Old Syrup Mouth over at the North Avenue Trade School has his most favorite team ever, and nobody has beaten it, but folks just won't let him up. They say he's retiring; they say he's dodging The Bear; they say he hasn't really played anybody; and they say you wait until he goes over between the hedges in Athens to meet the Dogs—that'll fix Old Syrup Mouth's yard peas. That'll take care of old Bobby Dodd and Georgia Tech.
Well, maybe so, but right now Bobby Dodd, the gentleman coach, is up there with a 9-0 record just as he was back in the glory days of the 1950s, and Georgia Tech is going to a major bowl, and regardless of what happens against the Georgia Bulldogs in two weeks, the season has been a success. Even more important to Dodd is the fact that this team has done it all on pride and guts, seeing as how it is not, he says, entirely broken out with ability.
Last Saturday was a particularly joyful one for the Tech coach because the easy 21-0 victory over Penn State in sunny Atlanta's Grant Field came at a most opportune time. It was the day after his 58th birthday, on Tech homecoming, and it assured him of nine wins for the first time in 11 seasons. It also left him among the five unbeaten major teams in the country and probably put him in the Orange Bowl, which is in Florida, where he has liked to recruit lately. As for Georgia, Dodd would prefer to be 10-0, but 9-1 is a magic figure, too, and that's in the cupboard.
"Now I can say this is my favorite of all teams," said Bobby. "It doesn't have the ability of the 1951 or 1952 teams, or even the 1956 team. Not as many athletes. But it has something special—the big-play quality. We've sure made some big plays when they counted."
Atlanta is populated by two kinds of people, mainly. There are Dogs, which are the University of Georgia folk, and there are the supporters of the North Avenue Trade School, which is not the kindest name for Tech but is one that sure tickles Georgia. It is the Dogs who also call the Tech coach Old Syrup Mouth and Mister Sweet Talk, chiefly because of the protective local press he gets and his unmatched talent for explaining losses soothingly. And it is the Dogs who say that big plays don't matter so much when they come against the kind of opponents Tech has mostly played—Clemson, Duke, Virginia and such heavyweights as that.
But Dodd, after all these years at Tech, is accustomed to criticism from the Bulldogs. Athens is only 70 miles away, as the darts fly. He has heard it all before—that his teams don't work hard; that his offense is as predictable as fried chicken on Sunday: first down, run, second down, pass and third down, quick kick. He is also accustomed to criticism from Alabama, which started the retirement rumor (unfounded) and Auburn—two places that even the Dogs join Tech in hating.
The big rumble in Atlanta last week as Dodd tried to prepare for Penn State was a minor duel of words between Georgia Tech and Alabama about who was trying to avoid whom in the postseason bowls. Since Dodd dropped Bear Bryant and Alabama from his regular-season schedule after 1964, there was reason for a lot of fans to think Tech would avoid the Tide in a bowl game if at all possible.
To clear that up, Dodd mentioned one day last week that Tech would "play anybody." It will meet Notre Dame eight of the next nine years, which is pretty good proof. He also said that if Tech met Alabama, the Tide would have the most prestige to lose since it would be favored and Tech could win, possibly. This was all misinterpreted by newspapermen in two states, and it came out sounding as though Dodd was accusing Alabama of being frightened of Tech, which is silly but nonetheless led Tech's students to paint a sign on the campus that read, "Bear's scared but Dodd's not," and to begin a chant during the Penn State game that went, "We want Bear."
Generally, people who say "We want Bear" do not have to suit up and play him. Bobby Dodd was perfectly honest about this later on.
"I don't know why either team would want to play the other," he said. "You don't really go around looking for folks who might beat you. We're not a No. 1 team. I think probably that Notre Dame, Michigan State, Alabama and Arkansas are all stronger than we are. But I love this team, and they've done quite a job."