In these, the worst of times, the word “miraculous” is not a word that should be tossed about haphazardly, especially when it comes to the staging of a football game. Instead, we should use “incredibly remarkable” or “amazing” or even “insane to the power of six.” Whatever you want to use, they all apply to the fact that tomorrow, the last day of the aforementioned worst year, there will be a nationally televised college bowl game right here in Tucson.
The 6th annual Arizona Bowl will pit undefeated Mountain West Conference champion San Jose State against a surprising Ball State squad that upset 23rd-ranked Buffalo to win the Mid-America Conference title. The game kicks off at noon at Arizona Stadium and will be televised on CBS, sliding into a coveted spot vacated when the Sun Bowl in El Paso decided not to have a game this year.
Just to show you how crazy that is, the Sun Bowl has been played every year since 1935, making it, along with the Orange and Sugar Bowls, the second-oldest bowl game in America, behind only the Rose Bowl. There were Sun Bowl games every year of World War II. Just four weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Arizona State Teachers College Bulldogs lost to Western Reserve (now Case Western in Cleveland, Ohio), 26-13.
It’s hard to keep track of the madness this year. Four Pac-12 teams—USC, Washington, Utah, and Stanford—chose not to participate in bowl games this year. Ohio State made it to the national championship semifinals having played only six games. And Army went 9-2 but was left out of the original bowl-game lineup when the Independence Bowl shut down because they didn’t have a Pac-10 team willing and able to play.
Don’t even THINK it!
For the first three decades of the 20th century, the Rose Bowl was the only bowl game. The aforementioned Sun, Orange, and Sugar Bowls joined in 1935, followed by the Cotton Bowl in 1937. By 1960, there were eight bowl games. However, by 1970, it had increased to 11 games. By the end of the Millennium (2000), it was up to 25, and 10 years later, it was 35. By 2015, it was 41, a number that is officially ridiculous.
Tucson got its first bowl game in 1989 with Arizona beating North Carolina State. The Copper Bowl showed staying power, drawing big-name teams and solid crowds. In 1997, Arizona defeated its old Border Conference and WAC foe, New Mexico, in front of 50,000 people. In half of the first 14 years of the bowl, at least one of the teams was ranked in the Top 25 in the nation.
Also in 1997, the Copper Bowl became the Insight.com Bowl. Then, in 2000, like a thief in the night, the game was moved to Phoenix and now nobody cares about it anymore. They’ve changed the name and the site of the game multiple times. Last year, it was called the Cheez-it Bowl. This year, it was supposed to be the Guaranteed Rate Bowl (seriously), but they canceled it and, like I said, nobody cares.
Here in Tucson, however, the game goes on. Local attorney Ali Farhang, through his force of will, helped create the Arizona Bowl and has kept it going through thick and thin and now through a worldwide pandemic. His enthusiasm and optimism are impossible to ignore. You just have to believe that the game’s going to be played and it’s going to be great.
San Jose State is coached by Brent Brennan, whose name is on a very short list of candidates to replace Arizona’s fired coach Kevin Sumlin. Brennan’s squad was picked to finish fifth this year—not in the overall Mountain West Conference, but in the six-team West Division. But the Spartans have run the table and, with a win in today’s Arizona Bowl, they will complete the school’s first undefeated season since 1939. (That year, they won their conference championship with a 3-0 record under a coach with the all-time great name of Dudley DeGroot.)
Ball State is also riding a high. Their 6-1 mark is the first winning season for the team since 2013.
The Arizona Bowl has always benefitted local charities. This year, during the promotional “Four Quarters of Giving,” the Bowl will feature four organizations, including the Primavera Foundation, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, the Ronald McDonald House and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tucson.
The Bowl organizers want everybody to stay at home and stay safe, watching the game on television. But next year, when, con el favor de Dios, the world is back to almost-normal, they hope to have 50,000 fans in Arizona Stadium.
Here’s hoping that they get their wish today and in the future. After all, it’s Tucson’s bowl game.