The 1917 Georgia Tech Golden Tornado football team represented the Georgia Institute of Technology (commonly known as Georgia Tech) in American football during the 1917 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association football season. The Golden Tornado, coached by John Heisman in his 14th year as head coach, compiled a 9–0 record (4–0 SIAA) and outscored opponents 491 to 17 on the way to its first national championship. Heisman considered the 1917 team his best, and for many years it was considered "the greatest football team the South had ever produced".
The backfield of Albert Hill, Everett Strupper, Joe Guyon, and Judy Harlan led the Golden Tornado, and all four rushed for more than 100 yards in a 48–0 victory over Tulane. During the regular season Georgia Tech defeated strong opponents by large margins, and its 41–0 victory over eastern Penn shocked many; Davidson, with Buck Flowers (a future Tech star), was defeated 32–10. Tech's 83–0 victory over Vanderbilt is the worst loss in Vanderbilt history, and its 63–0 defeat of Washington & Lee was the worst loss in W&L history at the time. Tech finished the season by defeating Auburn 68–7, clinching the conference title. Davidson and Auburn were the only teams to score points against Georgia Tech.
Because of the American entry into World War I in April, several SIAA schools did not field football teams. However, Georgia Tech had an increasing enrollment and bright prospects for its football team after its undefeated 1916 season. Losses from the previous season's team included guard Bob Lang and fullback Tommy Spence.
In 1917 football used a one-platoon system, in which players played both offense and defense. Fifteen of the 21 players on the 1917 roster were from the state of Georgia, and 10 of its 11 starters came from Georgia high schools. The team's captain was tackle Walker "Big Six" Carpenter. Its renowned backfield consisted of quarterback Al Hill, halfback Everett Strupper, halfback Joe Guyon, and freshman fullback Judy Harlan.
Coach John Heisman's swift backfield used the pre-snap movement of his "jump shift" offense, and Al Hill led the team in carries. Ev Strupper, arguably the best of the four, was partially deaf; because of his deafness, he called the signals instead of the team's quarterback. When "Strupe" tried out for the team, he noticed that the quarterback shouted the signals every time he was to carry the ball. Realizing that the loud signals would be a tip-off to the opposition, Strupper told Heisman: "Coach, those loud signals are absolutely unnecessary. You see when sickness in my kid days brought on this deafness my folks gave me the best instructors obtainable to teach me lip-reading." Heisman recalled how Strupper overcame his deafness: "He couldn't hear anything but a regular shout. But he could read your lips like a flash. No lad that ever stepped on a football field had keener eyes than Everett had. The enemy found this out the minute he began looking for openings through which to run the ball."
Joe Guyon, the team's best passer, was a Chippewa Indian who was born on the White Earth Indian Reservation; his brother, Charles "Wahoo" Guyon, was the assistant coach. Guyon had played for Pop Warner at Carlisle, and had to sit out the 1916 season in accordance with conference transfer rules. He ran through (and over) opponents, in contrast to Strupper's dodging style. Judy Harlan said about Guyon, "Once in a while the Indian would come out in Joe, such as the nights Heisman gave us a white football and had us working out under the lights. That's when Guyon would give out the blood curdling war whoops."
The Golden Tornado led the nation in scoring, with 491 points. Quarterback Al Hill led the nation in touchdowns with 23, and tackle Bill Fincher kicked 49 extra points.
A number of Georgia Tech players received post-season honors. Walker Carpenter, Everett Strupper, and Joe Guyon were All-America selections, with Carpenter and Strupper the first two players from the Deep South selected for a first-team. In addition to Carpenter, Strupper, and Guyon, Bill Fincher, Pup Phillips, Si Bell, Shorty Guill, and Al Hill were selected to the All-Southern Team by sportswriters. Phillips also received the Hal Nowell trophy for the most efficient play during the season.
On December 8, the Golden Tornado celebrated its national-championship season at a team dinner at the Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta. Each member was presented with a gold football inscribed with the words, "National Champions". Clarke Mathes, William Thweatt, Dan Whelchel, Theodore Shaver, and William Higgins had already enlisted in the U. S. Marines for the First World War; a week later, Si Bell, Jim Fellers, Pup Phillips, and Charles Johnson also left for the Marines.
Heisman challenged Pop Warner's Pittsburgh team to a postseason game to determine a national champion, but since they did not play until the following season, Tech was named national champion. Although the Golden Tornado was invited to play the 4–3 Oregon team in the Rose Bowl, by then many players had joined the war effort.
"I consider the 1917 Tech team the best football I have ever coached", Heisman said. "It's the best team I have seen in my long career as a coach. I was lucky in having under me a team whose members possessed much natural ability and who played the game intelligently. I have never seen a team that, as a whole, was so fast in the composite." For many years, it was considered "the greatest football team the South had ever produced". According to a contemporary New York Sun account, "Georgia Tech looms up as one of the truly great teams of all time."
The following chart provides a visual depiction of Tech's lineup during the 1917 season with games started at the position reflected in parenthesis. The chart mimics the offense after the jump shift has taken place.
The following is an incomplete list of statistics and scores, largely dependent on newspaper summaries.