By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
While West Virginia played one of the most memorable football games ever played in the Orange Bowl, it has never played in THE Orange Bowl.
If this sounds contradictory, it is not.
When it was announced Sunday that WVU had been selected to play in the Orange Bowl game against Clemson, it marked the school’s first venture into that bowl game, which is somewhat shocking, considering that Duquesne played — and won — in the Orange Bowl 74 years ago.
But we will get to that.
See, for many years the University of Miami played in the structure that was the Orange Bowl Stadium, and on the night of Oct. 2, 2003, one of the greatest regular season football games with two of the greatest plays was played by the Mountaineers and the Miami Hurricanes.
This, of course, was the game where Quincy Wilson took a swing pass from Rasheed Marshall on a third and 13 play with just two minutes to play, juked Vince Wilfork, who would become an NFL star, then bowled over and jumped over another NFL-player-to-be, Brandon Meriweather, en route to a 33-yard touchdown the likes of which have never been seen.
Moments later, however, on fourth-and-13, Winslow made a spectacular fingertip, diving grab of a Brock Berlin pass for his 10th catch of the game to keep a drive alive that would end in a game-winning field goal on the final play.
The Orange Bowl, of course, is no longer played in the rickety Overton structure that was completed the year after the 1936 Duquesne team played a New Year’s Day Orange Bowl game with Mississippi State, winning, 13-12, on a desperation pass on the last play of the game.
To show how much times have changed, Duquesne was favored over Mississippi State that day the Orange Bowl in which they played cost all of $390,000 Depression-era dollars to build, or half as much as the revenue WVU brought in this season on beer sales in its stadium.
Certainly, few games have as rich a history as does the Orange Bowl, something Clemson is well aware of, considering that the Tigers wrote a page of it themselves when, in 1982, the Tigers defeated Nebraska, 22-15, in the 48th Orange Bowl to nail down their first national championship.
In that game Clemson rode the defense led by safety Terry Kinard and a 295-pound freshman middle guard who would go on to become William “Refrigerator” Perry of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears.
Perry is just one of so many famous players who first came onto the nation’s radar in the Orange Bowl, beginning perhaps in 1953 when a backup quarterback from Alabama got some playing time in the first Orange Bowl game to be televised, playing late in the most one-sided Orange Bowl Classic of all time, Alabama’s 61-6 victory over Syracuse.
He threw the touchdown pass that broke the Orange Bowl
scoring record and his name would become synonymous with big games, Bart Starr, the man who quarterbacked Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.
Names really do jump out at you as you look back upon the history of the Orange Bowl, which began in 1935 when the Miami Hurricanes were matched up with Bucknell.
Bucknell? That Bucknell?
Yes, that Bucknell, and as you might expect, it was a mismatch, although you probably couldn’t have guessed that Bucknell won the game, 26-0. It was, by the way, the first time The Associated Press transmitted a photo across America ... probably of Miami’s red faces.
As we say, names make history and so it is that the Orange Bowl gained some of its luster in its second game, but not because Catholic University beat Mississippi, 20-19, but because in the press box writing about it that day was the great sportswriter Grantland Rice.
Names you don’t expect to see? How about the 1945 game when a quarterback threw for an Orange Bowl record 304 yards while playing on the losing Georgia Tech team, a quarterback who would become a better coach and administrator, Frank Broyles.
Then there was the time Holy Cross went to the Orange Bowl, losing to Miami, 13-6, a game that had what might have been the Orange Bowl’s most exciting finish. Tied at 6-6 with 10 seconds left, the Holy Cross quarterback threw a pass that was batted into the air and returned 89 yards for a touchdown.
The quarterback who threw the pass was Gene DiFilippo, who would go on to become athletic director at Boston College and be the man in charge when the Eagles jilted the Big East and jumped to the ACC.
Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden, Bud Wilkinson, Tom Osborne, Bobby Dodd and Joe Paterno, all coaching legends, won national championships in the Orange Bowl, but perhaps the best and the worst coaching job was done by Clemson’s legendary Frank Howard in a 27-21 loss to Colorado in 1957.
Down 20-0 at the half, Howard gave his team an inspiring speech in which he threatened to quit on the spot if he didn’t get better effort from his team. Well, they fought back to take a 21-20 lead but for some unknown reason Howard opted to try an onside kick once he got the lead with 11:22 to go. Colorado recovered it and drove 53 yards for the winning touchdown.
And so it went, year after year, moment after moment, highlight after highlight. It is a BCS game because it’s so rich in history, filled with controversy and upsets, far too many to recount at the moment.
Rest assured, West Virginia will go into the game trying to write a little history of their own, a rookie coach with a unique offense trying to spring an upset in what it hopes is its final game representing the Big East.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.