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A Brief History of Bowl Games (Part II)

I recently began recounting the history of college bowl games, to which task (with thanks for the corrective efforts of an attentive reader) I now return.  

We pick up where we left off, on December 31, 1968.  The inaugural Peach Bowl had taken place at historic Grant Field the day before, but what has since become a disturbing trend began innocuously enough on the final day of that year, as what had for the preceding nine seasons been known as "the Bluebonnet Bowl" became instead "the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl."  A year later, on December 6, 1969, the Junior Rose Bowl likewise changed names, becoming known as "the Pasadena Bowl" until it went out of existence after being played for the final time in December 1971.  

That same month and year witnessed the beginning of what has become the most prominent of the Johnny-come-lately postseason affairs, the Fiesta Bowl.  Although it is now a part of the Bowl Championship Series, the contest in Tempe got off to an inauspicious start on December 27, 1971, with a game involving hometown W.A.C. member Arizona State.  The Sun Devils would appear in five of the first seven Fiesta Bowls and the event would not become a New Year's Day game until the 1981 season.  

Today, a major bowl game . . . 35 years ago, just an excuse to let A.S.U. play an extra home game so the fans could tailgate.  (Image courtesy the Team Blanket Store.)

The 11 postseason outings comprising the 1972 bowl lineup would remain unchanged until the surge of patriotism accompanying the Bicentennial inspired the establishment of the Independence Bowl (first played on December 13, 1976) and the All-American Bowl (first played on December 22, 1977, under the name "the Hall of Fame Classic").  The expansion of the bowl slate continued unabated over the course of the ensuing decade, with the addition of the Garden State and Holiday Bowls in 1978, the California Bowl in 1981, the Aloha Bowl in 1982, the Cherry and Freedom Bowls in 1984, and the Hall of Fame Bowl (not to be confused with the aforementioned Hall of Fame Classic) in 1986.  

Some of these superfluous contests were but a passing evil; the Garden State Bowl folded after 1981, as did the Cherry Bowl after 1985.  The more intrusive tendency was towards renaming, not always artfully, existing outings.  The Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl went back to its historic nomenclature beginning with the 1976 season, but bigger changes were on the horizon:  the Tangerine Bowl became the Florida Citrus Bowl in 1983, then title sponsors were added to the names of what now came to be known as the Eagle Aloha Bowl (1985), the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl (1986), the John Hancock Sun Bowl (1986), the Mazda Gator Bowl (1986), and the Sea World Holiday Bowl (1986).  

Few of these partially rechristened contests were New Year's Day affairs, but one such outing rapidly was becoming a significant player on the college football scene.  The Fiesta Bowl, which matched a pair of top 10 teams just twice in the first 14 years of the game's existence, featured showdowns between No. 5 Michigan and No. 7 Nebraska, No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Florida State and No. 5 Nebraska, No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 3 West Virginia, and No. 5 Florida State and No. 6 Nebraska between January 1, 1986, and January 1, 1990, respectively.  

The Fiesta Bowl's virtually simultaneous rise to prominence and acceptance of a title sponsor paved the way for more venerable postseason contests to attach corporate names to their historic monikers, too.  Thus, in the late 1980s, traditional bowl games came to be called the Federal Express Orange Bowl, the Mobil Cotton Bowl Classic, and the USF&G Sugar Bowl.  

Amid this changing landscape, bowls rose and fell, as the Copper Bowl (established in 1989; rechristened the Domino's Pizza Copper Bowl in 1990 and the Weiser Lock Copper Bowl in 1992), the Las Vegas Bowl (1992), and the Builders Square Alamo Bowl (1993) were born and the All-American Bowl (1990), the California Bowl (1991), and the Freedom Bowl (1994) vanished.  Corporate sponsorship more firmly took hold, evidenced by the arrival of the Jeep Eagle Aloha Bowl in 1989, the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl in 1991, and the Thrifty Car Rental Holiday Bowl in 1992.  

Georgia versus Arkansas in a bowl game sponsored by Weed Eater.  Let the redneck jokes commence.

Most notably, though, title sponsors' company names came to displace the names of the bowls themselves.  Beginning in 1990, one of the four oldest bowl games became known briefly as "the John Hancock Bowl," without any reference to its historic name, the Sun Bowl.  (While the traditional nomenclature was restored in 1994, the game has had numerous title sponsors since, including Norwest, Wells Fargo, and Vitalis.)  

On December 28, 1990, sixth-ranked Florida State faced seventh-ranked Penn State in a postseason affair in Joe Robbie Stadium (later Pro Player Park) to which the Nittany Lions had been invited before the season even began.  The contest was known from the outset as the Blockbuster Bowl and it would be known, in succession, as the Carquest Bowl (1994-1997), the Micron PC Bowl (1998-1999), the Bowl (2000), the Visit Florida Tangerine Bowl (2001-2003), and the Champs Sports Bowl (2004-2005).  

After the debut of the Blockbuster Bowl, essentially all lingering stigma was removed from the idea of named corporate sponsorship, although the Rose Bowl continued to hold out, upon this point as it would regarding efforts to unite the major conferences under a single system to produce a lone national championship game.  The Outback Steakhouse Gator Bowl, the IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl, the St. Jude Liberty Bowl, the CompUSA Florida Citrus Bowl, the FedEx Orange Bowl, and the Plymouth Holiday Bowl all entered the college football lexicon in the early to mid-1990s.  

That takes us approximately through 1995, setting the stage for a tumultuous decade between 1996 and 2005 . . . to which I shall turn anon.  

To be continued. . . .

Go 'Dawgs!