More than a century ago, Michigan and Stanford played a football game to top off the annual Tournament of Roses New Year's celebration in Pasadena, California. Little did those dusty players know that this first postseason college football game would eventually lead to one of the most watched and anticipated series of sporting events in the country, competitions that would generate millions of dollars and be used to decide the national champion.
In Bowl Games: College Football's Greatest Tradition, historian Robert M. Ours shows how these games established college football as a national sport. Bowl games were also used as charity events and morale boosters during the Great Depression and both world wars, and were among the first public forums that challenged segregation in the South. In addition, Ours traces the steady march toward using bowls to determine a national championship as well as the increase in payouts. Throughout, amazing athletes and teams appear, some well-known, others forgotten. The gridiron exploits of Kentucky's tiny Centre College in the early 1920s and the great Hardin-Simmons squads of the 1930s and 1940s are featured along with top performances from future professional stars, such as Don Hutson, Jim Brown, and Tom Brady. Some of the greatest matchups in the history of football occured at bowls, including Alabama's near upset of heavily favored Duke in the 1945 Sugar Bowl and Ohio State's double-overtime victory against Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. The book includes period photographs, year-by-year bowl game summaries, and a complete list of every major NCAA-sanctioned bowl played up to 2005.Whether or not a playoff system in Division I-A college football emerges, and no matter what format bowl contests take, there will always be dramatic matchups, superlative individual performances, and enduring memories of college football's postseason play.
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Robert M. Ours is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at West Virginia University. He began writing about college football in 1954 and later covered the sport for The Associated Press. He served as a historian for the Virginia State Library and the Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission and taught journalism at West Virginia University from 1972 through 1996. Ours is the author of many articles and books, including the College Football Encyclopedia (4th Edition, 2002) and the College Football Almanac.From Publishers Weekly:
In the same way that NFL games have come to represent one aspect of the traditional Thanksgiving experience, various college football bowl games have, for some decades, dominated New Year’s Day (sports-wise, at least). College football junkie Ours (College Football Encyclopedia; College Football Almanac) intends to illustrate how the 102-year bowl history is "largely a history of college football itself." Alas, like a sluggish game, his book suffers from a plodding pace, monotonous delivery of facts and scattershot prose. Some early chapters are interesting, as they chart the development of postseason games in the late 19th century, focusing especially on Pasadena. Readers may also perk up when coming across details about ill-fated bowl games, such as the Gotham and Aviation bowls. Ultimately, though, Ours is less interested in discussing bowl games in their sum than he is in taking readers year by year through their entire history. He introduces most years by offering a canned, often inappropriate historical fragment (e.g., "Just as bowl bids were being considered following the 1963 regular season, America underwent a national trauma with the assassination of President Kennedy") before getting back to the task at hand: a dry recitation of games, players and statistics without drama or context. This work will likely be of great interest to true enthusiasts, but a deadly chore for most others.
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