The Gator Bowl has a long history with the initial contest being held in 1946. At times, the matchups have been anything but close and sometimes they've been more focused on defense rather than offense. However, the Gator Bowl has more times than not been a showcase for great talent, first-rate teams and amazing performances. There's a reason why the Gator Bowl has become a perennial favorite on January 1. It is because it is simply a fantastic, premiere event in NCAA football's post season. Here are some of the more memorable contests.
1948: Maryland vs. Georgia
This Gator Bowl, which was the third, matched the Maryland Terrapins (7-2-1) with the Georgia Bulldogs (7-4-0). It was the first time these two clubs ever met and this contest would help establish this bowl game as a fan favorite. Quarter one saw no scoring but in the second, Maryland went ahead 7- 0 on a 35-yard touchdown run by Lu Gambino. The Terrapins went into the locker room at the half in front by seven.
Georgia tied the game on the first drive of the second half as quarterback John Rauch led the team on an 85-yard drive that ended with Rauch crossing the goal line on a one-yard rush. Maryland would then score 13 unanswered points in the third.
In the fourth, it was all Georgia as the Bulldogs scored 13 points and shut out the Terrapins. The Dawgs scored two touchdowns but they missed their second extra point after QB Rauch tossed a nine-yard score to John Donaldson. That made the score 20-all.
1960: Georgia Tech vs. Arkansas
This Gator Bowl was played on January 2 and featured Georgia Tech (6- 5) and Arkansas (8- 2). The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets took possession first and after an 11 minute drive that took them to the Arkansas 8-yard line missed a field goal. But on the team's second drive, Tech quarterback Marvin Tibbets made a 51-yard scramble to score the game's first TD. With the Jackets ahead seven to zip, the Razorbacks scored their first touchdown as Joe Paul Abernathy ran the ball in from the one-yard line in the second quarter. In the third quarter, Lance Alworth and Jim Mooty took turns ripping up the turf. Together, they rushed for 78 yards. Mooty took the ball in from 19 yards put and Arkansas led 14- 7. That was all the scoring there would be as the Razorbacks took the game by seven.
1978: Clemson vs. Ohio State
The Clemson Tigers (10- 1) met the Ohio State Buckeyes (7-3-1) on December 28, 1978, in what would be an infamous post-season game. At the half, it was 10- 9 in favor of the Tigers and in the third quarter, Clemson went ahead 17- 9. In the fourth quarter, Ohio State made a comeback, making it a two-point contest. Then on OSU's next possession during what looked to be the game-winning drive, the Buckeyes lost the game and their coach, the legendary Woody Hayes, lost his job.
With a tad over two minutes left and OSU trailing 17-15, Buckeye quarterback Art Schlichter dropped back to pass and tossed a screen wide of his intended receiver. The ball went into Clemson middle guard Charlie Bauman's hands. Bauman held onto the ball and ran it back. Eventually, he was shoved out of bounds on the OSU side of the field. As the Tiger player started to celebrate, Hayes punched him in the face. Clemson held on to beat Ohio State 17- 15 and the next day Woody Hayes, who had coached at OSU for 28 years, was fired. Thus, the game and coach were both lost on one play.
1979: Michigan vs. North Carolina
This year, the game ended again with the score 17- 15 as the Michigan Wolverines (8- 3) took on the North Carolina Tar Heels (7-3-1) on December 28, 1979. After a scoreless first quarter, Michigan scored twice. First, they hit a 20-yard field goal and then Wolverine quarterback John Wangler connected with receiver Anthony Carter on a 53-yard TD pass. The extra point was missed. North Carolina scored its first points on a 1-yard run by Doug Paschal. The half ended with Michigan on top 9- 7. But in the third, the Heels took the lead on a Matt Kupec pass that found Phil Farris. The 12-yard TD, made it North Carolina 14 and Michigan 9. In the fourth, the Tar Heels connected on a 32-yard field goal and led 17-9. Wolverine QB B.J. Dickey then found Anthony Carter with a 30-yard touchdown pass. It was Carter's second touchdown of the day and the score stood at 15 Michigan and 17 North Carolina. Michigan attempted to tie the game on a 2-yard conversion that failed. That was the end of scoring for the day as the Heels took the 1979 edition of the Gator Bowl.
2008: Texas Tech vs. Virginia
This Gator Bowl matchup saw the unranked Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-4) upset the 20th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers (9-3). The game was played on January 1, 2008. Texas Tech had finished third in the Big 12 and Virginia placed second in the ACC that season. Tech got the lead first as QB Graham Harrell hit Detron Lewis with a 10-yard touchdown pass. The rest of the first half was all Virginia as the Cavaliers scored 21 unanswered points. In the third, the Raiders managed a touchdown but with 11:26 left in the game, the Cavaliers went up 28- 14.
With 5:32 left in the game, Tech QB Harrell drove for a touchdown, making it 28- 21. On the next possession with about three minutes left, Texas Tech pounced on a Virginia fumbled. On the next play, they ran the ball in from four yards out and tied the game on the extra point kick. With the contest at 28-all, Virginia couldn't get a first down on their next possession. After the punt, the Raiders took the ball to the Virginia 24 and with two seconds left placekicker Alex Trlica nailed the field goal. The Red Raiders of Texas Tech had engineered a 17-point, fourth quarter come-from-behind Gator Bowl victory.
The Gator Bowl is now in its eighth decade and is a healthy, thriving post-season offering. The bowl game that was hard to sell in it's first two years now packs them in, and schools that play in the game garner over $2.5 million.