Almost 50 years later, tale of Georgia Tech subterfuge finally told

Georgia Tech coach Pepper Rodgers gets a victory ride after the Yellow Jackets defeated Georgia 34-14 on Nov. 30, 1974, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Georgia Tech Athletics

Credit: Georgia Tech Athletics

Georgia Tech coach Pepper Rodgers gets a victory ride after the Yellow Jackets defeated Georgia 34-14 on Nov. 30, 1974, at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. (Georgia Tech Athletics)

It was a miserable day in Athens, but Dave Fagg was protected from the elements in the visiting coaches box at Sanford Stadium.

Down below, Georgia and Georgia Tech squared off in what the following day’s Atlanta Constitution reported was “a driving rain with a 15-mile per hour wind.”

During a change of possession, fate smiled upon Fagg, the Yellow Jackets’ offensive coordinator. From his perch, he looked down at the Georgia sideline and realized that he could see Erk Russell, the Bulldogs’ legendary defensive coordinator, drawing up adjustments for his defense against Fagg’s wishbone offense.

“And I said, ‘Give me those binoculars,’” Fagg said. “‘What’s Coach drawing up down there against my ‘bone? What’s he drawing up?’”

Fagg, 87, now is retired and living in Davidson, North Carolina, with his wife, Barbara. A Davidson College alumnus, Fagg coached the Wildcats twice, doing so with such distinction that the field at the school’s under-construction stadium has been named in his honor. He was an assistant coach at Tech from 1974-78, starting as offensive coordinator, switching to a defensive assistant in 1975 and then coaching quarterbacks in his final two seasons. He left to become offensive coordinator and associate head coach at Hawaii.

“I loved (Tech),” Fagg said in a phone interview this week with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I was so proud to be a part of it. The school is such a great place.”

All well and good, but back to Nov. 30, 1974. Tech won 34-14 to finish 6-5 in coach Pepper Rodgers’ first season. It is an unquestioned high point for Tech (and corresponding low point for UGA) in the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry. Since coach Bobby Dodd’s retirement after the 1966 season, it remains the largest margin of victory for Tech against the Bulldogs in that span of their 14 wins (against 41 losses). Given that blowout wins have been nearly the exclusive territory of the Bulldogs, who’ve won the past five meetings by an average of 33.6 points, the 1974 game remains a cherished (or loathed) outlier.

Danny Myers, Tech’s quarterback in that game, said of friends who are UGA fans (and of a certain age), “They go, ‘It was the worst day of my life as a Georgia fan. Y’all just crushed us.’”

Even almost 50 years later, Myers remembers the weather, too. In his 17 years of football (including an NFL training camp), he called it “without question the worst conditions” he ever played in. A steady rain had soaked the field and then it began to sleet, Myers said.

“When you walked on the field to warm up, your feet went down about six inches in water and mud,” said Myers, 69, retired from a career in the pharmaceutical industry and living in Blue Ridge. “It was truly, truly miserable.”

Myers recalled the Jackets’ domination, saying that the play-calling was great and that the wishbone offense drove steadily for its five touchdowns, picking up three and four yards at a time.

“It was just, everything we did that day worked,” Myers said.

The statistics in the Constitution verify Myers’ memory. Tech ran for 275 yards on 72 carries, with 281 yards of total offense. The longest gain was 17 yards. Georgia gained 236 on the ground and failed to complete a pass. The Jackets led 20-0 at the half and were not challenged afterward. Bulldogs quarterback Ray Goff (later to serve a seven-year term as UGA coach) provided one of the few highlights for the home team with a 38-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

“We just got whipped,” the late Vince Dooley said after the game. “They showed their dominance the first time they got the ball, and time after time, we were unable to stop them.”

To some degree, Tech was aided by Fagg’s subterfuge.

“(Russell) was drawing plays and stunts and all kind of crazy things,” Fagg said. “I said, ‘Well, I’m going to look at that blackboard. It might help me. I need all the help I can get.’”

Understandably, Fagg’s memories of specifics – what Russell drew up, how often he or another assistant spied on him – were blurry. He did say that Tech ran counter plays – calls that take advantage of an aggressive defense particularly on a day when changing directions would be difficult. Understandably, he couldn’t recall if that was the game plan or an adjustment he made based on what Russell drew up for his players and, unwittingly, Fagg. He did not give his spying much credit.

“I don’t remember that being something that won the game for us,” he said. “I’m sure it didn’t.”

I first learned of this juicy morsel of Tech-Georgia history when I spoke with Fagg three years ago for a story I wrote after the death of Rodgers. Fagg shared it with me as he offered colorful memories of the flamboyant coach. Then, however, Fagg was far more confident in the effectiveness of his ploy, saying “every adjustment that (Russell) was trying to make, we just ate (Georgia) alive.”

Perhaps this time around, Fagg was trying to be respectful to the late Russell – whom Fagg called a great man and great coach – or wanted to stay out of the spotlight of a brilliant Tech triumph, even 49 years later. Or maybe that’s what he actually believes.

“The game was (won) on the field, of course,” Fagg said.

And, of course, trusting in memories of a game played nearly a half-century ago is precarious, though Fagg’s memories of the day seemed sharp. He recalled the weather and another detail that a Constitution account confirmed – presumably because of the combination of weather and score, Georgia fans and the marching band cleared out of Sanford Stadium well before the end of the game.

But, particularly in a season marked by Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal, it is a delicious addition to the lore of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate, which renews Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Forever confident in their school’s academic superiority to Georgia’s, Tech fans can delight in having relied on their smarts and cunning (all within the rules) to rout the Bulldogs in their own stadium. UGA supporters can console themselves with the notion that the Jackets had to resort to chicanery, evidently unable to win straight up.

Former Georgia Tech assistant coach Dave Fagg with his wife, Barbara, taken at their home in Davidson, N.C., in 2022. The occasion was the announcement that the field at Davidson College’s new stadium was to be named in his honor. Fagg was a star athlete at Davidson and twice its head coach. (Davidson College Athletics)

Credit: Davidson College Athletics

icon to expand image

Credit: Davidson College Athletics

Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. Interestingly, Fagg didn’t share his ploy with many. Myers had never heard of it before he was reached this week by the AJC. Nor had Dave Braine, a fellow assistant coach on Rodgers’ staff and later Tech’s athletic director.

Besides his unique contribution to the rivalry, Fagg is remembered well. The 80-year-old Braine, living in Blacksburg, Virginia, with his wife, Carole, described him as “the most energetic coach I’ve ever been around my whole life.”

Myers described him as positive, humble and caring, a father figure who was one of the most influential coaches in his life.

“You never doubted for a minute that he didn’t care about you,” Myers said. “Like, you. Not the quarterback, but you as a person.”

A Tech coach worth remembering. A story, too.