Missouri coach Gary Pinkel isn’t new to the Citrus Bowl, which selected his Tigers for its New Year’s Day game against Minnesota last Sunday.
Of course, when Pinkel and Kent State played the University of Tampa on Dec. 29, 1972, in front of a then-record crowd of 20,062, the game was still called the Tangerine Bowl.
It didn’t become the Citrus Bowl until 1983, and was renamed the Capital One Bowl in 2003 before reverting to the Citrus Bowl moniker this season with a new title sponsor, Buffalo Wild Wings.
Fittingly, wild is one way to describe Pinkel’s experience with the Golden Flashes’ only Mid-American Conference championship team 42 years ago in Orlando, Fla.
Kent State teammate and future NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert was the game’s co-MVP along with Tampa’s Freddie Solomon, but it was Paul Orndorff — better known as pro wrestling’s “Mr. Wonderful” — who scored the game’s first two touchdowns.
Alabama coach Nick Saban played safety on that Kent State team, which also featured two U.S. Olympians, sprinter Gerald Tinker and thrower Al Schotterman.
Future No. 1 overall pick John Matuszak also played defensive end for that Tampa team.
Still, none of that is what stands out most for Pinkel, who led Kent State in receiving with 34 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns in 1972, about his previous Orlando bowl game.
“I had my best game going ever … but I got hurt right at the end of the second quarter,” said Pinkel, who had five catches for 98 yards, including a 57-yard reception.
With a few minutes remaining in the first half, Pinkel was taken to the locker room, where an unusual greeting party awaited as doctors examined his knee.
“Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto or whoever, I didn’t know the other guy’s name, are standing there looking at me like this,” Pinkel said, contorting his face into a shocked expression. “So, they had me on the table and I got my leg out and they’re looking at my knee, and they’re all just kind of staring. You can’t write a script like that. Anyway, I vividly remember that.”
Pinkel also remembers that Kent State lost to Tampa, which is now an NCAA Division II school. He hopes for better luck with No. 16 Missouri, 10-3, against Big Ten’s Golden Gophers, 8-4, at noon Jan. 1 on ABC in the newly renovated Orlando Citrus Bowl Stadium.
“You always want to go to a great bowl game, one that’s very well respected,” Pinkel said. Certainly, this is, and it will be a great experience for my players, our staffs, families and certainly alumni and fans. Everybody wants to go to Disney World.”
That might be especially true for Missouri, which absorbed several bowl snubs during its years in the Big 12 Conference but will play in the Citrus Bowl a year after beating Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
The Citrus Bowl, which started in 1947, markets itself as the top bowl destination outside of those affiliated with the newly created College Football Playoff.
The Tigers certainly appreciate the opportunity to play in the game for the first time since the program beat Southern Mississippi in the 1981 Tangerine Bowl.
“It has a lot of tradition behind it, so it’s very special,” said junior center Evan Boehm, a Lee’s Summit West graduate.