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The Cotton Bowl Classic: Home of Champions

The Cotton Bowl has always been the annual event to showcase the passion for football in the state of Texas. And as one of the major bowls in America, it has continually attracted the best college football teams and their stars to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a big postseason showdown. These days, the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, is one of the bowls in the rotation of the College Football Playoff system. So it is routinely guaranteed a national title contender. But even from its inception, the Cotton Bowl has featured the best teams in the nation, and tickets to the Cotton Bowl have always been keepers.


Beginnings

The Cotton Bowl got its start in the 1930s when the growing popularity of college football brought on an eagerness to settle the football scores between conferences and regions. There was of course the opportunity for extra revenue, though the first Cotton Bowl in 1937 was essentially a gift. Oil executive J. Curtis Sanford put up the money for the first Cotton Bowl, which was played at the Texas State Fair site previously known as Fair Park Stadium. The stadium, which seated 45,000, had been used to stage big events as high-school football championships and other shows. Since that first game, it has been called the Cotton Bowl. Texas Christian and star quarterback Sammy Baugh took on Marquette in that first game, with TCU winning 16–6. The game actually lost money with only about 17,000 to buy tickets. But Sanford kept the project going, and 37,000 bought tickets to the Cotton Bowl the following year to see Rice whip Colorado, 28-14. It has been on ever since, starting with the Southwest Conference taking on all comers, and evolving into the event it is today.


Classic Cotton Bowl Games

The hosts kept the event going by staging classic tests involving powerhouse teams. In 1943, the Texas Longhorns got their first bowl bid ever and were heavy underdogs against Georgia Tech. But Dana Bible’s Texas squad put on a defensive show and downed the Yellow Jackets, 14-7. Texas would go on to appear in 22 Cotton Bowls, the most of any team. The Cotton Bowl Classic, usually played in January, has had its weather issues, and 1947 was the most dramatic illustration of that. LSU and Arkansas played to a 0-0 standoff as players and fans fought off rain, sleet, snow, and ice from a winter storm. The LSU team used oil drums filled with charcoal on the sidelines as makeshift heaters, while fans started fires in the stands to keep warm during the game. The 1954 Cotton Bowl had one of the most bizarre plays ever. Rice's Dickey Moegle got loose on a wide run from his team's 5-yard line and was headed for a touchdown … until Alabama's Tommy Lewis jumped off the bench and tackled him. The referee caught it and signaled touchdown, even though Moegle was "tackled" at the 42. Rice won, 28-6.


Stars and Champions

Plenty of great football names have been on Cotton Bowl rosters. Just the list of quarterbacks is amazing. Sammy Baugh, Davey O'Brien, Babe Parilli, Bobby Layne, Norm Van Brocklin, Y. A. Tittle, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Ken Stabler, Joe Theismann, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, and Eli Manning have all played in the Cotton Bowl. Three Heisman Trophy winners were on stage in the Cotton Bowl during one stretch from 1984 through 1987 - Doug Flutie of Boston College, Bo Jackson of Auburn, and Tim Brown of Notre Dame. But two top players to play in the Classic were among the first black standouts in major college football. Jim Brown led the Syracuse Orangemen against TCU in 1957, rushing for 135 yards, scoring three touchdowns and kicking three extra points. But the Horned Frogs prevailed, 28-27, on QB Chuck Curtis’ 174 yards passing and three TDs. In 1960, Syracuse returned to the Cotton Bowl, this time with future Heisman winner Ernie Davis. He ran for one TD, took a pass 87 yards for another, and made an interception to set up yet another TD, all on his way to MVP. The Orangemen defeated Texas, 23-14.


Clash of Titans

Marquee matchups of national interest would be the trademark of the Cotton Bowl Classic, particularly in the 1960s. In the 1964 Classic, No. 1 Texas took on No. 2 Navy and Staubach in one of the biggest showdowns of all. Texas prevailed, 28-6, giving the Longhorns and Coach Darrell Royal their first national championship. The next year, undefeated Arkansas faced 9-1 Nebraska. The Razorbacks’ 10-7 Cotton Bowl win gave them the national title.

Football Greats

The 1968 game was a reunion of sorts for Texas A&M coach Gene Stallings and Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant. Stallings was one of Bryant's "Junction Boys" from the old A&M days, as well as a former assistant to Bryant. After the student defeated the teacher, 20-16, Bryant embraced Stallings and carried him off the field. In 1970, Notre Dame returned to postseason play after 40 years of a self-imposed bowl ban. With QB Joe Theismann at the helm, the Irish faced off with top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl. They had a 17-14 lead late in the game. But the Longhorns scored again to win the showdown, 21-17, and clinched the national championship. But Notre Dame would return to win two Cotton Bowls in the 1970s, including a thrilling 35-34 come-from-behind victory over Houston in 1979. The Irish were led by quarterback Joe Montana in the triumph. Historic Changes By the 1990s, the Cotton Bowl Classic had lost some of its prestige, partially because the Southwest Conference was in trouble, and part because the Fiesta Bowl, unhindered by conference tie-ins, had taken some spotlight by getting national title contenders. The Cotton Bowl was one of the top bowls when the Bowl Coalition was formed in 1992. However, in 1995, the new Bowl Alliance (the predecessor of the BCS) chose the Fiesta over the Cotton in its rotation. In 1995, the SWC gave up control of the Cotton Bowl Classic as part of its planned dissolution after the season. The Big 12 Conference took over control from 1999 to 2014, and the Cotton Bowl Classic had a top team the Big 12, after the Bowl Alliance or Bowl Championship Series had their pick. In 2009, the Ole Miss Rebels and the Texas Tech Red Raiders played the final Cotton Bowl Classic in the Cotton Bowl stadium and sent the old house out in a big way. Tech quarterback Graham Harrell connected with Michael Crabtree for his 132nd touchdown pass of the season, breaking the NCAA season record. His four TD passes in the game were also a Cotton Bowl record. And the game sold 88,175 Cotton Bowl tickets, more than any in Classic history. Ole Miss won, 47-34. The site of the Cotton Bowl then moved to the new Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium) in Arlington. Major Bowl Again The Cotton Bowl Classic has since returned to "major" bowl status. In 2014, in conjunction with the first year of the new College Football Playoff, the Cotton Bowl began hosting a national semifinal once every three years. Two national champs have come through since. In 2015, Alabama defeated Michigan State, 38–0 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and later won the National Championship by defeating Clemson. Then in 2018, Clemson came to the Cotton Bowl and whipped Notre Dame, 30-3, before beating Alabama in the title game.

Cotton Bowl Facts

Venue *AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

Capacity: 105,000

Opened: 2009

*- The Cotton Bowl was played from its inception in 1937, until 2009 at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas.

Record Cotton Bowl Attendance: 88,175, 2009, Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech

Teams with Most Appearances

Texas 22

Texas A&M 13

Arkansas 12

Notre Dame 8

Game Records Points

55, USC vs. Texas Tech 1995

Points (both teams)

83, Michigan State (42) vs. Baylor (41) Jan. 2015

Rushing Yards 408, Missouri vs. Texas 1946

Passing Yards 603, Baylor vs. Michigan State Jan. 2015 Total Yards 633, Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma (326 rush, 307 pass) 2013

Individual Records

Total Offense 516, Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma (229 Rush, 287 Pass) 2013 Rushing Yards 281, Tony Temple, Missouri vs. Arkansas (24 att., 4 TD) 2008 Rushing TDs 4, Tony Temple, Missouri vs. Arkansas 2008 Passing Yards 550, Bryce Petty, Baylor vs. Michigan State (36–51–1, 3 TD) Jan. 2015 Passing TDs 4, Graham Harrell, Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss 2009 Receptions 11, Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss (223 yds, 1 TD) 2004 Receiving 223, Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss (11 rec., 1 TD) 2004 Tackles 23, Keith Flowers, TCU vs. Kentucky 1952 Sacks 6, Shay Muirbrook, BYU vs. Kansas State (32 yards) 1997