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The Orlando Citrus Bowl: A Brief History

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The Orlando Citrus Bowl is fresh off a massive reconstruction process to update the 79-year-old building. Here is a look at its rich history.

Orlando Citrus Sports

When Orlando City SC and New York City FC take the field on March 8, the two teams will be adding another narrative to the long history of the Orlando Citrus Bowl.

The stadium began life in 1936 as a modest 8,900-person venue, built as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal program in the Works Progress Administration. The WPA provided employment for 8,5 million out-of-work Americans during the Great Depression.

As one of the most ambitious and multi-faceted projects in the New Deal legislation, the WPA began in 1935 as a public works project, constructing public buildings, roads, and even putting out-of-work artists, actors, and writers to work.

The Orlando Citrus Bowl -- then named Orlando Stadium -- was one of 116,000 buildings constructed in the program. Other notable projects in Florida included the Overseas Highway that links the Florida Keys to the mainland, St. Petersburg Community College, the State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Fox Hall on the campus of Rollins College in Winter Park, and the former Expo Center in downtown Orlando. The former has been replaced with the University of Central Florida's emerging media program's headquarters.

In 1947 the stadium's capacity was expanded to 10,000 and renamed the Tangerine Bowl, a name it would keep until 1975. The Orlando Stadium moniker returned between 1977 and 1982, while the current name had various versions of Citrus Bowl in 1976, and 1983 through the present. The recent reopening of the stadium after massive renovations retooled the official name to the Orlando Citrus Bowl.

The stadium has seen its fair share of American football history moments. The first ever college football game at the stadium saw Catawba College defeat Maryville, 31-6, in the first Tangerine Bowl in 1947. The local Elk's Lodge organized the early Tangerine Bowl games as charity events.

History was made in 1966, as an invitation to play in the Tangerine Bowl was extended to Morgan State, the first traditionally black college to play in an NCAA-sanctioned bowl game. Morgan State beat West Chester State, 14-6. In 1991, Georgia Tech was crowned National Champions after beating Nebraska 45-21 there.

Tang Bowl Program 1966

Besides national bowl games, the Citrus Bowl has been the home of Jones High School football, as well as both University of Central Florida and Rollins College. A myriad of short-lived minor league American football teams called the stadium home. Most recently, those teams included the XFL's Orlando Rage in 2001 and the UFL's Florida Tuskers in 2009-2010.

The longest-lived and most interesting franchise to call the stadium home for American football is the Orlando Panthers. Founded in 1929 in Newark, NJ, as the Orange Tornadoes, they played for two years in the early NFL. After a number of changes to both the team's name and league affiliations, the club moved to Orlando as the Panthers.

The Panthers competed in the Continental Football League, where it won two championships, in 1967 and 1968. The league folded in 1969, and with it, the team.

Besides American football, the Citrus Bowl has hosted everything from monster trucks to rock concerts. Among the notable names that have played are The Who, The Rolling Stones, Metallica, and Paul McCartney. The attendance record belongs to WWE's WrestleMania XXIV in 2008, at 74,635 attendees.

The Citrus Bowl has been the home of Orlando City for three of the past four seasons, including two USL Pro championship games. The most recent came in 2013, when the Lions beat the Charlotte Eagles, 7-4, in front of a then USL Pro Finals record of 20,886.

In addition to Orlando City, local clubs the Orlando Lions and the Orlando Sundogs both used the stadium as their home. Aside from local soccer, the Citrus Bowl has also been host to games from both the 1994 World Cup and the 1996 Men's and Women's Olympic soccer games.

Next week I'll take a more focused look at World Cup and Olympic Soccer at the Citrus Bowl.

Fun Fact: The Citrus Bowl was used in the 1998 Adam Sandler Movie Waterboy.