Sept 4, 2003
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) - It started in 1892, but the Georgia Tech-Auburn rivalry really picked up steam four years later.
Auburn students supposedly sneaked out of their rooms in the middle of the night, soaked the railroad tracks with pig grease and sent Georgia Tech's train careening right through town.
The steam locomotive slid "halfway to Loachapoka" before coming to a stop, forcing the Yellow Jackets to make a five-mile trek back to Auburn. Not surprisingly, the weary visitors lost 45-0.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they won't face that sort of retribution when this colorful series - once one of the longest in all of college football - resumes Saturday at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium after a 16-year hiatus.
No. 17 Auburn (0-1), coming off a humiliating home loss to Southern California, will try to rebound in its first game against Georgia Tech (0-1) since 1987.
"I'm really looking forward to going back and walking down memory lane," Auburn athletic director David Housel said Thursday. "There's so many memories tied up in Atlanta and the Tech game. It's going to be great."
These schools, located less than two hours apart, played every year from 1906-87, except for 1943 when Auburn didn't have a team because of World War II.
But the former Southeastern Conference rivals broke off their series after Georgia Tech moved to the Atlantic Coast Conference. For most of today's players and coaches, there are no recollections of the "Wreck Tech" parade (an offshoot from the 1896 incident) or awe-struck Auburn fans who called Dodd "Bobby God" as he reeled off 13 consecutive victories over the Tigers in the 1940s and '50s.
"I know very little about it," second-year Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey admitted. "I don't know if everybody remembers all the history. How long has it been? 1987?"
Patrick Nix remembers. A former Auburn quarterback who now coaches at Georgia Tech, he was a kid with his ear to the radio when the teams played two thrilling games in the 1980s.
Bo Jackson broke loose down the sideline for a late touchdown that gave Auburn a 17-14 victory in 1985. Two years later, the Tigers scored twice in the final 22 seconds to beat the Yellow Jackets 20-10. Lawyer Tillman caught a 4-yard pass in the back of the end zone, then Aundray Bruce returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown on the final play.
"I remember the rivalry, how great it was, how big it was to the fans," said Nix, who played at Auburn from 1991-95. "They've been waiting on this for 16 years."
Only this time, Nix will be on the other side of the field.
"There's going to be a lot of emotion," he said. "I love Auburn. But for this one day, the Nix family is Ramblin' Wreck through and through. I want to beat them worse than anything in the world."
The rivalry between Georgia Tech and Auburn actually predates their football series, which is the second-oldest in the Deep South. The Tigers played Georgia in February 1892, nine months before they faced Georgia Tech for the first time.
"We have a very fine engineering program and, of course, Georgia Tech has a very fine engineering program," Housel said. "Before football was ever in the equation, there was a competitiveness between the program at Georgia Tech and the program at Auburn."
From 1892-1904, the teams played five times in Atlanta and four times in Auburn. Beginning in 1906, there would be 54 consecutive games in Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets refusing to travel to the Tigers' smaller home stadium.
"We didn't have a facility that was big enough," Housel recalled. "In those days, Georgia Tech was the pre-eminent school, the pre-eminent program with the pre-eminent facilities. Everybody measured themselves to Georgia Tech."
When the Yellow Jackets put together their 13-game winning streak, beginning in 1941, some Auburn fans wondered if a higher force was at work.
"We though Bobby Dodd had put a jinx on us," Housel said. "We called him Bobby God."
The drought was snapped in 1955 when the Tigers upset Georgia Tech 14-12. Then, in 1960, the Yellow Jackets finally ventured back across the state line, albeit to Birmingham's Legion Field, to play Auburn.
For Housel, those games carry just as much historical significance as some of Auburn's biggest victories against hated Alabama.
"The cry at that time was not to beat Bama. The cry at that time was not to beat Georgia. The cry at that time was to beat Tech," he said. "You can measure the growth and development of Auburn's football program through the series with Georgia Tech."
The teams will play at Auburn in 2004, but there are no plans beyond that. Because of conference alignments, it's unlikely the schools will ever play on an annual basis again.
Nevertheless, Auburn planned to rekindle a bit of history with another "Wreck Tech" parade Thursday night - even though most of the students are too young to remember the last one.
"The only thing we ever used to yell was 'Wreck Tech! Wreck Tech! Wreck the hell out of Georgia Tech!" Housel said with a chuckle. "I bet these kids never even heard of it."
Tommy Tuberville's Tigers face Georgia Tech Saturday for the first time since 1987.