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Has Georgia Tech Football Ever Been More Popular Than The Falcons?

I haven't listened to this KSK podcast. You'll forgive me; it is lengthy. But its description says a portion of it makes this argument: "in terms of overall popularity in the city, [Yahoo! Sports blogger Jay Busbee] puts Georgia football and even Georgia Tech football ahead of the Falcons, depending on how those teams are playing."

The former is beyond question; the Falcons are the fourth-most popular sporting institution in the state, behind the Braves, UGA football and NASCAR. Georgia Tech football is not more popular than the Falcons, and I don't think it has been since the late-1960s, when Bobby Dodd's afterglow meant more than the brand-new NFL expansion team did.

Last year, the 71,228-seat Georgia Dome welcomed over 95 percent capacity for Falcons games, while 55,000-seat Bobby Dodd Stadium turned up only 84 percent. That wasn't a break from trends -- at best, Tech attendance hovers just north of 50,000, while Falcons fans averaged almost 70,000 even for the Michael Vick-less, Bobby Petrino-led 2007 disaster. Tech fans had reason to show up in 2010, too: the Jackets were coming off their first conference championship in 19 years, while the Falcons had gone 9-7 the year prior.

In the day, Georgia Tech football was the biggest show and hottest ticket in town, when Dodd was going head-to-head with Bear Bryant and the city's closest thing to a marquee pro team was the minor league baseball Atlanta Crackers. Leaving the SEC in 1963 helped doom Tech to almost three decades of irrelevance, with the Falcons showing up four years later. Though it wouldn't be until the Steve Bartkowski era that the Falcons were able to really claim the title of most popular Atlanta football team, and let's not talk about the rest of the 1980s, which did not exist.

Popularity in Atlanta often fluctuates according to success, and Tech's three most successful seasons of the past 30 years have been overshadowed by equally rare periods of Falcons success; their 1990 national championship coincided with Jerry Glanville's "2 Legit 2 Quit" spree, the Joe Hamilton years were countered by the Dirty Birds' Super Bowl run, and that Orange Bowl trip came days after the Falcons clinched their first-ever consecutive winning season.

Until the '60s, Tech was able to brand itself as the football team of the Southeast's capital. Since then, they've become the team for alumni and alumni only. If you're born in Georgia without specific ties to a team besides UGA, you're a Dawgs fan.

Capturing Atlanta's heart is a very hard thing for a team to do. The Falcons have done it at least two or three times in the past 15 years; Tech has yet to do it in my lifetime.

 

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.