Football Bowl Games

Football Bowl Games

Many Americans enjoy watching college football games on New Year's Day. This tradition dates back to the early years of the twentieth century, when the first of these "bowl" games, the Rose Bowl, got its start.

The Rose Bowl Game and the Tournament of Roses

The Rose Bowl, which takes place in Pasadena, California, began as one component of a yearly festival called the Tournament of Roses. Members of the local Valley Hunt Club started this festival in 1890 as a means of celebrating and publicizing Pasadena's wonderful winter climate and its abundance of winter-time fruit and flowers. The day's entertainments included a parade of flower-bedecked carriages, tugof-war contests, foot races, and polo matches. The festival quickly became a hit - so much so that in 1895 the Valley Hunt Club turned the event's organization and management over to a new, volunteer group, the Tournament of Roses Association.

In 1902 Tournament officials decided that a collegiate sporting event might attract even more people to their festival. Festival organizers set up an "east versus west" football match, pitting the University of Michigan against California's Stanford University. The game took place in Tournament Park, which sat about 1,000 people. To the amazement of festival organizers, 8,500 spectators came and jostled one another for those seats. The fans expressed more enthusiasm for the game than did the players. By the third quarter Michigan led 49 to 0. R. S. Fisher, captain of the thoroughly pummeled Stanford players, approached Hugh White, the captain of the Michigan team, and tendered Stanford's surrender, reportedly saying, "If you are willing, we are ready to quit." Michigan accepted this admission of defeat and the game ended.

After this poor showing, festival organizers agreed to cancel the football game as part of the Tournament of Roses. Chariot races instead amused the sports-loving public. Eventually these were deemed too dangerous, and football returned to the Tournament of Roses in 1916. Once again, huge crowds overwhelmed the venue. In 1920 festival organizers decided to build a new football stadium in order to better accommodate fans. Modeled after Yale University's then state-of-the-art football stadium, the Yale Bowl, Pasadena's new stadium was dubbed the "Rose Bowl." The first game in the new Rose Bowl Stadium took place on January 1, 1923.

The popularity of this contest grew with each passing decade. In 1927, the Rose Bowl Game became the first sports match to be broadcast on transcontinental radio. In 1952 NBC covered the Rose Bowl, making it the first college football game ever to be shown on national television. In addition, since 1947 sell-out crowds have jammed the Rose Bowl's bleachers to watch the game. In that year Tournament organizers signed an agreement with the Big Ten and Pacific Coast football conferences (the latter would eventually become the Pacific Ten Conference). The Rose Bowl henceforth pitted the top team in each of these conferences against each other.

The Tournament of Roses parade has also grown over the years. Today it includes marching bands, equestrians, motorized floats, a celebrity grand marshal, and a local beauty queen dubbed the Rose Queen, who presides over the parade and game. Each year the Tournament of Roses Association selects a theme for the parade. Flower-covered floats express this theme. Parade rules dictate that the entire surface of the float's exterior be covered with flowers or other plant parts, such as leaves, seeds, or bark. Work begins on the construction of the floats shortly after the previous year's festival comes to a close.

Other New Year's Day Bowl Games

The success of the Rose Bowl Game prompted the creation of additional bowl games in other parts of the country. In 1933 two prominent Miami citizens organized a New Year's Day football game as one element of a new civic event called the Palm Festival. In 1935 this game became the Orange Bowl and was played in the newly constructed Orange Bowl Stadium. In 1996 the contest shifted to the Pro Player Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale. In 1990 the Orange Bowl's official name changed to the FedEx Orange Bowl, thus providing additional advertising for its major corporate sponsor, Federal Express. In recent years, as the importance of corporate funding has grown, many bowl games have added the names of their primary corporate sponsors in their official titles (seealso Commercialism).

Other New Year's Day Bowl Games include the Southwest Bell Cotton Bowl, played in Dallas, Texas. Played in Cotton Bowl Stadium, the match currently pits a team from the Big 12 against a team from the Southeastern Conference.

The Nokia Sugar Bowl makes its home in New Orleans, Louisiana. Begun in 1935, the game took place in Tulane University's football stadium. In 1975, the Sugar Bowl moved to the Superdome.

A relative late-comer, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl started in 1971. Played in Sun Devil Stadium on the grounds of Arizona State University, the Fiesta Bowl was originally scheduled for late December, but moved to January 1, or sometimes a neighboring date, in 1981.

Bowl Championship Series

In 1998 the Bowl Championship Series was established to determine the top-ranking team in college football by pitting the number one and number two ranked teams in the nation against each other. This event does not have a permanent home but rather rotates between the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl.

Further Reading

Crump, William D. The Christmas Encyclopedia. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. Michaelson, Herb, and Dave Newhouse. Rose Bowl Football Since 1902. New York: Stein and Day, 1977. Whittingham, Richard. Rites of Autumn. New York: Free Press, 2001.

Web Site

The Tournament of Roses Association maintains its own web site with detailed information on the parade and football game:
Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, 2nd ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003
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