I would be a lot more interested in this game if the Gophers were going to Houston to play in the Bluebonnet Bowl. First of all, it would be a game named after a flower, and as a wise man said when bowls started to pop up in new locales in the 1970s:
"You want to play in a game named for a fruit or a flower, not a concept.''
There are few fruits or flowers today, of course, as most of the third-tier bowls among the 35 are named directly after the corporate sponsor. The leader in the locker room at this moment is the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. As well know, BBVA is the acronym for Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria.
Sadly, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria has chosen not to renew its sponsorship after Vanderbilt and Houston play on Jan. 4, as Papa Johns.com chose not to do a few years earlier. That leaves the city looking for another sponsor, or it can go back to calling itself the Birmingham Bowl, as was the case between sponsors.
The game the Gophers are playing in Houston on Dec. 27 has the same problem. A year ago, when the Gophers played Texas Tech in Reliant Stadiun, they were proud combatants in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. I kind of liked that, because I could call it the Meineke Who Cares? Bowl and get a laugh for myself, if no one else.
Unfortunately, Meineke bailed, and no sponsor was found, so now the Gophers will be playing Syracuse in the Texas Bowl.
With no corporate sponsor to placate, why didn't these Houston guys with the big hats bring back the Bluebonnet name? And if a local favorite such as Tacos A Go Go eventually signs on as a sponsor, they could put that in front of Bluebonnet and let we oldtimers feel a connection to this event.
The Bluebonnet Bowl started in Houston in 1959, which was the same year that the Liberty Bowl started in Philadelphia. This was the makeup of major college football in 1959:
The major conferences were Big Ten, Pacific Coast (in its last year before reforming), Big Eight, Southwest, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern. Notre Dame, Miami, Florida State and the major programs in the East were independents.
There were five traditional bowls for these teams: Rose (continuously since January 1916), Orange (1935), Sugar (1935), Cotton (1937) and Gator (1946). The Sun Bowl in El Paso and the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando were inviting teams from the second tier of college football.
The Bluebonnet and Liberty expanded the number of bowls trying to attract major college teams to seven. The main thrust of the Bluebonnet Bowl was to pit a team from Texas (not the Southwest champion, which was committed to the Cotton Bowl) against a team from some no-account other state.
The first game was played at Rice Stadium on Dec. 19, 1959, with Clemson beating TCU 23-7. That would've meant the guys wearing boots in Houston had Clemson coach Frank Howard to entertain them.
I later had a chance to interview Frank (long retired) before the Gophers played Clemson in the 1985 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. I got him on the phone, identified myself as being from the St. Paul Dispatch and Frank bellowed:
"The St. Paul DISS-patch. Does that paper get out of the city limits, boy?''
And it got funnier from there, including Frank's appraisal when he asked what was the Gophers' record and I was forced to say, "Six-and-5.''
"Yeah, that's our record, too,'' Frank said. "This ain't no bowl game. This is a battle of pissants.''
There are 25 of those now, out of 35 total, but when Frank brought his Tigers to Houston for the first Bluebonnet Bowl, hey, it was a college football game to watch ... as he waited for the New Year's Day feast.
The Bluebonnet Bowl moved out of Rice Stadium and into the Astrodome for the 1968 game. The game was called the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl and was played on New Year's Eve. A crowd of 53,543 filled the Astrodome, as SMU and Jerry LeVias defeated Oklahoma and Steve Owens 28-27.
LeVias was the first black player to receive a scholarship in the Southwest Conference. Owens would win the Heisman Trophy in 1969.
The Bluebonnet Bowl was played on New Year's Eve from 1968 through 1971, played earlier in the month for four years, and then became a New Year's Eve staple until it died off after Texas beat Pittsburgh (and Ironhead Heyward) 32-27 on Dec. 31, 1987.
The Texas connection to the game wavered in the final decade of the Bluebonnet Bowl. Two Big Ten teams played in the game: Purdue (27-22 over Tennessee) in 1979 and Michigan (33-14 over UCLA) in 1981.
Houston didn't return to the bowl business until 2000, when the galleryfurniture.com Bowl was played in the Astrodome. It was moved to Reliant Stadium as the EV1.net Houston Bowl in 2002. That bowl operation couldn't pay its bills, folded, and was replaced by the Texas Bowl, and then the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, and now the Texas Bowl once again.
You tell me ... galleryfurniture.com, EV1.net, Meineke Car Care, or the Bluebonnet Bowl, named in honor of the state flower of Texas?
Always, when a team has a choice in accepting a bowl invite, go with a fruit or a flower.