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Audiences warmed to bowl games when there weren’t many played

By Staff | Jan 3, 2020

SHEPHERDSTOWN — The current bowl season began before Christmas and somehow will cram 39 games into your holiday stocking.

LSU has beaten Oklahoma and Clemson has trimmed Ohio State in the two bowls that interest millions waiting to winnow the large group down to the eventual national champion.

Many of the avalanche of games were not well-attended or much remembered by people with no dog in the fight.

There once was a time when bowl games were filled and black and white televisions had millions gathered in front of them to see the best teams in the land.

In 1950, there were nine bowl games. ESPN was way off in the future and receiving a bid to a game was a cherished item. Playing on Jan. 1 was the norm and the famous bowls of the time were the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton. Three of the lesser-known bowls of that day were the Salad Bowl in Phoenix, Ariz., the Tangerine in Orlando, Fla. and the soon forgotten Presidential Cup Bowl in College Park, Md.

Five years later there were only seven bowls with the Salad and Presidential Cup being cancelled and no new bowls added.

In 1960, nine games were on the docket. Added to the list were the Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia and the Bluebonnet in Houston with the Tangerine Bowl still playing before Florida crowds that didn’t attend the Orange or Gator bowls.

Nine games were still on the 1965 list of bowls. The Liberty Bowl had been moved to Memphis and the Bluebonnet and Tangerine still had followings.

The Peach Bowl in Atlanta and the Pasadena Bowl joined the still smallish bowl list in 1970. The Bluebonnet and Tangerine were still around.

By 1975, the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona had replaced the now defunct Pasadena Bowl and 11 bowl games kicked off beginning in late December.

A jump to 15 bowls in 1980 brought in the Hall of Fame in Birmingham, Ala., the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif., the Garden State Bowl in East Rutherford, N. J. and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

When the 1985 bowl festivities were listed there were going to be 18 bowl games. First-year bowls that year included the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, the Aloha Bowl in Honolulu, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the Cherry Bowl in Pontiac, Michigan and the California Bowl in Fresno.

The Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton and Gator bowls were getting a growing number of imitators but their burnished images were in no danger of being duplicated.

By 1990 there were 19 games as the Copper Bowl in Tucson was added. Some bowls had new sponsors so their names were changed to protect the innocent. The All-American Bowl in Birmingham and the Blockbuster Bowl in Miami were also among the newly recognized.

Name changes, date changes and a few additions came along in 1995. The Outback Bowl in Tampa was filled with quality teams. The Carquest Bowl in Miami was not as fortunate. Along came the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio and the Las Vegas Bowl to join the ranks that still had the Copper, Aloha, Holiday, Liberty and Independence bowls.

In 2000, the number of bowl games had risen all the way to 25. The Mobile Alabama Bowl and Oahu Bowl in Honolulu did not feature games for the national championship. Neither did the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, the Gallery Furniture Bowl in Houston, the Micron Bowl in Miami, the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise nor the Insight Bowl in Phoenix.

Through all the imitations and gimmickry of company names and ESPN televising so many of the 39 games this season, the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton Bowls have remained the gold standard of the bowls. Now among the elite bowls are the Gator and Fiesta.

But the Salad Bowl and the Presidential Cup are no more.