New Year’s Day has always provided a festival of college football. For decades, the four most important bowl games — Cotton, Sugar, Orange, and Rose — were almost always played on January 1.
That’s no longer the case. Now, there’s a national championship game that’s never played on New Year’s Day. This year, moreover, the powers-that-be decided to play the two semifinal games on New Year’s Eve.
College football fans still have our New Year’s Day memories, though. The one that resonates most with me is the very first bowl game I experienced. It was January 1, 1957. We didn’t have a television, but my father turned on the radio to listen to the Cotton Bowl between Syracuse and TCU (I had to look up Syracuse’s opponent for this post).
My father wasn’t a big sports fan but he explained the bowl game thing to me and kept the radio on as he did fix-it work around our apartment. As for me, I was glued to the radio.
TCU jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but a Syracuse back scored 14 unanswered points for the Orangemen. With TCU up 28-14, the same back scored a third touchdown, but missed his third PAT attempt. That back was Jim Brown.
Late in the game, with TCU leading 28-20, Syracuse managed another touchdown. Brown didn’t score it, but he added the extra point.
There was no two-point conversion allowed in those days, or Brown probably would have tacked that one. As it was, TCU won 28-27, with Brown accounting for 21 of Syracuse’s points.
Since then, there have been more outstanding New Year’s Day bowl games than I can remember. Here are some of the ones that stand out for me. Not surprisingly, considering my age, they consist disproportionately of very old contests:
1963 Rose Bowl — USC 42 Wisconsin 37 (this duel between number 1 and number two produced a memorable quarterback shootout featuring Pete Beathard — great uncle of C.J. Beathard who started today’s Rose Bowl at quarterback for Iowa — and Ron Vander Kelen).
1965 Orange Bowl — Texas 21 Alabama 17 (number 1 Texas edges an Alabama team led by Joe Namath)
1970 Cotton Bowl — Texas 21 Notre Dame (Texas clinches another national championship, edging a Notre Dame team led by Joe Theismann)
1972 Rose Bowl — Stanford 13 Michigan 12 (memorable for me because I was a Stanford student; also because a Stanford player, Jim Ferguson, was tackled for a safety trying to run a missed field goal out of the end-zone)
1979 Sugar Bowl — Alabama 14 Penn State 7 (I worked that day, but saw the climax in which Alabama stuffed Penn State at the goal line to win a fifth national championship for Bear Bryant) (Note: not included in my original post)
1980 Rose Bowl — USC 17 Ohio State 16 (Charles White leads the Trojans to victory with 247 yards rushing, but USC loses out to Alabama for the national championship because it had only managed a tie against Stanford)
1994 Orange Bowl — Florida State 18 Nebraska 16 (this was for the national championship; FSU won it when a desperate Nebraska drive ended with a missed field goal from 45 yards)
2005 Rose Bowl — Texas 38 Michigan 37 (the first ever meeting between these powers saw Texas battle back from 10 points down in the final quarter behind Vince Young)
Thanks to Darrell Royal, Bear Bryant, John McKay, Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne (later a U.S. Congressman), Bobby Bowden, et al. for the memories.
NOTE: The following bowl classics did not occur on January 1:
1973 Sugar Bowl — Notre Dame 24 Alabama 23
1984 Orange Bowl — Miami 31 Nebraska 30
2003 Fiesta Bowl — Ohio State 31 Miami 24 (double overtime)
2006 Orange Bowl — Penn State 26 Florida State 23 (triple overtime)
2006 Rose Bowl — Texas 41 USC 38