By Zac Ellis
The 1955 season was an historic one for Vanderbilt football. The Commodores finished the regular season 7-3 under head coach Art Guepe, securing the first bowl berth in program history. The Dores landed a spot in the Gator Bowl opposite No. 8 Auburn on New Year’s Eve.
Quarterback Don Orr wasn’t about to miss his shot at history. Despite a dislocated elbow suffered in a 20-14 loss to Tennessee on Nov. 26, Orr made it his goal to suit up for the Gator Bowl.
“They didn’t know whether I’d play or not,” Orr recalls. “But I was determined to play, and I had therapy and they put me in a cast. On game day they taped up my elbow to keep me from overextending. So that’s how I went out to play.”
Indeed, Orr made the most of his bowl appearance. He led Vanderbilt to a 25-13 win over Auburn, with the Commodores’ defense forcing six Tiger turnovers. Orr earned MVP honors after running for two touchdowns, passing for a third and recovering one fumble as a safety on defense. With the win, Orr cemented his legacy as the leader of Vanderbilt’s first-ever bowl team.
What does Orr remember best from the Gator Bowl?
“Everything going right in that game,” he said with a laugh.
Orr’s legacy lives on in the SEC, which will honor the former Vanderbilt quarterback in its 2017 class of SEC Football Legends. The 14-member class will be honored at the SEC Football “Weekend of Champions” Dec. 1-2 in Atlanta. The annual SEC Legends Dinner presented by AT&T will be held Fri., Dec. 1 at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, and the group will also be recognized prior to the SEC Football Championship Game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sat., Dec. 2.
Following Vanderbilt’s Gator Bowl victory, Orr, a native of Miami, went on to cap his senior season in 1956 with a 5-5 record. Orr graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in electrical engineering, and despite being drafted by the NFL’s Chicago Bears in the 26th round, he joined the military and was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Following his military stint, Orr worked for Nashville Bridge Company and later Nashville Machine Company, retiring from the latter in 2006.
But Orr kept his hand in football by becoming a referee. He began by officiating high school games and, later, SEC football games before being offered an opportunity to referee in the NFL. Orr’s officiating career spanned 25 seasons, over which he helped referee three Super Bowls (XVII, XXIV, XXVIII). He retired from the NFL in 1996.
Vanderbilt honored Orr as a member of its 2017 Hall of Fame class earlier this fall. His long, winding life has led him in many directions, but even today Orr recognizes that it all began at Vanderbilt.
“A Vanderbilt scholarship has provided a life for me that my entire family has enjoyed,” Orr said. “I was able to get on the ground floor of a young company and watch it grow. It’s just been amazing what a Vanderbilt scholarship has meant to me.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.