On a balmy Saturday in South Florida, fans were filing into the Orange Bowl to watch their Miami Hurricanes play another underdog opponent. It would be weeks before they would realize they had witnessed one of the most unusual games in college football history.
Besides talking about the game, there was plenty of chatter about other things such as the historic performance of the Chicago Cubs in the recent World Series, America’s success in the Summer Olympics, and the November 8th election which had swept a new president into office with surprising ease.
Months before, the Hurricane sports department had written a letter to the College of William and Mary with an invitation and a contract to come to Miami and play a football game in the brand new Orange Bowl on Christmas eve.
Instead of addressing the letter to William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, it was sent to Norfolk. The postman in Norfolk noticed no discrepancies because William and Mary had started an extension campus in Norfolk two years before with the name William and Mary, Norfolk Division.
When the football people in Norfolk received the invitation, they were as delighted as they were surprised. And why wouldn’t they be? They had only started their football team a year before and had assembled it in just two days. So being recognized by a big school like Miami so soon was unexpected affirmation, enough to make their heads nod. While tugging on their suspenders and being rather taken by themselves, someone signed the contract and sent it back.
When the time came, the football people in Norfolk booked a two-day train ride to Miami and entered the stadium fully believing that they belonged. They played so well that the Hurricanes chose to take a safety late in the game rather than risk a mishap punt from their own end zone.
Let me anticipate your question: How could a two-year school with a one-year program possibly come to within four points of mighty Miami? Was it just a different era back then and scores like 6-2 were common? Actually—no. There are other reasons. Yes, they are a bit shady but at least they explain things.
Not everyone at the school was surprised that the team played as well as it did. Dr. Rufus Tonelson was a student at the school in 1932 and he said that even though Norfolk Division was a two-year school and its team was new, many of its players had sketchy backgrounds and little interest in education.
Norfolk Division grew into a four-year university and three decades after the 1932 Orange Bowl, the Norfolk administration announced its sovereignty, a new name, and its rights to all-things Norfolk dating back to the campus’ inception in 1930.
The new name?
Old Dominion University.
Even today, the Miami University website claims that the Hurricanes played William and Mary but of course, neither William nor Mary showed up. If we wanted to correct the Hurricane website, how exactly would we do so since Norfolk Division no longer exists and the Old Dominion University didn’t appear until 1962?
My suggestion: since the ODU emblem states it was formed on the Norfolk campus in 1930, it inherits all of Norfolk Division’s history, including the saga of its impostor team that played in the Orange Bowl on December 24, 1932.
The South was on edge because Clyde Barrow had been paroled in Texas and had rejoined Bonnie to continue their lives of robbery and violence through the South that would eventually end in a police ambush in Louisiana. Bonnie was still wearing the ring of another man she had married eight years before when she was 15.