Bill Curry, Johnny Majors reflect on Georgia Tech, Tennessee series
Georgia Tech and Tennessee have played 43 times in their history.
Tennessee holds a 24-17-2 record in the series that began with a 10-6 Volunteer victory on Nov. 22, 1902, in Atlanta.
The series has been played 23 times in Atlanta, 19 times in Knoxville and once in Chattanooga. The one game played in Chattanooga came in 1904, resulting in a Georgia Tech 2-0 victory.
The Vols’ series edge is due to the series’ longest winning streak when Tennessee won eight consecutive matchups from 1967-76.
The two former SEC rivals have not met since 1987 when Johnny Majors and Tennessee knocked off Georgia Tech, under first-year Yellow Jacket head coach Bobby Ross, 29-15 in Knoxville.
The series has been one of mutual respect over the years. Majors, the former Tennessee player and head coach, and former Georgia Tech player and head coach Bill Curry sat down with Saturday Down South to discuss the series that it was.
“I don’t remember ever any bad words in the three years I played or when I was coaching,” Majors said of playing against Georgia Tech.
“It was also a very aggressive game and one that we all were excited to be playing in. There was never any bad-mouthing, bragging, popping off to either one, or any excuses when someone lost. I know Bill Curry and I never had any negative things to say about each other’s teams or each other.”
Majors held the series edge, going 4-2-1 against Curry when the two head coaches squared off from 1980-86.
“Johnny and I have been good friends for a long time,” Curry said. “We enjoyed competing against each other, we had some great games and we each won a few.”
Both Curry and Majors spent their entire college playing and coaching careers going against one’s alma maters.
Majors was 1-1-1 as a player, 6-3-1 as Tennessee’s head coach against Tech; Curry had a 2-1 record as a player versus Tennessee and went 2-4-1 against the Vols as Tech’s head coach.
The series was played every year from 1902-11 except for 1906 and 1910. It resumed in 1946 and was played every year through 1949.
The series then was played again when Majors was a sophomore in 1954 and played every year through the 1973 season, even following Georgia Tech’s departure from the SEC in 1964.
Curry played center at Georgia Tech from 1962-64 when the Yellow Jackets made the move from the SEC to being an independent.
“I started going against Tennessee when I was 17 years old,” Curry said. “I was a freshman at Georgia Tech and freshman were ineligible. Our freshman team even played at Shields-Watkins Stadium.”
It was a big deal for Georgia Tech to play Tennessee at that time because of Bobby Dodd’s presence as head coach. Dodd played quarterback under General Robert Neyland at Tennessee (1928-30), then went on to be an assistant (1931-44) and head coach (1945-66) for Georgia Tech.
As a player at Tennessee, Dodd had a 27-1-2 record, losing only to Alabama 18-6 in 1930.
“It was a very big deal to us,” Curry said of playing Tennessee as a player at Georgia Tech with Dodd as his head coach. He said it was the Yellow Jackets’ “biggest game of the year, not Georgia, but Tennessee because it was his alma mater.”
“So my acquaintance with Tennessee started in the fall of 1960 and continued through the end of my ESPN career in 2007, and then in 2012 coaching at Georgia State. I was still privileged to go do Tennessee games (as a broadcaster), so I had a long history with the Vols.”
For Majors, his first year playing at Tennessee was Harvey Robinson’s last season as the Vols’ head coach. Robinson followed Neyland’s retirement and Bowden Wyatt replaced Robinson as head coach in 1955.
In 1955, Majors and the Vols played No. 8 Georgia Tech to a 7-7 tie in Knoxville. The following season, the two faced off as top-three teams in the AP poll. It was a classic game that the Vols won 6-0; they went on to win the SEC championship that season.
“We tied them 7-7 here in Knoxville when I was a junior,” Majors said. “I played 60 minutes. I threw a touchdown pass. Georgia Tech beat Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl. The next year (1956) we only lost one guard and they only lost one guard. We knew it was going to be for all the marbles that next year.”
The win over Dodd and Georgia Tech was special for Vol players, and especially for Tennessee coaches that wanted to beat the Hall-of-Fame Georgia Tech coach.
“Alabama was our main rival, but our coaches – Neyland, Robinson and Wyatt – wanted to beat Bobby Dodd in the worst way,” Majors said.
Majors said he thought that “the General and Dodd got along fine,” but a mutual respect of winning coaches made the Georgia Tech and Tennessee rivalry that much more.
“My coaches wanted to beat Dodd so bad,” Majors continued. “I wouldn’t say he (Dodd) was cocky, but he certainly was a man of great confidence. His players had a lot of confidence, they were tough and smart players. He was a great leader and players loved playing for him.”
Dodd went on to a 165–64–8 record as Georgia Tech’s head coach, winning the 1952 national championship (according to the International News Service sportswriters’ poll) and two SEC championships. Neyland went 173–31–12 at Tennessee, winning four national championships from at least one selector (1938, 1940, 1950–1951) and five SEC championships.
Curry vs. Majors (1980-1986)
With Georgia Tech and Tennessee set to renew their series Sept. 4 for the first time since 1987, both Curry and Majors spoke of their seven-year run going against each other in the 1980s.
For Curry, the game that he remembers the most is 1982. The Yellow Jackets won 31-21 in Atlanta. The week before, Tennessee ended an 11-game losing streak over No. 2 Alabama in Bear Bryant’s final season. But, the Vols did not respond well the week after.
“Selfishly the game that stood out to me was the 1982 game,” Curry said of the series against Majors. “We had been so poor, for so long and Tennessee had a real good football team.”
The game did not get off on the right foot in pregame for Curry.
“CBS asked to interview me right before kickoff, so I stood outside our locker room and they had a technical problem, then a commercial. I told them I had to get back in and get my team, and they kept delaying and finally we get to the interview.
“Then the guys come out of the locker room and knock me down and proceeded in beating a really good Tennessee team. They played lights out and the best we had played in my third year. Then the press asked me after the game what I told the team before the game and I said nothing. So I should have kept my mouth shut the rest of my career. That’s the one that really stands out. Coach Dodd was still alive and (it was) a very big deal to him.”
For Majors, the 1985 6-6 tie game is the one that he “remembers quite vividly” when coaching against Curry.
The Vols were coming off a 16-14 victory over Alabama at Legion Field, but had to rely on a new quarterback Daryl Dickey. Quarterback Tony Robinson was injured against Alabama and could not play the rest of the season.
Going against a Georgia Tech defense named the “Black Watch,” Majors “did not have a lot of confidence with Daryl and the passing game.”
Majors said getting a 6-6 tie “was a memorable game because the ‘Black Watch’ defense was tough to run against” and that his team’s “confidence really came on strong after tying Georgia Tech with that late drive.”
The confidence Tennessee gained under Dickey from the tie game spurred the Vols to win six consecutive games, the SEC championship and the Sugar Bowl over Miami. Majors said that he will “never forget that game as long as I live.”
1980: Tennessee 23, Georgia Tech 10
It was a 10-10 tie heading into the fourth quarter of the first Curry versus Majors head coaching showdown.
Kicker Alan Duncan came through with two field goals of 40 and 55 yards, in the fourth quarter, to put the Volunteers ahead. Offensively, receiver Anthony Hancock reeled in six receptions for 120 yards and scored a touchdown. Hancock also had a 42-yard touchdown run on a reverse, but it was called back because of a penalty.
1981: Tennessee 10, Georgia Tech 7
Tennessee’s Steve Alatorre fumbled in the end zone and Georgia Tech took a 7-3 lead late in the third quarter. Alatorre bounced back by throwing a 42-yard touchdown to Anthony Hancock midway through the fourth quarter.
Jimmy Colquitt had six punts for an average of 51 yards.
1982: Georgia Tech 31, Tennessee 21
A week after ending its losing streak against Alabama and Bear Bryant, Tennessee traveled to Atlanta to face Curry’s Georgia Tech squad.
After a pair of touchdown runs by Robert Lavette, Curry’s team had a quick 14-0 lead. Johnnie Jones scored a touchdown to force a one-score game, but Georgia Tech answered with a 72-yard punt return by Jack Westbrook and never surrendered their lead.
1983: Tennessee 37, Georgia Tech 3
A week after a 41-34 win over Alabama at Legion Field, Majors had to get his team ready for the annual game against Georgia Tech.
This time, Majors had to field his team without three of his running backs. Tennessee had three first-half fumbles, so quarterback Alan Cockrell put the game in his hands.
Alongside a Volunteer defense that held the Yellow Jackets to one field goal, Cockrell completed 12 passes for 189 yards. He connected with Clyde Duncan (50 yards) and Lenny Taylor (55 yards) for touchdowns.
Defensively, Tommy Sims had two interceptions, Johnny Williams had two sacks and Reggie White recorded one sack for the Volunteers.
1984: Tennessee 24, Georgia Tech 21
Facing fourth and 6 from the Georgia Tech 31-yard line with less than two minutes to play, Majors elected to go for the first down instead of attempting a 57-yard field goal.
Quarterback Tony Robinson connected with tight end Jeff Smith to the 10-yard line. Majors ran three more plays and then called on Fuad Reveiz for a game-winning field goal with 35 seconds remaining.
1985: Georgia Tech 6, Tennessee 6
Tennessee was without quarterback Tony Robinson, who was injured against Alabama the week before.
Daryl Dickey stepped in and came through at the end to help set up Tennessee to tie the score. Dickey led a drive that started on the Vols’ 23-yard line, throwing completions to Vince Carter and Eric Swanson. The relief quarterback also had a timely run and got out of bounds to set up a 51-yard game tying field goal by Carlos Reveiz with four seconds left.
1986: Georgia Tech 14, Tennessee 13
In the final Curry vs. Majors showdown between Georgia Tech and Tennessee, the Volunteers literally let the game slip away.
Carlos Reveiz slipped and fell when attempting a winning 27-yard field in wet conditions at Grant Field. The kick hit the upright and secured victory for the Yellow Jackets.