History of College Football: Legendary Battles of the Bowl

There are few football  rivalries quite as contentious as Ohio State versus Michigan, Army versus Navy, and Auburn versus Alabama. When these teams collide on the field, it produces some of the liveliest and most spirited games on college campuses; but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, college football programs struggled for decades, even after the establishment of the National Football League (NFL). Let’s take a look to see how this college sport rose to such popularity.


Collegiate Pigskin: A Brief History

In November of 1869, Rutgers University faced off against Princeton in the first ever collegiate football battle. Although Rutgers won the game six to four, Princeton challenged the team to a rematch under its own set of rules, winning that eight to zero. In 1870, Columbia University joined the league, followed by Yale and Stevens Institute of Technology. Just three years later, representatives from Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and Rutgers codified the first set of official intercollegiate football rules.
But like every great tale, there was a rabble-rouser. In this case, it was the Harvard football team. The university’s organizers preferred a rougher approach to the game and refused to adhere to the rules set forth by the other schools. Harvard still wanted to play the sport, so it challenged Montreal’s McGill University to a game under Harvard rules. Later, Harvard matched up against Tufts and Yale under the same guidelines.
Throughout the final two decades of the 19th century, collegiate football matches grew in popularity. Walter Camp, often considered the Father of American Football, helped catapult the sport to fame by creating more unified rules and introducing officials and tenets that helped delineate the game from its earlier form, which was more like rugby than the game we play today.


Legendary Bowl Rivalries for the Books

Some of the most significant college football rivalries came out of this period. The Rose Bowl premiered in 1902, and the Orange, Sugar, Sun, and Cotton Bowls came along in the 1940s, growing in popularity through the 1970s. In 1995, collegiate football leaders formed the Bowl Alliance, which reduced the amount of bowl games allowed each season.
The College Football Playoff Season currently hosts six annual bowl games. In the post-season line-up, hard-fought battles happen on the field, igniting the excitement of football fans everywhere!
  • The Fiesta Bowl — This cutthroat college football showdown goes down annually at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Interestingly, the Western Athletic Conference formed the Fiesta Bowl in the late 1960s after failing to obtain any bowl invitations. The 1971 inaugural game pitted the Florida State Seminoles against the Arizona State Sun Devils, with Arizona taking the trophy home.
  • The Rose Bowl — Easily the most famous bowl game in college football, revelers watch The Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day every year in Pasadena. Nicknamed “the Granddaddy of Them All,” the Rose Bowl is one of the longest-running bowl games in American history. Fans watched the first game in 1902 between Stanford and Michigan, and Michigan crushed Stanford with a 49 to 0 win.
  • The Orange Bowl — The Orange Bowl has an equally storied history. In 1926, leaders in Miami saw the success of the Rose Bowl and sought to create their own New Year’s Day football match. The city hosted the first-ever Orange Bowl in 1935. Miami Field hosted the game from 1935 to 1937, until it moved to Miami Orange Bowl. Currently, the two qualifying teams face off at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
  • The Sugar Bowl — Hosted annually at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, the Sugar Bowl celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009. Like Orange Bowl organizers, football leaders in New Orleans established the bowl after observing the response to the mega-popular Rose Bowl. The Temple Owls faced off against the Tulane Green Wave in the first-ever Sugar Bowl game in 1935.
  • The Cotton Bowl Classic — Historically, the Cotton Bowl hosted the championship of the Southwest Conference, but it currently serves as one of the six bowls in the College Football Playoff. In 1937, Texas oil executive J. Curtis Sanford financed the very first Cotton Bowl game. That year, Texas Christian University faced off against Marquette, winning 16 to 6. Over 17,000 spectators attended the game, solidifying the bowl’s place in history.
As bowl season approaches, it’s time to make your viewing plans to watch this year’s top college teams fight it out one more time in hopes of reaching the College Football Playoff National Championship in January. Here’s wishing that your favorite team takes home the trophy!