By Andy Solomon
Since its beginning, Johnson Hagood Stadium has witnessed so many memorable games on its emerald green turf that nearly every individual has their own favorite games they recall. Certainly, I have mine and Saturday, Jan. 11, was another and certainly one of the biggest.
The historic facility hosted the Inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl, a premier all-star game that featured the nation’s top draft-eligible college football players as projected for the NFL draft.
The game honored a total of nine Medal of Honor recipients and a host of Wounded Warriors who attended. The game’s beneficiaries are the Medal of Honor Museum Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project.
The American Team was coached by former Citadel assistant coach Ralph Friedgen, who later achieved great successes as offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers and later as the head coach at the University of Maryland. His squad challenged the National Team that was guided by former Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey, and at the end, the American Team defeated the National Team, 20-3.
A crowd of 5,135 braved dismal weather that forced the postponement of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights skydiving team that was going to bring in the game ball. However, the fans were thoroughly entertained by the soon-to-be-NFL hopefuls on the field, the South Carolina State University “Marching 101” Band’s patriotic halftime performance and the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders, who added to the festivities.
The local organizing committee of 43, led by Tommy McQueeney ’74, had only 105 days to prepare for the event, and the facility certainly would have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000-10,000 fans, had the weather – that included a tornado watch – not been a factor.
One of the players for the game was The Citadel’s cornerback Brandon McCladdie, an all-Southern Conference performer, who had a splendid day playing for the American Team. He recorded two solo tackles and had one broke up one pass.
The Bowl was far from just a game as there was a weeklong schedule of events for the players, coaches and fans that included a black tie gala on Friday night that brought approximately 500 people together that welcomed the nine Medal of Honor recipients together in a most solemn ceremony.
The University of Florida wide receiver Solomon Patton was named the MVP of the American Team while linebacker Deron Furr of Fort Valley State collected the plaque for the National Team. A permanent trophy, which will be on permanent display on the USS Yorktown, will have Coach Friedgen’s name engraved as the winning coach.
The future of this game is indeed bright as there was a lengthy list of sponsors that supported it.
Now that the committee has a year to plan for the next one, the Medal of Honor Bowl will gain a tremendous amount of steam for the second annual event that will be held in about 51 weeks.