CHC: VU plays in 1955 Gator Bowl

Dec. 3, 2008

VU plays in 1955 Gator Bowl (pdf)  |  Commodore History Corner Archive

>>> Read More Features, Columns and Blogs on

Coach Art Guepe (right)

In tribute to Vanderbilt's football team earning a soon-to-be bowl bid, CHC will review the Commodores three previous bowl games. This week read about the 1955 Gator Bowl vs. Auburn.

Vanderbilt head football coach Art Guepe was delighted that his Commodore team was rewarded with a New Years Eve, Gator Bowl invitation in 1955. The Commodores finished the regular season with an 8-3 record and was making its first bowl appearance in school history. A large task was evident with their fellow SEC member Auburn as the opponent. The Tigers were ranked eighth in the nation.

An estimated 36,000 fans in the Jacksonville, Fla., location were on hand to see Vanderbilt's wounded quarterback play an outstanding game. Don Orr had dislocated his right elbow five weeks earlier in the loss against Tennessee.

"Orr hadn't hit a lick in practice," Guepe said after the game. "We didn't know for sure his elbow had recovered from the injury in the final season game against Tennessee. I was going to start Tommy Harkins at quarterback if we kicked off, and said so to the team. Something like a tear came up in Orr's eye so I said to him, `Are you ready?' He said he was, so I said, `Get in there.'"

Auburn was coached by Ralph "Shug" Jordan and led the Tigers to an 8-1-1 regular season. The Sugar Bowl and the Cotton Bowl, to the school's dismay, shunned the Tigers. This was Auburn's third straight Gator Bowl appearance. There was a brief time that Vanderbilt considered rejecting the invitation.

Traveling home from the disappointing Tennessee loss, rumors were flying that the Gator Bowl probably would invite Vanderbilt. Upon the speculation, Guepe disagreed and said they could not play anyway, because they didn't have a quarterback. The next morning Guepe met with his trainers Pinky Lipscomb and Joe Worden about Orr's prognosis. Guepe also met with the team and all involved decided to accept the invitation.

Vanderbilt got on the board first late in the first quarter when Commodore tackle Tommy Woodroof jumped on an Auburn fumble. The Commodores had a first down on the Auburn 39-yard line. A key pass in the drive to receiver Joe Stephenson that covered 15 yards put the ball on the Tiger eight-yard line.

Phil King ran the ball to the two-yard line. On the next play King bulled his way into the end zone, but a motion penalty nullified the play and the ball was pushed back to the seven-yard line. Orr confidently tossed a TD pass to Stephenson. Vanderbilt 7, Auburn 0.

Auburn came back on their next possession on a 10-play march that resulted in a 38-yard pass from quarterback Howell Tubbs to Fob James, who scampered down the sideline for the tying touchdown. Vanderbilt 7, Auburn 7.

The Commodores struck quickly on their next possession. From the Commodore 24-yard line, King ran for four yards, Orr then raced 44 yards on a keeper to the Auburn 28-yard line. Joe Scales caught a 24-yard pass from Orr and secured a first down at the Tiger four-yard line. Orr faked a handoff to King and rolled into the end zone standing up. The four-play drive gave the Commodores a 13-7 lead as the conversion failed. The lead held to the half.

In the second half, Tubbs fourth fumble of the game gave Vanderbilt possession at their 49-yard line. Orr ran around end for 16 yards, but lost 11 yards on the next play when he was sacked. Scales caught a 20-yard pass, Charlie Horton ran for 15 and five yards. Two plays later Vanderbilt was facing a fourth down and a yard for the touchdown and two feet for a first down. King smashed into the line and just got the first down. Orr followed with a dive into the stubborn Tiger defense for his second touchdown of the day. The conversion was missed and the Commodores led, 19-7.

In the third quarter, Vanderbilt got a big break when an Auburn punt only traveled 12 yards and a roughing penalty gave the Commodores a starting point from the Tiger 26-yard line. Horton ran for five yards and Don Hunt dashed for an additional 20 yards. On the final play of the third period, Horton was held for no gain at the one.

Over 5,000 Vanderbilt fans cheered as the teams changed ends of the field. The faithful Commodore followers were sitting in the end zone where their team was about to score. Horton blasted his way into the end zone extending the Vanderbilt lead to 25-7 while the conversion kick was blocked.


Guepe cleared his bench in the final moments of the game. He used 38 of his 39 players. The Tigers finished the scoring with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Cook to Joe Childress capping a six-play drive covering 66 yards. The final score was Vanderbilt beating Auburn, 25-13. Auburn would lose the ball to Vanderbilt on five fumbles.

Orr's big day included one touchdown pass and two rushing TD's. The sports writers unanimously named him the game's MVP. Each player from both teams received a commemorative watch from the 11th Gator Bowl for which they played.

Vanderbilt totaled 271 yards for the game including 177 rushing. The Tigers gained 301 total yards with 159 on the ground. In the air, the Commodores were 5-of-8 for 94 yards and Auburn was 7-of-13 for142 passing yards. The Tigers picked off the only interception for the day.

Guepe used a maneuver in the game that gave Vanderbilt an advantage on offense. He was in his third year at the Vanderbilt helm and never used the ploy in a Commodore game before. Guepe used a double-flanker that opened the confused Auburn defense.

"This is truly one of my finest hours," Guepe said during the awards dinner after the game. "I can never repay these young men for what they have meant to me, Vanderbilt, its alumni and fans across the country. In adversity and victory they have been the greatest. It was a thrill for all of us, players and coaches, to defeat such a fine team as Auburn. This is truly one of my finest hours."

When it was Jordan's time to speak, he asked for Orr to stand. Jordan congratulated him on his performance and joked that he was glad he didn't dislocate both his elbows.

"We lost to the finest team we've played all year," Jordan said. "It was a pleasure to play with such a fine team as Vanderbilt. You men are clean and fine in victory and true sportsmen."

Orr went on to become a long-time referee in the National Football League. His prominence and competence in the NFL earned him several Super Bowl and playoff experiences.

Orr received a standing ovation when he went to the podium for his MVP trophy.

"No one player can win something like this. I want to thank the other 39 men on our squad, my coaches, and especially Dr. Pinky Lipscomb and Trainer Joe Worden, who got me ready and possible for me to play."

Next week read about Vanderbilt vs. Texas Tech in the 1974 Peach Bowl.

If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail




Proud Sponsors of Commodore Athletics