The uniforms – black jersey, gold pants – are reminiscent of those worn for home games by the Jackets during the tenure of coach Bill Curry (1980-86). The distinctive touch will be that the interlocking “GT” logo on the gold helmet – normally white – will be black, along with a black stripe down the center of the helmet. That’s how members of the Black Watch were identified.
Swilling, a college football hall of famer who in 1985 led the Jackets to their first nine-win seasons since 1970, said he hopes the uniforms helps players understand his team’s legacy and accomplishments.
Tech led the ACC in total defense in 1984 and led the conference in total defense and scoring defense in 1984-85, holding five teams to seven points or less in 1985. The Jackets have not finished first in either category since then. The 1985 Tech team went 9-2-1 in Curry’s sixth season, finishing 19th in the AP poll.
“It gives them an idea of what they can do and what they can be,” said Swilling, a five-time Pro Bowler and the 1989 NFL defensive player of the year. “We all know it’s been a tough couple weeks with all that’s going on, but anything that can excite them.”
One of Swilling’s teammates, safety Cleve Pounds, was pleasantly surprised to learn of the honor on Monday.
“I have no words for it,” Pound said.
In a video tweeted out by the team announcing the throwbacks – replicas are on sale for $75 – Swilling called Black Watch players tough, physical and relentless.
“We entered each game with a focus and the heart of a warrior,” he said. “We swarmed the ball, we swarmed the opponent and we swarmed to victory. Membership was earned, not given. When you lined up against us, one thing you knew: We were coming after you.”
The group was actually formed in the 1985 preseason following the Jackets' strong showing in 1984, when defensive coordinator Don Lindsey’s unit allowed 18.3 points and 317.3 yards per game, but didn’t place any members of its defense on the All-ACC team.
In a September 1985 story in the Atlanta Constitution, Lindsey said he formed the group as a way to promote player-to-player recognition for physical play. He described it as an “elite club within the defense that would be voted on by its peers. I asked the guys to vote on the one player they could bet the house, the car, the family and anything else that this player would be the big hitter out there and keep hitting all day.”
The Black Watch name was suggested by coach Bill Curry, after a famed Scottish infantry regiment established in the 1700s that “boasts a history of honor, gallantry and devoted service to the King, Queen and country,” according to a museum dedicated to the unit.
Ted Roof, Jim Anderson, Riccardo Ingram, Swilling and Pounds were voted in as charter members. From there, only members could add to their rolls.
“We didn’t take it lightly,” Pounds said. “We didn’t put somebody on just as a social club. If you were going to be part of this unique team, you had to pay your dues. You had to be one of the people we thought was a hitter out there and was going to impose and enforce their will on another team and let 'em know you’ve got somebody to reckon with when you play Tech.”
Pounds, who earned All-ACC honors as a safety in 1985 with Roof and Swilling, said that being a Black Watch member carried responsibility.
“I was like, Hey, if they believe in me, I need to produce and be exactly what they’re looking for,” said Pounds, who lives in Douglasville and works in import/export logistics at the Kia Motors plant in West Point.
The team that will wear the throwbacks hasn’t quite lived up to Black Watch standards. The Jackets rank last in scoring defense and 13th in total defense. Tech has given up 121 points in the past two games – losses to No. 1 Clemson and Boston College – which is 11 fewer than the 1985 defense gave up in 12 games.
Still, Pounds likes what he has seen.
“You see glimpses of a strong defense that’s coming together,” he said. “You do see some things there that you can build off from. That’s a positive for me.”
Tech fans are presumably hoping that the Black Watch’s mojo can rub off on the defense that will be wearing its look on Saturday. In the past two games, the Jackets have given up 121 points in the past two games — 11 fewer than Tech gave up in the entire 1985 season — and are ranked 13th in the ACC in total defense.