Monday, August 3, 2009

Ghosts of the Orange Bowl: Willlie Galimore

The Orange Bowl field has been the stage for many great running backs. But none may have been better than former Florida A&M great Willie Galimore. In a time of segregation when African-Americans couldn't attend the Universities of Miami, Florida and Florida State, Florida A&M had its pick of the litter of the best black athletes in the state. From 1953 through 1956, Galimore dazzled fans and opponents with amazing perfomances in the annual Orange Blossom Classic game played annually in December at the Orange Bowl. The Orange Blossom Classic was considered the mythical national championship for black college football and no player dominated the 1950s like Galimore.

Galimore was a 3-time Black College All American for the FAMU Rattlers and often saved his best games for his trips to Miami. In the 1954 Orange Blossom Classic, Galimore rushed for 295 yards against Maryland State. It was an Orange Bowl stadium record that stood for 44 years until Miami's Edgerrin James gained 298 yards against UCLA in 1998. Two years later in his final college game, Galimore scored 4 touchdowns in a heartbreaking 41-39 loss to Tennessee State in the 1956 Orange Blossom Classic. During his 4 years at FAMU, the Rattlers sported a 33-4-1 record winning the black college national championship in 1954 and were runners up in 1953,1955 and 1956. Legendary Florida A&M coach Jake Gaither called Galimore the finest player he ever coached.

Before there was a Barry Sanders or Gale Sayers, Galimore was the most electrifying runner of his time. At 6'1 and 187 pounds, he was built like a wide receiver and was often the fastest athlete on the field. Like Sayers, he went on to play for the Chicago Bears, where he was an All Pro and helped the Bears win the 1963 NFL championship. Galimore and Bears teammate Bo Farrington died tragically in a car accident on July 26, 1964. He was 29 years old. Galimore is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

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