoreboard, doing so frequently enough to win. It is a credit to 11 head coaches, dozens of assistant coaches, thousands of players and millions of Tech fans over the generations who supported them even in dire circumstances, willing them to cross the goal line or kick one through the uprights.
It should be noted that the last player to keep the streak alive was wide receiver Ahmarean Brown, who scored Tech’s first points against Pittsburgh on a 51-yard pass fro quarterback James Graham.
The streak never received great acclaim, its existence unknown to many Tech fans. Still, its presence was acknowledged in the weekly game notes produced by the communications staff.
Born on September 26, 1958 in a 17-3 win over Florida State, the streak breathed its last on Saturday against Virginia Tech, as the Jackets reached no closer to the end zone or field-goal range than the Hokies 41-yard line.
Ironically, the Jackets a year ago had scored 49 points against the same Hokies, which was the most points scored by an opponent in Lane Stadium since 1974.
It was perhaps a proper demise for the streak, as opposed to a game in which the Jackets missed a short field goal or were kept out of the end zone on a goal-line stand.
One of Tech’s more curious claims on college football history is no longer, with perhaps a new streak to begin Thursday at N.C. State. To break the old one, the Jackets will have to light up the scoreboard for every home game until roughly 2079.