The review of the game films Monday after practice was not very pleasant as we watched ourselves in action against Florida State. After the film review Coach Jesse Berry gave us the scouting report of the Alabama team. Alabama was the defending 1961 National Champions and was on a twenty-six game win streak that was marred only by a tie with Texas in the 1960 Bluebonnet Bowl. Many of the players who played the year before in Birmingham were back and were familiar names to many of us. They included Lee Roy Jordan and Bill Battle, and a newcomer sophomore quarterback named Joe Namath. Darwin Holt had finished his career at Alabama but he was still in the minds of every Tech player who played in last year’s game.
We had a good week of practice and there was very little cutting up and horsing around during the week. There was no hitting and practice was not unusually long or tense. The coaches and players were pretty matter-of-fact and businesslike in their approach to the game. The game was important to all of us and no one needed to be reminded how much a win would mean to us or how devastating a loss would be to Alabama and their number one ranking. We methodically and diligently prepared for the day of battle that was approaching.
Friday afternoon we donned our game uniforms without pads and held a light practice on Grant Field. It was my twenty-first birthday and I could think of no better way to celebrate. I was exactly where I wanted to be on November 16, 1962. Practicing football on” the Flats” and preparing to play number one ranked Alabama was a suitable birthday celebration for me, but the real celebration to come was still a day away.
Coach Dodd was confident that our first team could stack up pretty well with the Alabama first unit. He later said that the starting line of the 1962 team was the best he had ever had at Tech. The line consisted of center Bobby Caldwell, guards Rufus Guthrie and Dave Watson, tackles Larry Stallings and Ed Griffin, and ends Billy Martin and Ted Davis. Five of the seven players later played in the NFL. Billy Lothridge was our quarterback, Mike McNames our fullback, and Joe Auer the leading halfback. I anchored the second unit line along with Bill Farrington, John Wright, John Matlock, Bill Wilson, Brad Yates, and Doane Thomas. Ray Mendheim, Tom Winingder, and Zollie Sircy played in the backfield along with Lothridge who played quarterback with both units. The second unit as a whole was somewhat of a concern to our coaches as they were not sure if we could hold our own against the Tide.
The Georgia Tech - Alabama game got an unusual amount of press that year. Alabama was the defending National Champs and were undefeated and ranked number one coming into the game and the press was still buzzing about the Graning-Holt incident the year before. The game was a must-see for many Atlantans and the ticket price from scalpers was $100 per ticket or more. It was the only time that I had any regrets about selling all of my tickets before the first game of the season. Four tickets to the Alabama game cost almost as much as the regular preseason price for four season tickets.
On the morning of the game there was a slight drizzle of rain as Kim King met with Bear Bryant in his room at the Georgian Terrace Hotel near the Tech campus. Kim was a prized quarterback recruit from Atlanta’s Brown High School. Kim later said that Coach Bryant was very nervous about playing Tech and chain-smoked as he looked out the hotel window at the drizzling rain. Bear felt that Bobby Dodd had a coaching advantage in a kicking game that would be dictated by the inclement weather. The Bear’s concerns proved to be well founded.
The Tech dressing room was quiet and very business-like as the players dressed for the game. I had my ankles taped as usual and drank the customary Coca-Cola to settle my stomach. I had both wrists taped and wore a pad over my right elbow as I expected to use my hands and right forearm and elbow to fight off the Alabama blockers.
Georgia Tech scored first when Mike McNames intercepted a Joe Namath pass in the second quarter and returned it to the Alabama fourteen yard line. Tommy Jackson gained five yards and then on second down McNames ran a counter trap up the middle. Rufus Guthrie knocked Alabama’s linebacker Lee Roy Jordan out of the way and McNames waltzed in untouched for the score. Billy Lothridge kicked the extra point and Tech led 7-0. The score remained 7-0 to the end of the first half.
The halftime activities were fairly routine as players took care of adjustments to their football equipment and treated bruises and injuries sustained during the first half. The position coaches met with each player to review and critique formations, position alignments, and individual techniques. We knew that we had outplayed Alabama in the first half and there was no reason that we could not repeat that in the second half.
We went into the second half with a great deal of confidence. The second half was a classic defensive battle with neither side able to generate a consistent offense and both teams using the quick kick and good punting to keep the offenses bottled up.