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Why Georgia Tech fans everywhere want this game so badly

Georgia Tech alumnus Bobby Joe Anderson doesn’t hold the highest hopes for Saturday’s matchup with archrival Georgia, but he’ll be there for the annual in-state showdown. He is always there.

Anderson, who turned 90 earlier this year, has attended every Tech-Georgia game since 1945. This will be No. 74, which is 65 percent of every Tech-Georgia game that has been played since the rivalry began in 1893.

“I’m still hanging in there,” Anderson told the AJC. “Of course, my heart bleeds gold and white.”

Anderson, who lives in Atlanta, will attend the game at Sanford Stadium with his grandson Luke Downs. Hopefully, his seats will be better than the 2016 game, which were high atop the upper deck.

“One more step, I’d been in heaven,” he said. “Anyway, of course, it was a great victory.”

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Anderson said he has never enjoyed games more than the Yellow Jackets’ past two trips to Athens, the overtime “Kick and the Pick” thriller in 2014 and the come-from-behind win in 2016. He acknowledges this season’s contest with No. 5 UGA may turn out differently.

“They’ve got us outmanned with muscle, but I never say die,” he said. “I think we’ve got a chance.”

This season, Tech fans have thrilled at their team’s rally in the second half of the season with four consecutive wins going into the Georgia game. And while Tech fans will never turn down a win over their hated rivals, a win Saturday might be almost too good for words. Not only could Tech deal Bulldogs fans a third consecutive loss to the Jackets between their beloved hedges, but a win would be disastrous for Georgia’s hopes to make the College Football Playoff.

In this rivalry, in which schadenfreude is as much a part of the series as the Governor’s Cup, it would be the most costly loss that Georgia would have suffered at Tech’s hands since 1927, when the Bulldogs’ “Dream and Wonder” team suffered its only loss of the season to its in-state rival.

Among those hoping for Bulldogs tears is Anderson, a retired CEO and president of Puritan/Churchill Chemical Company and a former trustee of the Georgia Tech Foundation. He has many Georgia fans he counts as friends. Others are less sufferable.

“It wouldn’t bother me a bit if we knocked them off and it calmed them down a little bit,” he said.

This week, Tech fans from literally every corner of the world will join together Saturday to cheer for the Jackets and also against the Bulldogs. A few of them shared their perspective with the AJC.

Georgia Tech alumnus John Brock retired in 2016 from Coca-Cola Enterprises as CEO and chaiman. (KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC FILE)

John Brock

The holder of two Tech degrees, Brock worked with plenty of Georgia graduates as chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises before his retirement in 2016 and they continue to banter with each other over the rivalry. His allegiance to Tech goes far beyond text messages; he and wife, Mary, led a capital campaign that raised $1.8 billion and they’ve been major donors to the school. They gave the lead gift on the football team’s indoor practice facility that bears their name. He’ll be watching from his second home in Key Biscayne, Fla.

“With four consecutive wins against strong opponents, Paul Johnson and the Jackets have turned a really disappointing start into a strong season,” Brock said in a statement. “A win against the top-rated Bulldogs would be the definition of GT success and would mean that the Jackets had a truly outstanding season.”

Former Georgia Tech captain Roddy Jones and his family: his wife, Jackie, and daughters Jacey (raising fist) and Adrie (with the decorated socks). (Courtesy of Roddy Jones)

Roddy Jones

The former Tech captain acquired clear understanding of Tech fans’ aggravation with Georgia (and its fans) after he authored the signature play of the Jackets’ 2008 win in Athens in Johnson’s first season, which ended a seven-year losing streak to the Bulldogs.

“I had no idea what the response was going to be,” he said. “I was too young to know. But the frustration that people had, having lost seven in a row, I think you really saw that. I think we realized that when we got back to (Bobby Dodd Stadium). There were like, 1,000 people waiting for us on the plaza. The plaza was flooded with people by the time we got back.”

As a sideline analyst for ESPN, Jones is a visible Tech grad. He said Bulldogs fans who recognize him don’t give him a hard time, but “I think Georgia fans make sure you know there’s a hierarchy and that they’re at the top.”

Jones’ Bulldogs co-workers are more prominent than most, ESPN talents and former Georgia athletes David Pollack, Maria Taylor and D.J. Shockley.

“There’s not a lot of smack talking, but just to know you’ve got one up on them is always fun,” he said, “and it’s not quite as painful to see Georgia flags everywhere when you’ve got the win.”

Jones will catch the game from the production truck at the Pitt-Miami game, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. He’ll have to cut viewing short around 2:45 p.m.

Said Jones, “Hopefully, we’re pulling away at that point, so I don’t feel bad.”

Georgia Tech grad Victoria Wall in Shanghai. (Courtesy Victoria Wall)

Victoria Wall

It will be 1 a.m. Sunday in Nanjing, China when the Jackets kick off against Georgia. Victoria Wall, a 2015 Tech graduate, will be watching online in her apartment and, she said in an email, screaming “Go, Jackets!” and “To Hell with Georgia!”

Wall, who was a member of the marching and pep bands at Tech, has been in China since May 2016. She is in Nanjing teaching English for the Walt Disney Company. She was hopeful for the Jackets, considering their four-game winning streak. As for denting the Bulldogs’ national-title hopes, Wall responded with expert trolling.

“I’m sure they are used to the feeling at this point,” she wrote. “What’s one more season without a title?”

Mark Lee, guitarist for Third Day and now a solo artist, played trombone in the Georgia Tech marching band while in school. (Courtesy Mark Lee)

Mark Lee

The former Tech student rose from playing trombone in the Tech marching band to play guitar for a musical outfit of slightly greater renown, the Christian rock band Third Day. A Cobb County resident, he lives the isolation that many Tech fans feel.

In 2014, the New York Times produced a fascinating report on college football fandom in the U.S., measuring fan support ZIP code by ZIP code based on Facebook likes. Georgia led across the state, its support hovering between 50 and 60 percent, with Tech in single digits, when it was listed at all. (The graphic gave the top three, in which Tech was usually not included.)

“It’s funny, because, for a lot of people, I’m their token Georgia Tech fan that they know,” Lee said.

Third Day disbanded earlier this year. Lee has his own(“Unshakable Heart”) and book (“Hurt Road”) out. There’s still time to watch the Jackets.

“Just seeing how, even a month ago, it just felt like they were dead in the water, and starting with the Virginia Tech game, you’ve had this momentum, and coming off that scary Virginia game last week, I just feel like there’s a lot of momentum going for Tech now,” Lee said.

He’ll be watching from home.

“Always, of course, you want to beat Georgia, but it’d be even more fun this year since it’s like everything is riding on the game for Georgia,” Lee said.

Tony

Tech fans have a hard time escaping Bulldogs supporters, even halfway around the world. At a U.S. military base in Iraq, Tony (not his real name) is a Department of Defense contractor. He has been a Tech fan since George O’Leary recruited him in high school (he proved not to have the size or grades).

As for life on the base, he has multiple co-workers who are Georgia fans. One of them, Tony said, constantly texts him a photo of a Georgia flag. Another made a street sign that designated a road on the base as “GA Bulldog Bend.” Tony took it upon himself to decorate it with a photo of a baby – sitting in potty position – in a Georgia football helmet.

Tony expects a Tech loss, but holds out hope given Tech’s success at Sanford Stadium with Johnson. He’ll either listen to the Tech radio broadcast or watch on the Armed Forces Network in the company of his co-workers.

“As painful as that will be,” he wrote in an email, with accompanying laughing-while-crying emoji.

Former Georgia Tech All-American and coach Bill Curry, who was Georgia State’s first coach, from 2010 to 2012. (AJC file photo/Jason Getz)

Bill Curry

He distinguished himself as a center for coach Bobby Dodd and later returned to coach the Jackets from 1980-86. A gentle soul, Curry is different from most (nearly all?) Tech fans in that he claims no animus for Georgia.

“I never have gotten in that hatred stuff,” said Curry, who said he even got carried up with the Bulldogs’ chase for the national championship last season.

Regardless, Curry has found himself watching a lot more football this fall than in recent years, and has been taken with the Jackets’ development. He called them “a bunch of gritty, clawing, scratching tough guys,” which he said wasn’t the case early in the season.

“If somebody’s got to lay out and make a big catch, he’s likely to do it now,” he said. “And if somebody’s got to make a big-league tackle, then there’s a much greater chance that he’ll do it now than earlier in the year when they weren’t making the stops.”

Curry gives Tech a better chance than most, saying that Georgia’s defense isn’t as strong as last year’s. His keys: Avoid turnovers, get stops on defense and play solid special teams. He’ll watch at home with his wife, Carolyn.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”

Georgia Tech fan Chris Tanton (right), who lives in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, as a director of a ministry for young men facing poverty and a lack of family support. (Courtesy Chris Tanton)

Chris Tanton

The lifelong Tech fan will watch Saturday via an online stream from his home in the Dominican Republic, where he and his wife, Abby, are directors of a Christian ministry (Holt’s House of Hope) that seeks to help young men overcome the forces of poverty, gangs and drugs with education and the love of Jesus. They’ve lived there for the past 2-1/2 years.

Tanton, whose grandfather (Russell Tarrant) played for Bobby Dodd, rarely misses a game and participates in online message boards. He is hopeful for Tech against Georgia, believing the Bulldogs don’t tackle as well as might be expected. Tanton isn’t a Bulldogs hater, though he’s not above wearing Tech gear when visitors coming for short-term mission trips are UGA fans.

“Taking UGA out of the (national championship) hunt would be quite the Thanksgiving gift!” he wrote in an email. “I won’t miss a snap this Saturday, and I hope we can find a way.”

The Topple family. Jim Topple (left with Georgia Tech hat) is a Tech grad, as are Trasie (center, in Georgia T-shirt) and Craig (white polo). Daughters Ruby (headband) and Zia (baseball cap). Jim Topple is Craig's father. (Courtesy Trasie Topple)

Trasie and Craig Topple

The Topples, both Tech grads, live in Athens, so close to Sanford Stadium that they can hear the roar of the crowd emanating on game days. What is it like to live in the capital of Bulldog Nation?

Craig, a hospital chaplain, said that “you kind of become numb to the reality of just how strong and loyal the fan base is.” Case in point: On Friday, Trasie somehow found herself wearing a Georgia T-shirt that the family acquired. Worse, it was under a red vest. And she was a Tech cheerleader.

“I didn’t necessarily choose these clothes,” she said.

The Topples have lived in Athens since 2013. On the first game weekend after they moved, their daughter Zia came home from preschool with a Georgia Bulldog logo tattooed on her cheek.

“We were shocked,” Trasie said with a laugh. “‘What? They didn’t even ask!’”

It isn’t all bad. Craig said when he wears Tech gear, he might get a look, but he’s never had anyone bark at him, for example. Trasie actually earned her Ph.D. from Georgia in social work and is now an instructor at the school.

“I like to start off my classes by introducing myself, letting them know that I went to Georgia Tech for my undergrad,” she said.

Then she tells students that it’s part of UGA’s efforts to improve the quality of education.

“Pretty much stares at that point,” she said. “‘Is she for real?’”

Matt Meister

The Tech grad and former baseball Yellow Jackets baseball player will be relying on online updates to keep up with Saturday’s game. Television options are few at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

Meister has been at the bottom of the world between early October until late December for the past three years, and he can probably explain better the why. From an e-mail:

“While I was a student (spring 2014), I got involved with a research project with Dr. Britney Schmidt in EAS (School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) to build underwater vehicle to study the ice shelves here on earth and using them as an analog to one day study the outer moons of our solar system. I continued to work for Dr. Schmidt through school and now as a Research Engineer in EAS, I am the lead engineer of our vehicle Icefin.”

As it is for many, the Tech-Georgia rivalry is familial. Meister’s brother is a UGA graduate.

“As a Tech fan, I enjoy the rivalry since it is one of the longest in college football, but at the same time, I am always well aware how we compare to UGA when it comes to football,” he wrote. “But I always enjoy the weekends when Tech pulls the W from UGA.”

If you’re wondering, it will be 6 a.m. Sunday at McMurdo Station when Tech and Georgia kick off at Sanford. Meister is aware of one Bulldogs fan at McMurdo.

“If one does give me trouble, I'll definitely ask them “What’s the good word?” and let my fellow Tech alum respond,” Meister wrote.

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