When did football bowl games start?

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Yale Bowl
Today, the Yale Bowl is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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When did football bowl games start and how have they shaped the football season?

Many contemporary sports enthusiasts may not realize that the history of football bowl games began over a century ago, when Michigan and Stanford competed in a historic 1902 event that was later named the “Tournament East-West Football Game” sponsored by the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, California.  Michigan beat Stanford with a score of 49-0. This game answers when did football bowl games start, but the history of bowl games is greater than that.

The incredible success of this 1902 game inspired an annual Tournament of Roses contest, which began in 1916 Tournament of Roses football game.  The title of this annual event was changed to the Rose Bowl game in 1923 when the teams first competed in the then newly completed Rose Bowl Stadium. Rose Bowl football game tickets are much coveted by sports fans.

The word “bowl” was a term used to describe the construction of the earliest football stadiums.  This architectural term first surfaced in 1913 during the groundbreaking of construction on the Yale football stadium.  To build the Yale football stadium, crews began by excavating the field area and then building up a berm around the perimeter.  The stadium seating was built atop this berm.  

The design of these early stadiums most certainly resembled an elliptical bowl, and the Yale football stadium was in fact the very first bowl-shaped stadium in the country! 

The Yale Bowl provided inspiration for the designs of the Rose Bowl, the Michigan Stadium, and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  Today, The Yale Bowl is listed on the National Register of Historic places.

During its early years, The Rose Bowl grew drastically in popularity, producing tremendous tourism revenue, promotional value for the city of Pasadena, as well as recruitment opportunities and publicity for the teams and colleges involved in the games.  This inspired other U.S. Cities to develop regional festivals that included college football games.  These games were refereed to as “football bowl games” even though they were not always held in bowl-shaped stadiums.  

Three other football bowl games, the Miami Orange Bowl, the New Orleans Sugar Bowl, and the El Paso Sun Bowl were all founded shortly after the Rose Bowl, and have been played annually since 1935.  In 1937, the Dallas, Texas Cotton Bowl was launched.  Together, these five bowl games --the Rose, Orange, Sugar, Sun and Cotton Bowls-- have formed the core of traditional football bowl games, the only ones played continuously for more than 70 years.

Many other bowl games have come and gone over the years but have not stood the test of time.  Some of the now defunct bowl games include Toledo, Ohio's Glass Bowl, which ran from 1946-1949, New York City's Gotham Bowl, which ran from 1961-1962 and the Houston, Texas Oil Bowl, which lasted only from 1946-1947.

As of 2010, 35 American football bowl games exist.  These games have come to be recognized as season-ending celebrations for teams with a winning record.  They represent an important tradition for sports fans across the country.

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