1954 Gator Bowl Team
Sept. 8, 2003
By Claire Kinzy, Texas Tech Media Relations - The year was 1954 and the colors were red and black. It was their last stand together and, on Jan. 1, 1954, a team of many hearts truly beat as one. A crowd of 28,641 fans filled the stands to watch two great teams play football, and a great football game it was. The 1954 Gator Bowl was a landmark game for much more than the glorious victory over Auburn. It would be a day to remember from the Sunshine State when these two teams met on the gridiron when kicking off the New Year held an entirely different meaning. On that first day of the new year of 1954 in Jacksonville Fla., history was made, a tradition was founded, and football players became heroes.
The Gator Bowl win was not only the first major win in Texas Tech history, it was the first Texas Tech game ever to be broadcast on television. For many Raider fans back home, this away game did not seem quite so far away. The road, however, was not paved in gold. The Raiders trailed Auburn in the first half and the hopes of winning their first major bowl game seemed to be slipping away. What happened in the second half was what no one expected, the tides were about to turn - for good. Thanks to some fancy footwork and a brilliant strategy, the Red Raiders came thundering back to beat Auburn 35-13 making Tech's television debut an exciting and memorable one.
The Gator Bowl also bore witness to the founding of one of Tech's most beloved traditions, the Masked Rider. Mounted upon a horse named "Blackie," a masked Joe Kirk Fulton dressed in a red shirt, black cape and bolero led the Raiders onto the field in a fashion that was only suitable for conquerors - and conquerors they were. Ed Danforth of the Atlanta Constitution later described this exuberant entrance, "No team in any bowl game ever made a more sensation entrance." This was not the first time a masked man on horseback stormed the field during a Texas Tech football game, however, it was not until the Gator Bowl that the tradition officially began when a caped crusader led the team onto the field, and thus commenced the legend of the Masked Rider.
The 1954 Gator Bowl team had many heroes that contributed to its monumental victory. Among those heroes were key playmakers such as Jack Kirkpatrick, Paul Erwin and Jerry Johnson. Vic Spooner helped with a blocked punt, Don Lewis recovered an Auburn fumble in the end zone, and Bobby Cavazos was unstoppable.
Gator Bowl MVP Cavazos sealed the Tech victory by scoring the final touchdown on a Gator Bowl record 59-yard run. He was later honored with the award for Outstanding Back on the bowl-winning team. The six-foot, 190-pound, second-team All-American finished the game with 13 carries for 141 yards, averaging close to 10.8 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. In regards to the importance of the 1954 Gator Bowl win, Cavazos was quoted as saying, "I believe that after that, we put Texas Tech on the map. And the next year, they had such a good team course, I wasn't there but that forced the Southwest Conference to look at Tech. Because those two teams back to back had such successful years, the Southwest Conference knew they couldn't keep us out".
It was a day never to be forgotten as the Raiders rang in the New Year with style. The score was 35-13 but the win meant so much more than the scoreboard could show. On Jan. 1, 1954, the Texas Tech Red Raiders won much more than their first nationally televised game. They received a tradition that has been cherished to this very day. They witnessed the making of heroes; and, yes, of course, they won the game as well.
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