During bowl week, Florida Citrus Sports will host members of the 1966 Morgan State University football team, paying homage to its historic Tangerine Bowl victory a half-century ago.
On December 10, 1966, the Morgan State College Bears defeated the West Chester (Pa.) State College Rams, 14-6, for win number 18 of what would become a 31-game winning streak. Under the leadership of College Football Hall of Fame coach Earl Banks, Morgan State was one of the winningest college football teams – regardless of race – of the 1960s (71-16-1). In addition, 41 players from Banks’ teams went on to play professional football, including 1966 Tangerine Bowl Most Valuable Player and future NFL Hall of Fame middle-linebacker Willie Lanier.
After finishing the 1965 regular season undefeated, the underdog Bears trounced FAMU, 36-7, in the Orange Blossom Classic, a game many considered to be the “Black National Championship Game.” Despite that victory and another undefeated regular season in 1966, small college polls around the nation ignored Morgan State. Gridiron experts wrote them off as simply a good team that beat up on weak Historically Black College and University opponents. Feeling slighted and craving a chance to gain national recognition, Morgan had something to prove.
So did Orlando.
For years, the Tangerine Bowl Commission had fought with the operators of the bowl to allow integrated games. In 1958, the University at Buffalo had declined a Tangerine Bowl invitation because the team refused to play without its two African-American players. In 1966, two decades after Jackie Robinson broke the national baseball color barrier and one decade after boys played the first integrated Little League Baseball game below the Mason-Dixon line at nearby Lake Lorna Doone Park, Orlando was finally ready to host its first integrated college bowl game.
The Bears never trailed, as Roland Savage capped an 80-yard scoring drive with a one-yard rush into the end zone. After Daryl Johnson converted the extra point, Morgan took a 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. A national television audience watched as Morgan and West Chester remained locked into a tough defensive battle throughout the second half. With a little over three minutes left in the game, Jeff Queen intercepted Rams’ quarterback Jim Haynie and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown to give the Bears a 14-point lead. Haynie answered back with a touchdown pass to Don Wilkinson, but an attempted onside kick on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by Morgan State to seal the victory.
Along with the victory came the national recognition. At the time, the Tangerine Bowl was the East Regional Championship game of the NCAA College Division. Morgan State was not only the best small college in the east, it was the first – and only – HBCU to ever achieve the distinction.
In addition to members of the 1966 team, current Morgan State University President Dr. David Wilson and Athletic Director Floyd Kerr will also be in Orlando during bowl week, celebrating in this accomplishment we can all take pride in.