- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2015


Which came first: The NCAA or the Rose Bowl?

Whether you’re nursing a mid-decade holiday hangover or turning into a “coach” potato to gorge on your favorite TV programs (or binge on “Star Wars”), there’s a likelihood this New Year’s weekend that you’ll flip to a bowl game or two, those collegiate football match-ups that draw eyeballs from the four corners of America and are as American as, well, apple pie.

However, in lieu of pie, I offer some bowl-game trivia — minus the intolerable stats that get in the way of interesting tidbits.

Too many bowl games, you say. Indeed, there are 80 games but only 77 NCAA bowl-eligible teams. Even an illiterate student-athlete could do that math.

Small wonder some venues haven’t been able to get enough butts in the seats, essentially losing money for their namesakes. For example, the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was filled to only 45 percent capacity. (I bet students decided to hang out on Bourbon Street.)

Meanwhile, the popular spring break spot St. Petersburg, Florida, couldn’t even pull in 15,000 tail-ends for its Dec. 26 game. It also didn’t have a corporate sponsor, and so it has returned to its simpler, 2008 origins — the St. Petersburg Bowl.

Peach, Cotton, Orange, Sun, Sugar are the bowl names generations of Americans have grown accustomed to this time of year, and many of the games predate television.

The first Sun Bowl took place in 1935, and since 1963 has been played in Sun Bowl Stadium on the El Paso campus of Big Daddy — the University of Texas.

And the (Chick-fil-A) Peach Bowl is played (where else?) in Georgia. The New Year’s Eve game kicked off at noon, and bowl sellouts are part of its DNA: The Georgia Dome’s seating capacity for Georgia State home games is 28,155, but it grows to 71,228 for other football games. (Go Florida State!)

Cotton and Texas have long been pals, with the Spanish farming it after the slaughter at the Alamo. In fact, Texas is the King of Cotton in the U.S., and the Cotton Bowl has been a New Year’s classic since 1937.

Like other bowls, Cotton has had big-monied sponsors, like Mobil, the bowl’s longest sponsor, as well as Southwestern Bell and AT&T. Now called the Goodyear Cotton Bowl and located in Arlington (like the blue-gray NFL team), it has featured the Texas Longhorns 22 times and the Texas A&M Aggies 13 times.

Orange Bowl precursors included games in Miami but weren’t NCAA-sanctioned. The kiss from the NCAA came in 1935, and one “The U” (the University of Miami) played in the first game in 1933. The trophy, to no one’s surprise, sits atop a bowl of oranges, and the bowl game’s MVPs include current NFL quarterbacks Geno Smith, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer; the King of Flash from the past, Joe Namath; and former Republican Rep. J.C. Watts.

Florida got into the bowl game business because of the Granddaddy of Them All — the Rose Bowl, which plays New Year’s Day and always is a much-anticipated college sports events.

The oldest of the bowl games, the Rose Bowl sprouted from a marketing idea to tout the mild winters of Pasadena, California, as the “Mediterranean of the West” by parading aromatic roses through the city on New Year’s Day — a family-oriented tradition that began in 1890 with rose-adorned horse-drawn carriages, chariot races, polo matches and other games.

The first game tied to the parade was played Jan. 1, 1902, and titled the Tournament East-West Football Game. The second game wasn’t played until 1916, and it has been held every single year since then.

What’s most interesting about the Rose Parade and Bowls, I found, is that when New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, the parade and game are held Jan. 2, and there’s a particular reason why it’s genesis has absolutely nothing to do with commercialism, TV ratings or sponsors, and everything to do with the Christian Sabbath: “The Tournament has a deal with God; we’ll never hold the parade on a Sunday, and He’ll never let it rain on the Rose Parade.”

There also was the matter of the parade horses, which were tethered outside churches for Sunday worship. Accordingly, parade founding members of the Valley Hunt Club decided on the aptly named “Never on Sunday” policy, and some other bowl games have followed suit.

One of the latter-day games is called the Independence Bowl, first played to celebrate America’s Bicentennial (you boys and girls know when that was, right?). It’s played in what now is called Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana, which was considered as a venue by the NFL for the New Orleans Saints when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the region.

Here’s another little goodie: There’s been but one tie in the Independence Bowl, and it was 34-34 in 1990 between Louisiana Tech and Maryland.

The Independence Bowl isn’t one of the many New Year’s weekend games — though it’s clearly the unique one in the bunch of 80 because it gives a nod to all of us.

What we now know as the NCAA dates to the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, who wanted to encourage reforms in collegiate football because of injuries and deaths. Some schools were so concerned they discontinued football. So 62 schools got together as charter members of the newly established Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States in 1906. In 1910, the name was changed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The NCAA isn’t the only collegiate sports organization in the United States, but it’s certainly the best known and arguably the one that rolls first off the tongue.

Indeed, some say the NCAA is inflexible and too restrictive. If student-athletes are in good schools with good coaches, they begin learning the ways of the tightly-wound NCAA in middle school.

Oh well.

Are you ready for some football?

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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