The Cotton Bowl is one of the most storied bowl games in all of college football. Since its inaugural year in 1937, the Cotton Bowl has featured some of college football’s greatest teams and games of all-time, but took years for it to develop into the prestigious bowl it now has become.
Before sealing a direct affiliation with the Cotton Bowl actually struggled to turn a profit. The game itself was tied in with Texas’ annual state fair at the Texas State Fair Grounds. In its first year, 17,000 fans were in attendance to watch TCU beat Marquette 16-6. J. Curtis Sanford, a man who was paying for the bowl out of his own pocket, lost money that first year. Sanford pressed on with his vision for the game and venue’s business opportunity.
It was in 1941 that the bowl began to gain more credibility thanks to its affiliation with the powerful Southwest Conference. Texas, which has a played an unmatched 22 games in the Cotton Bowl, made its first appearance in 1943.
The national championship was decided at the Cotton Bowl for the first time in 1960. Syracuse defeated Texas 23-14 with the help of a Cotton Bowl record 87-yard pass caught by Ernie Davis, the former Heisman Trophy winner in 1961.
In 1964, the No. 1 Longhorns met No. 2 Navy led by the Heisman Trophy winning and the soon-to-be Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. It was only the second time in history that the top two teams played in a bowl against each other.
The late 70s and 80s saw a rivalry developed between UT and the Alabama Crimson Tide led by the legendary coach Bear Bryant. The Longhorns won every meeting against the Crimson Tide, two of which were come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter.
The bowl’s prestige suffered in the late 80s and 90s with a decline in the Southwest Conference’s quality of play. The SWC was poisoned by NCAA probation and bowl-ineligible teams.
After more than 70 years of the cotton bowl game being played at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas, the game was moved to Dallas Cowboys Stadium (now called AT&T Stadium) in Arlington. The venue change came with a revamp to the bowl’s marketing and overall brand.
The conference has long settled grudge matches between the inter-conference rivalries in the south, such as the Big 12 versus SEC. This year, the Goodyear Cotton Bowl will feature a Big 12 versus Big 10 matchup between No. 5 Baylor (Big 12) and No. 8 Michigan State (Big 10).