A point of pride for both schools

By Tom Mattingly

When the powers-that-be on both sides honored Bobby Dodd at Tennessee’s season-opening game against the Yellow Jackets on Sept. 4, 2017, it had to have been a point of pride for both schools.

After all, Dodd was an All-American quarterback for the Vols when Bob Neyland had the Tennessee program reaching for the stars. His time on campus stretched from 1928-30, as the Vols compiled a 27-1-2 record, led by the “Flaming Sophomores of 1928.”

Vol fans sang the praises of “Hack, Mack and Dodd,” better known as Buddy Hackman, Gene McEver, and Dodd. Fans also wore buttons that read “In Dodd We Trust.” The fourth member of that famous backfield was Quinn Decker.

Dodd had a 57-year association with the Yellow Jacket program, through stays as head coach (1945-66), athletic director (1950-76) and alumni association consultant until his death on June 21, 1988. He compiled a 165-64-8 record (.713) in 22 seasons and guided Tech to a 31-game winning streak from 1951-53, including a 12-0 season and the national title in 1952.

He was inducted into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in 1993, honoring his coaching career. Already inducted for his playing career at Tennessee in 1959, Dodd joined Amos Alonzo Stagg and Bowden Wyatt as the only inductees selected as a player and a coach to that time.

Since 1976, the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award has been given to a head coach whose team excels on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. Georgia Tech’s Grant Field became part of Bobby Dodd Stadium in 1988.

Dodd and Wyatt, both Neyland protégés, were on opposing sides on Nov. 10, 1956, at Grant Field in a game later selected by The Associated Press (AP) in 1961 as the No. 2 game of all time. In a classic battle of field position and defense, No. 3 Tennessee defeated No. 2 Tech, 6-0. Tennessee earned the game’s only score with a quick third quarter drive.

Tailback John Majors found end Buddy Cruze on two long passes, and the Vols were in sight of the Tech end zone. Tommy Bronson found the end zone for the game’s only score. Bill Johnson remembered it was one of the tightest, tensest games he had ever played in, play after play.

“That really was one of the greatest games ever played,” Dodd would say later. “I thought we were going to win 7-6. We had Tennessee backed up, but [Johnny] Majors won the game again with one call. I had our safety playing back to watch for a quick kick, but Majors ran for 16 yards. My safety moved up quite a bit and then Majors quick-kicked 68 yards to our 12. We couldn’t get out of that hole.”

The game was played so close to the vest that Dodd, facing fourth-and-4 at the Tennessee 29, decided to punt rather than go for the first down. Asked about Dodd not going for the requisite yardage, Wyatt, always the outspoken and consummate competitor, had a cogent answer: “Because he wouldn’t have made it.” Reflecting the Neyland influence, those old-time Vols were ultra-competitive as players and continued to be so as head coaches.

Dodd was 9-7-1 against Tennessee during his coaching career, with two memorable moments among the games.

When Tech defeated Tennessee 30-13 in 1949 on Shields-Watkins Field, Dodd told reporters, “My season is a success if I don’t win another game.”

News Sentinel sports editor Tom Siler recounted another story after the 1963 contest on Homecoming Day in Knoxville, won by Tech 23-7. On one play, Tech wide receiver Ted Davis didn’t come back to the huddle, but stayed in his flanker position and was wide open for a touchdown pass. Tennessee partisans called it a maneuver that was “unethical if not illegal.”

When Bob Woodruff, the interim athletic director at Tennessee, complained to the media, Dodd’s response was to the point, calling Woodruff, his one-time assistant at Tech, “the worst public relations athletic director in the United States.”

A Kingsport native who wore No. 17 as a Vol, Dodd was also selected to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1966.

“In his three years at Tennessee,” legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote, “he figured in only one losing game and on any number of occasions his keen directing strategy saved the day.”

Whether playing at Tennessee or coaching at Georgia Tech, Dodd certainly had a profound influence on the landscape of college football at both schools.