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A Brief History of Bowl Games (Part I)

Last December, it was announced that, beginning with the 2006 season, the Peach Bowl would be rechristened the "Chick-fil-A Bowl," which prompted reactions from Paul Westerdawg, The Lawgiver, and (in my previous incarnation as Kyle on Football) me.  

College football's postseason structure is the subject of much debate, from the B.C.S. to the corporate sponsorship of bowl games to the desirability, vel non, of a playoff.  As we look ahead to a new college football season that features changes in the bowl games, from the name of the Peach Bowl to the addition of a fifth B.C.S. contest, it seems appropriate for us to examine the course of the history of Division I-A college football's postseason.  

For the most part, the facts contained in this and subsequent postings upon this subject are drawn from the E.S.P.N. College Football Encyclopedia, so, if I get something wrong, don't blame me . . . blame the Worldwide Leader in Sports.  

You can look it up.

Although the first American college football game was played in 1869, it was not until the first anniversary of the turn of the 20th century that bowl games came into being.  At the end of the 1901 season, the Michigan Wolverines faced Stanford at Tournament Park in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day 1902.  The Maize and Blue claimed a 49-0 victory in the inaugural Rose Bowl, but the Granddaddy of 'Em All would not be played again for another 14 seasons, until Washington State beat Brown in the Tournament of Roses on January 1, 1916.  

The Rose Bowl has been played at the end of each college football season since, despite being temporarily relocated to Durham, N.C., for the 1942 contest, which took place 25 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  For many years, though, the Rose Bowl stood alone as the sole postseason engagement in major college football and the oldest bowl would not be joined by another permanent fixture on the gridiron landscape for longer still.  

It was not until the first day of 1921 that a second bowl game transpired.  On the New Year's Day following the 1920 season, California met Ohio State in the Rose Bowl while Centre tangled with Texas Christian in the first and final Fort Worth Classic.  

The Fort Worth Classic . . . the Alcoholic Great-Uncle the Family Doesn't Like to Talk About of 'Em All!

The following year, there were three bowl games:  the San Diego East-West Christmas Classic on December 26, 1921, and the Rose Bowl and the Dixie Classic on January 2, 1922.  Although the Tournament of Roses would endure, the other two would not; the San Diego East-West Christmas Classic was played for the final time a year later, on December 25, 1922, while the Dixie Classic occurred intermittently thereafter, taking place at Fair Park Stadium in Dallas on New Year's Day 1925 and New Year's Day 1934 before folding.  

Southern California beat Missouri in the Los Angeles Christmas Festival on December 25, 1924, but no other game bearing that name would transpire in later years.  Accordingly, it was not until January 1, 1935, that the Rose Bowl was joined by another enduring postseason tradition in the sport, for it was on that date that the initial Orange, Sugar, and Sun Bowls came to pass.  For the record, Tulane beat Temple in the former's home town, Bucknell beat Miami in the latter's home town, and El Paso beat Ranger in the former's home town.  

The budding tradition continued to blossom in 1936, the first year of the Associated Press college football poll, as January 1, 1937, saw six games being played in a single day.  The Orange, Rose, Sugar, and Sun Bowls were joined by the Cotton Bowl (played at the site of the defunct Dixie Classic) and the Bacardi Bowl.  The latter, which occurred at Tropical Stadium in Havana, Cuba, turned out to be a one-time affair in which Auburn and Villanova played to a 7-7 tie in a game featuring a combined total of 16 first downs, four pass completions, and three interceptions.  

Had the Bacardi Bowl become a permanent part of the postseason, Havana might have been a great place to ring in the new year . . . unless, of course, you happened to break your brother's heart by helping Hyman Roth in an unsuccessful attempt to have him killed, in which case all bets are off.

After the Bacardi Bowl fizzled, the postseason lineup of five New Year's Day tilts (Cotton, Orange, Rose, Sugar, and Sun Bowls) remained stable until the end of World War II.  The 1945 season saw another expansion of the number of games played after the end of the regular schedule, as eight contests took place on January 1, 1946.  The latest entrants into a growing field were the Gator, Oil, and Raisin Bowls.  

The Houston-based Oil Bowl was played twice, with Georgia winning the game on New Year's Day 1946 and Georgia Tech winning the game on New Year's Day 1947, but the game lapsed after that.  Likewise, the Raisin Bowl in Fresno lasted five years, passing into history after San Jose State beat Texas Tech in Ratcliffe Stadium on December 31, 1949.  The Gator Bowl, of course, continues to be played in Jacksonville to this day.  

College football's postseason grew again in 1946 with the addition of the Alamo, Harbor, and Tangerine Bowls.  The former contest took place in San Antonio on January 4, 1947, but the contest between Hardin-Simmons and Denver would be the only such outing ever played.  San Diego's January 1 Harbor Bowl lasted just three seasons before folding after the 1948 campaign.  The New Year's Day Tangerine Bowl, however, carved out a niche as the postseason home of what we would now call "mid-major" teams and it endures to this day, despite having gone under a variety of names.  

The first truly glutted postseason field came in 1947, when 26 of the 107 Division I college football teams took part in bowl games.  That year's newcomers included the first and only Great Lakes Bowl (featuring Kentucky and Villanova on December 6, 1947) and a trio of inaugural New Year's Day contests called the Delta, Dixie, and Salad Bowls.  

I'm almost positive that Brick led Ole Miss to victory as the starting quarterback in either the Delta Bowl or the Dixie Bowl, one or the other.

The Delta Bowl was hosted at Memphis's Crump Stadium and it lasted two years.  The Dixie Bowl (not to be confused with Dallas's Dixie Classic of the 1920s and '30s) was played at Birmingham's Legion Field and it, too, was played just twice before vanishing following the 1948 season.  The Salad Bowl had slightly more staying power, as the Phoenix-based contest lasted for five years, taking place for the final time on New Year's Day 1952 and never featuring a ranked team.  

On December 18, 1948, Little Rock played host to the first Shrine Bowl; there would not be a second one.  A dozen days later, on December 30, 1948, Lafayette, La., played host to the first Camellia Bowl; there would not be a second one at the major college level.  On December 9, 1950, College Park, Md., played host to the first Presidential Cup game; there would not be a second one.  

By the 1952 season, therefore, college football's postseason lineup had become both leaner and more stable, consisting of seven established New Year's Day games that remain familiar to fans of the sport more than half a century later, the Cotton, Gator, Orange, Rose, Sugar, Sun, and Tangerine Bowls.  This slate of bowl games remained unchanged until the 1958 campaign, in which the postseason kicked off in Louisville on December 13 with the first and last Bluegrass Bowl.  

Although the Kentucky-based affair quickly folded, two more enduring postseason tilts came into being the following season, in the form of the Bluebonnet and Liberty Bowls, each of which took place for the first time on December 19, 1959.  The latter contest continues, despite having switched sites, while Houston's follow-up attempt at hosting a bowl game enjoyed considerably more success than did the Oil Bowl.  The Bluebonnet Bowl almost made it to the contest's 30th anniversary but it never became a January game, closing up shop after Texas beat Pitt in the Astrodome on December 31, 1987.  

The Bluebonnet Bowl was a fine game while it lasted, but its enduring legacy is to provide a cautionary reminder that, once the initial coolness of the Space Age wore off, attaching the prefix "astro" to the front of every available noun rapidly became lame.

Short-lived bowl games continued to crop up in the 1960s.  On November 23, 1961, Fresno State beat Bowling Green in the first and last Mercy Bowl.  On December 9, 1961, New Mexico beat Western Michigan in the first and last Aviation Bowl.  On December 9, 1961, Baylor beat Utah State in the first Gotham Bowl.  There would be a second Gotham Bowl, but, despite what would now be considered the marquee matchup for the 1962 outing (Nebraska versus Miami in a 36-34 thriller in Yankee Stadium), there would not be a third.  

On December 2, 1967, Pasadena played host to a second postseason tilt bearing the somewhat demeaning nomenclature "the Junior Rose Bowl."  Of course, since that contest featured West Texas State and Cal State-Northridge, perhaps the belittling moniker was appropriate . . . but, even so, the organizers of the event decided to do away with the name in 1969.  

In the intervening season, Atlanta hosted the first Peach Bowl on December 30, 1968.  Since the starting point for this analysis was the Peach Bowl's name change, it seems appropriate to choose this as the stopping point for the first installment of this series . . . for, as we shall see, the very next day, New Year's Eve 1968, marks the beginning of the practice of rechristening pre-existing postseason affairs.  

To be continued. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!