A Brief History of Bowl Games (Part III)

Following a brief hiatus during which I have been engaged in other endeavors, at Dawg Sports and elsewhere, I now resume recounting the history of bowl games.  

Having traced the heritage of college football's postseason from 1901 to 1968, then from 1968 to 1995, I now pick up where I left off before, with apologies for the long delay.  (I'm sure you were on the edge of your seat the whole time.)  

By the mid-1990s, the trend towards corporate sponsorship being given pride of place in a bowl game's name---even, sometimes, to the extent of displacing a contest's historic nomenclature altogether---was clear and it picked up steam as the decade continued.  Title sponsorship became so crucial that name changes oftentimes were indicative of a bowl game's financial health and standing within the sport.  

For enough dough, you, too, can choose the name of a college football bowl game.

Bowls that were stable or on the rise experienced noticeable upgrades in the quality of their business partnerships.  In 1996, the Sugar Bowl cemented its status by becoming the Nokia Sugar Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl improved its stature by becoming the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl; a year later, the Peach Bowl strengthened its push to become the premiere pre-New Year's Day bowl game by adding Chick-fil-A as a title sponsor.  

Meanwhile, on New Year's Day 1997, what had for the prior decade been the Hall of Fame Bowl kicked off under a new moniker, the Outback Bowl.  (In the last Hall of Fame Bowl, by the way, Penn State beat Auburn in Tampa.)  

At the other end of the spectrum, signs of the Cotton Bowl's decline from its onetime position as one of the traditional four major bowl games could be seen in the temporary restoration of its historic nomenclature---"Cotton Bowl Classic," sans title sponsorship---before Southwestern Bell came on board.  

The struggling Copper Bowl was without a named sponsor in 1996 after the end of its second partnership arrangement in the preceding five years, leading to its rechristening as the Insight.com Bowl in 1997.  The Jeep Aloha Christmas Football Classic, on its fourth name in a 13-year span, was played for the 19th and final time on December 25, 2000, while the Independence Bowl went without title sponsorship in 2004, in the aftermath of a tumultuous period in which the Shreveport-based postseason affair went through three corporate partnerships (with Poulan/Weed Eater, Sanford, and MainStay) in the previous seven seasons.  

Oddly enough, Fred and Lamont were the title sponsors of the Independence Bowl from 1998 to 2000, which explains why Grady presented the victory trophy to David Cutcliffe following Mississippi's victory in Shreveport on New Year's Eve 1999.

Even as corporate dollars became increasingly essential to a bowl's enduring health, new postseason outings continued to come into being.  The Motor City and Humanitarian Bowls each debuted in 1997; the former claimed the backing of the Detroit automotive industry, while the latter flew under the banner of Crucial.com for five years before being dubbed the MPC Computers Bowl prior to its eighth season of existence.  

In 1998, the Music City and O'ahu Bowls joined the mix, bringing the total number of postseason affairs in Division I-A college football to 22.  A year later, the Music City Bowl had its first title sponsor, HomePoint.com, and, by 2004, the Nashville-based outing was known by the cumbersome nomenclature "Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Presented by Bridgestone."  

The Mobile Alabama Bowl debuted in 1999 and quickly morphed into the GMAC Bowl.  The following year, the latest attempt at hosting a postseason game in Houston skipped the middleman and went straight to being called the galleryfurniture.com Bowl before becoming the Houston Bowl in 2002 and acquiring EV1.net as a title sponsor in 2003.  

Confirmation of the sea change came in 1999, when the final holdout among the historic bowls gave in at last and the Rose Bowl accepted AT&T as a named sponsor.  Although there would be subsequent partnerships between the Granddaddy of 'Em All and the likes of Playstation 2 and Citi, the Tournament of Roses always scrupulously insisted that the game's name come first.  

It's "the Rose Bowl Presented by Citi," not "the Citi Rose Bowl," just as it's "Sex and the City," not "City and the Sex."

After that, all bets essentially were off.  New postseason tilts continued to emerge, including the Silicon Valley Classic in 2000, the New Orleans Bowl in 2001, the Continental Tire Bowl and the Diamond Walnut San Francisco Bowl in 2002, and the PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl in 2003.  The Jeep O'ahu Bowl moved to Seattle in 2001 and the ConAgra Foods Hawaii Bowl took its place in Honolulu in 2002, the same year the rechristened Seattle Bowl folded.  

Naming rights continued to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, as late arrivals on the scene rapidly took on new names like the Emerald Bowl and the Meineke Car Care Bowl, while the Citrus Bowl became the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day 2003.  (In the first Capital One Bowl, by the way, Auburn beat Penn State in Orlando.)  

Also along the way, the N.C.A.A.'s repeated schemes to contrive a single predetermined national championship game produced the Coalition, the Alliance, and, ultimately, the Bowl Championship Series.  These novel arrangements dramatically affected the postseason by weakening, if not severing, historic conference ties to particular bowl games and by tweaking the postseason schedule.  

I want to watch this lame show 'til midnight, then go to bed, get some sleep, wake up, and watch eight---count 'em, eight---college football games the next day, darn it!

Following the 1993 regular season, 19 Division I-A bowl games were played, of which four took place on New Year's Eve 1993 and eight transpired on New Year's Day 1994.  The rise of a designated national championship game extended the postseason and diluted the traditional January 1 slate of games, though.  

The 1994 campaign culminated in two January 1 games and seven January 2 games.  A half-dozen New Year's Day tilts commenced on the first day of 1996, followed by the Fiesta Bowl between Florida and Nebraska on January 2.  Similar divisions occurred in the ensuing years, with the B.C.S. bowl games being staggered in subsequent seasons; after the 1998 season, for instance, the Rose and Sugar Bowls were played on January 1, followed by the Orange Bowl on January 2 and the national title-deciding Fiesta Bowl on January 4.  

That brings us to the here and now, on the cusp of the first season to boast five B.C.S. bowl games:  the Fiesta and Rose Bowls on January 1, the Orange Bowl on January 2, the Sugar Bowl on January 3, and the National Championship Game on the ludicrously late date of January 8.  As we enter into a new era in college football's postseason, what does the history of Division I-A's unique bowl arrangement have to tell us about where the sport has come from and where it is heading?  

For that, my friends, you will have to wait until the long weekend.  

To be continued. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!

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