Moultrie Observer

Local Sports

December 13, 2012

Thomas to attend reunion of Florida Gator Bowl team

MOULTRIE — Owen Thomas has not seen many of his former University of Florida teammates over the last 60 years.

But he will get a chance to make up for lost time with some of them when the 1952 Gators get together for a reunion at the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1.

Thomas was a member of the Florida team that defeated Tulsa 14-13 in the Jan. 1, 1953, Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

It was the first Gators team to play in a bowl and the team’s 8-3 record was Florida’s first winning season in 16 years.

Invitations were sent out to about 50 players, managers and one student coach.

One of those players is Thomas, who was an outstanding football and baseball player at Moultrie High before going on to play collegiately for the Gators.

Thomas, who was inducted into the Colquitt County Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, said he is looking forward to meeting with his former teammates in Jacksonville and taking in the game between Northwestern and Mississippi State.

After his career with the Packers ended, Thomas considered a professional baseball career after the New York Yankees showed interest in power hitting and strong catching skills.

But on a train ride back from Atlanta, where he had played in the first Lighthouse for the Blind High School all-star baseball game at Ponce de Leon Park, he met former three-time Army All-American fullback Heisman Trophy winner Felix “Doc” Blanchard.

Blanchard advised him to play football and Thomas, who had berecommended to Florida by Tifton High coach Pig Davis, accepted Florida’s scholarship offer.

Thomas said his best season in Gainesville was in 1951, when he started at defensive end and was named to the University of Georgia’s all-opponent team.

The highlight of his career was the 1952 season in which the Gators defeated the Bear Bryant-coached Kentucky Wildcats 27-0, but lost close games to Georgia Tech and Tennessee. Ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press poll, the Gators were matched against No. 12 Tulsa in the Gator Bowl.

Thomas was unable to play in the game after having suffered a broken shoulder.

Florida also was forced to play without Thomas’s good friend and Donalsonville native Haywood Sullivan, who had accepted a $75,000 bonus to professional baseball.

But Florida got a 2-yard touchdown run from future Chicago Bears star Rick Casares, a 37-yard touchdown pass from Fred Robinson to J. “Papa” Hall and two Casares extra-point conversions to lead 14-0 at the half.

Tulsa scored twice in the second half, but a missed extra point by Tulsa senior Tom Minor, the only miss of his career, was the difference in the 14-13 Gators victory.

Florida was led in the game by All-American tackle Charlie LaPradd and quarterback Doug Dickey, who completed 4-of-5 passes for 68 yards.

Thomas roomed with Dickey for three years and was the best man at his wedding.

Dickey, of course, went on to coach at the University of Tennessee from 1964-1969, winning two SEC championships, and returned to coach at Florida from 1970-1979. He returned to Tennessee as athletic director in 1985.

Thomas was one of just 15 of the 115 freshmen who reported to Florida to play all four seasons for the Gators.

After his career, he returned to Moultrie, where he worked for Thunander for nearly 30 years. After retiring in 1997, he and son Bob opened Thomas Supply Co. on First Avenue Southeast, selling after-market products for mobile homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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