South Florida has always been fortunate to be in the mix at the end of the year or the beginning of the new year when it comes to college football bowl games and this year is no different. Even if the title sponsors may change (From FedEx to Capital One) the game remains the same.
This year will be the first time in school history that the Virginia Cavaliers will be playing in the Orange Bowl. The Florida Gators will make their fourth appearance in the Orange Bowl, winning each of their three previous appearances, the last coming in 2001 against the Maryland Terrapins. The Oklahoma Sooners hold the record with the most Orange Bowl appearances (20). The game will air 8 p.m. Dec. 30 on ESPN.
This will be a great opportunity for the Orange Bowl Committee to showcase Miami this year as it gears up to host the 2021 National Title game at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Since 1935, the Orange Bowl game has produced decades of college football history in South Florida. During the 1930s, the main concern about the new bowl was where it was going to be played. The first stadium to host the Orange Bowl was Miami Field, which contained wooden bleachers and attracted a crowd of 5,134 spectators for the first game. In 1938, the game was moved to the Miami Orange Bowl, which was built on the same property as Miami Field – currently Marlins Park.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the Orange Bowl saw tremendous growth with some incredible performances during the 1940s. In the 1950s, the Orange Bowl hosted two National Championship games, and saw the likes of Paul “Bear” Bryant (Alabama), Andy Gustafson (Miami), Frank Howard (Clemson) and other timeless coaching figures.
President John F. Kennedy visited the Orange Bowl game in 1963. He and many others watched the Alabama Crimson Tide roll over the Oklahoma Sooners 17-0. Joe Namath, now as “Broadway Joe,” was the quarterback for Alabama.
And during the 1980s, four National Championship games were held at the Orange Bowl Classic. The Oklahoma Sooners made six Orange Bowl appearances during the 1980s, and the dominant Nebraska Cornhuskers made four appearances to the bowl.
During the 1990s, the game location changed venues and was played for the first time at ProPlayer Stadium (currently Hard Rock Stadium) in 1996. It also returned to the Orange Bowl Stadium in 1999 for the 65th annual game.
In the 2000s and 2010s, the games were no different from memorable performances to overtime thrillers. Whenever a game is set for the Orange Bowl always expect the unexpected.
Prior to the 1950s, college football was ruled by the “gentlemen’s agreement.” Although no policies or rules existed to enforce segregation in the sport, northern schools silently understood they would not use Black players in games with southern schools. With limited exceptions, it was honored.
In 1950, the city of Miami had relaxed the rule prohibiting integrated play in its facilities, opening the way for northern teams to play in the Orange Bowl game. While the legal barrier had been lifted, the mindset of the “gentlemen’s agreement” had not.
In 1952 the University of Alabama faced a difficult choice between a long-sought return to postseason play and violating the school’s unwritten policy against playing integrated teams. And what emerged in the days leading up to that New Year’s Day matchup set the stage for the long, painful process of integration of the Alabama program. Alabama’s head coach at the time was Harold “Red” Drew.
For Alabama fans, the Orange bowl bid was a welcome return to the Tide’s rightful place in the post season. For the school’s Boosters it was a problem. The highly anticipated bowl bid involved the undesirable possibility of having to play an integrated northern team. As the Orange Bowl committee began considering likely teams to play in the 1953 game, the possibility of Alabama matching up a team with a Black player was very real.
As the U. S. attitudes toward segregation began to change following World War II, schools outside the south with integrated teams began to abandon the “gentlemen’s agreement.” Southern teams found they no longer could dictate the racial makeup of the opposing teams’ rosters and, as a result, segregated contests became far less common.
Atavus Stone, a Black player, had been a standout on the Syracuse 1950 team and played quarterback in 1951 when the team’s starter went down with an injury. Although he was eligible to play in 1952, Stone had not appeared in any game during the season, Alabama wasn’t taking any chances.
There is no record that Alabama requested Syracuse to honor the “gentlemen’s agreement” for the 1953 Orange Bowl but the southern school’s leaders were determined to hold to its segregationist stance.
Alabama went on to win that game 61-6.
The Orange Bowl didn’t integrate until 1955 when the Nebraska Cornhuskers put two of their Black players into the game during the 34-7 loss to the Duke Blue Devils. The press didn’t take any record of this racial milestone.
Bowl games often became a flash point to the racial standoff since most bowls were held in southern states. The Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Sun Bowl in El Paso saw the color line fall with considerable controversy in 1948 and 1950, respectively. The deep south bowls such as the Sugar and Orange remained faithfully segregated partially due to local ordinances that prohibited integrated play.