How did ‘bowl' games get their name?


Many assume college bowl games are named after football’s most beloved and sought-after competition of the year – the Super Bowl. But if this is what you think, you would actually be wrong. 

As a matter of fact, college bowl games began before the Super Bowl’s inaugural debut in 1967. College bowl games began with the 1902 Tournament East-West Football game, which was sponsored by the Tournament of Roses Association. 

After this first game, the Tournament of Roses began to sponsor an annual event for college teams, beginning in 1916. And from there, the Rose Bowl was born … then all the other bowls, including the Las Vegas Bowl, the Myrtle Beach Bowl and the Armed Forces Bowl.

Before bowl season begins, let’s take a look at the origin of the matter, including the history behind the first bowl game and the Rose Bowl:

When and where was the first college bowl game played?

The first college bowl game was the Tournament East-West Football game, which was sponsored by the Tournament of Roses Association.

The game took place in 1902 at Tournament Park in Pasadena, Calif. 

Who played in the first college bowl game?

The first college bowl game, the 1902 Tournament East-West Football game, was played by Michigan and Stanford. 

Michigan won this game 49-0.

When was the Rose Bowl created?

Technically, the Rose Bowl began in 1923 when the first Rose Bowl was held in Rose Bowl Stadium. But actually, the Rose Bowl started 1902 under its other name – the aforementioned  Tournament East-West Football game. 

The game, which is generally played on Jan. 1, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. adopted its official name in 1932 when the stadium was renamed.

Why are college bowl games called bowls?

Besides the obvious, which is that bowl games are the biggest football games of the year, technically the word bowl originates from the idea that the games are played in stadiums that are shaped like bowls.

In 1922, the Rose Bowl Stadium was built in Pasadena to compensate for the 40,000 spectators the NCAA wanted to seat for the event. Its design was emulated by Yale football stadium’s bowl-like shape and held the first game to be called the Rose Bowl, which featured Penn State and USC.

When did other bowl games start being played?

The Rose Bowl remained the only bowl for a long time until the 1930s when four southern cities felt they should replicate the tourist attraction. This marked the creation of the Sugar, Cotton, Orange and Sun bowls. 

After these four bowls began, the number continued to increase over the years and by 2000, there were a total of 25 bowls. Today, there are 43 bowls.

Why is it called the Super Bowl?

Of course, the name derives from the Rose Bowl, but there is also another reason for the terminology. After the NFL created the Pro Bowl, or All-Star Game, in 1951, the term “World Championship Game,” which was originally used to describe the final game of the NFL season, became named the Super Bowl.

It’s also just a historical theme to call big sporting events that spread far and wide “bowls.”

What bowl games are happening in 2022-23?

The 2022-23 college bowl schedule kicks off in the Bahamas on Dec. 16 and runs all the way until Jan. 9.

To find the full college bowl schedule, click here.

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