Before we leave the college football bowl season with its infinite number of games and forgettable bowl names completely, here are some answers and memories.
Yes, there was a Great Lakes Bowl and UK played it’s first ever bowl game in it. It was in 1947 and Kentucky won. They beat the “perennial football powerhouse” Villanova 24 – 14. Bear Bryant, in his second year, was the UK coach, and my schoolmate at UK, George Blanda, kicked the three extra points plus a field goal. He was my schoolmate, not my classmate, because he was one year behind me.
The game was played in Cleveland, in December, outdoors, no dome, and drew all of about 15,000 fans. That was the only time the Great Lakes Bowl was ever played, but, hey, it was a bowl game, the school’s first bowl game and our team won! We students celebrated and felt we were beginning to build a football dynasty. And it seemed to continue for a few years until Coach Bryant was “stolen” from UK by Texas A&M who subsequently lost him as Alabama hired him away “for life.”
UK’s short “dynasty” happened in 1950, 1951, 1952, but it’s been a struggle ever since. In 1950 we played another “football powerhouse,” Santa Clara, in the Orange Bowl and lost. Santa Clara, as well as Villanova, reduced their emphasis on football and faded into the background but both have done well in basketball.
The banner year was 1951 with an SEC Conference championship and a win over number one rated Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. And 1952 ended with a victory over TCU in the Cotton Bowl. But Bryant was never able to beat General Neyland and his Tennessee team while coaching at UK.
UT fans were particularly nettlesome and, while I was at UK, would come to Lexington on Friday before the game was played the next day and “autograph” public places and memorials with orange paint. The campus sidewalks would have a number of creative messages for us on Saturday morning.
I still give them credit for one action they did. There was, (still is?), a memorial statue of a Confederate (?) officer on a raring stallion in front of a downtown building. A raring stallion can’t help but display some private parts and this statue did it well. The UT fans would, in the middle of night paint those prominent appendages Tennessee orange. The city would soon have workers out cleaning the paint off. The end result was that this stallion’s protuberances were the cleanest parts and shone for some weeks and drew attention as though someone had posted a big arrow saying, “Look at me!”