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That, of course, included the three times Georgia played in the game. 1943, 1949 and 1960. Frank Sinkwich held the Orange Bowl record for total offense (365 yards) for years and provided offensive fireworks never seen before by Orange Bowl supporters. He was handy and so were the other Georgia stars.
TCU coach, Dutch Meyer, who was given credit for creating the modern spread formation, died in 1982. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet up with him with a pad and pen to hear him pontificate on the nuances of the spread. However, there were long interview sessions with Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska in San Diego, J. C. Watts, before he became a political sensation, in Norman, along with a handful of Oklahoma greats including Barry Switzer. Lee Roy Jordan, Alabama; Tommy Nobis, Texas; Ray Perkins, Alabama; LeRoy Selman, Oklahoma, and Bob Pellegrini, Maryland, were generous with their time.
A favorite vignette came when collecting lore from the 1939 game between favored Oklahoma and Tennessee. The Volunteers won 17-0 in a game that “made” the Orange Bowl. At the end of the game, Gen. Robert Neyland, the Volunteer coach, congratulated his team on its success and said that he was “damn well pleased with the result,” and then added, “Be ready for spring practice, Jan. 15th.” Not even Nick Saban and Kirby Smart could get away with that today.
Time spent with Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma coach who practiced with 13 players on defense (only the team and coaches knew who the “live” players were) to confuse any sneaky eyes, was not only informative, but great fun. Conversations with Frank Howard, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne, Bob Devaney, Darrell Royal, Lou Holtz and Bill Murray did not quality me for a coordinator’s job anywhere, but I will never forget those conversations which are sprinkled throughout the book on the Orange Bowl’s first fifty years.
Then there was the Sooner’s Tommy McDonald, who gained great incentive to succeed because he was told from grade school in Roy, New Mexico, on to the NFL that he was too small to play. He showed ‘em. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy, a friend of Oklahoma’s Bud Wilkinson spoke to the Sooners before kickoff, which only incensed the Alabama team which was aware of what had taken place. The Tide won, 17-0. Perhaps the most unforgettable vignette resulted from a conversation with Steve Van Buren, LSU’s power running fullback who had a sensational career as a running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. When he wasn’t at practice or games, Van Buren spent all his time at the race track. For years, following retirement from the NFL, he was always at a track somewhere—like every day, year round.
After spending a morning interviewing him at his apartment, I asked a predictable question. If he had his life to live over again, would he live it the same. “Yes,” he grinned without hesitation. “I’d have another lifetime to try to beat the horses.”