Tramel Orlando travelblog: Camping World Stadium's strange history
Before the Cheez-It Bowl on Tuesday night, I had a good chat with OSU associate athletic director Kevin Klintworth in the Camping World Stadium pressbox. Klintworth pointed out a basic truth about the Cheez-It Bowl.
It’s an underrated bowl.
Good location, Orlando. Good weather; great for December. Always a good opponent; the No. 2 team from the Atlantic Coast Conference, unless the ACC gets an extra team or two in the New Year’s Six bowls.
And it’s a solid stadium. Camping World Stadium. But it’s nothing fancy.
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OSU beat Miami 37-34 Tuesday night, and it was my second trip to Camping World Stadium. The first was OU’s 40-6 loss to Clemson in 2014, in what then was the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Orlando would have been a prime candidate for its Citrus Bowl to be included in the rotation for the College Football Playoff, but Camping World Stadium wasn’t up to par.
The venue isn’t nearly as nice as Boone Pickens Stadium or most of the Big 12 stadiums. Camping World Stadium might be most closely associated with Iowa State’s Jack Trice Stadium. Perfectly fine, just not opulent.
Because of the pandemic, Scotty Wright and I weren’t allowed to walk around much of the stadium before the game. Oh, we probably could have broken protocols and gotten away with it, but that would have been uncool. So we went straight to the pressbox Tuesday and surveyed the surroundings from there.
Camping World Stadium also is home of the Citrus Bowl, and occasional college football season openers, and the Florida high school championships. Some of the 1994 World Cup soccer was played at the stadium. The last three Pro Bowls were played there. Everything from Wrestlemania to Billy Graham crusades have been held there.
Camping World actually looks like a high-quality stadium from television, but it’s not a venue anything like the major bowls play in. An example: the sidewalk surrounding the stadium is made of gravel.
But Camping World Stadium has a little weird history that includes OSU.
The stadium opened in 1936 as Orlando Stadium, a Works Progress Administration project, near downtown. The city-owned facility also has been been known as the Tangerine Bowl and the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Renovations from 1974-76 brought capacity to 50,612, and in November 1976, a Florida-Miami game opened the new east-side upper deck.
The upper deck swayed. And creaked. And contained some strange features, like sections of the upper deck not connecting, requiring some fencing between those sections.
Florida and Miami fans expressed their alarm, and some three weeks later, OSU beat Brigham Young 49-21 in the Tangerine Bowl, and the same thing happened. Swaying and creaking upper deck. Fans were alarmed.
After legal wrangling for a few years, the upper deck was torn down and eventually rebuilt.
A $30 million renovation in 1989 brought capacity to 65,438, and a $175 million renovation in 2014 brought the capacity to 60,219 and made the stadium even more modern. Just not great.
Earlier Tuesday, Scotty and I walked to lunch from our airport hotel. Found a barbeque joint called Sonny’s, and it was really good. Orlando has a laid-back vibe, as a vacation resort should. Otherwise, I worked all day until time to go to the game.
We took an Uber to the stadium. Traffic isn’t much these days anywhere, on the way to a game. As we walked up to the stadium, most of the fans seemed to be from Miami, and that certainly proved true in the stadium. But the crowd appeared far less than the announced 13,000 (20 percent of capacity).
I don’t know how many OSU fans were at the game. Both fan bases wore orange, and everyone was spread out, so I don’t have an estimate. But hundreds of OSU fans gathered at the bottom of the stands to celebrate the victory during the trophy presentation, so it was a nice finish to the Cowboy season.
Scotty and I jumped on the usual Zoom press conferences after the game, then wrote into the night. We left the stadium at almost 1 a.m. and called an Uber. We had to wait almost 15 minutes, but the Uber finally showed. After we got back to the hotel, we podcasted via Zoom, then I watched the Thunder-Magic replay until 3 a.m. Late night. But a good day, most of it spent at a stadium with quite the history.