Where Will First Title Game Be Played?
The first bowl game I attended was the Orange Bowl at the conclusion of the 1965 season. It is interesting that the game between fourth ranked Alabama and third ranked Nebraska turned out to be the first so-called national championship as the Associated Press elected to delay its final poll until after the bowl games for the first time.
After top-ranked Michigan State and second-ranked Arkansas lost in the Rose and Cotton bowls earlier in the day, the Crimson Tide vs. the Cornhuskers played for the national championship that night. Coach Paul Bryant's Alabama team was a 39-28 winner and brought home the trophy.
Bama won national championships in the pre-AP era, throughout the time the wire services were naming champions both for regular season only and post-bowls, and in the BCS era. There is no reason to believe the Crimson Tide won't be a contender in the new format.
One detail to be determined is the site of the first game in the new national championship format.
Having covered bowl games as a reporter since the late 1960s, and having been a part of the Alabama bowl party in my days in Bama's sports information office in the 1970s, I have some thoughts about potential sites.
Once upon a time the Cotton Bowl was part of the Big Four, before college football sold out to the highest bidder and replaced the historic Dallas game with one in Phoenix that turned out to be rife with corruption. (Fitting that it would be the site of a suspected corrupt team's national title.)
Now the Cotton Bowl, with the fabulous Cowboys Stadium as its venue, wants back in the picture, and if it has the financial backing of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, it will be a player. The Cotton Bowl has long had the deserved reputation as having outstanding administrators and volunteers, one of the best organized bowl. Alabama will play in Cowboys Stadium for the first time on Sept. 1, meeting Michigan in the Cowboys Classic.
The Rose Bowl in Pasadena is the oldest and most-tradition rich bowl game and has the largest seating capacity of any serious contender for the first national championship game. Once over 100,000, the Rose Bowl now seats something over 92,000. True the stadium is a bit decrepit with many inconveniences, but it has that history. Alabama success in the Rose Bowl resulted in Crimson Tide national championships and was also instrumental in the rise of Southern football, exemplified today in Southeastern Conference domination for titles.
As would be expected, the Rose Bowl also has outstanding organization.
Atlanta wants the game. Bama has never played in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, but the Tide has played in SEC Championship Games at the Georgia Dome and has played in Kickoff Classic games at the venue. This organization, too, is outstanding. SEC fans would appreciate the location, although feelings are mixed as to the city of Atlanta.
Alabama has not played in the Gator Bowl in a couple of decades ago. Jacksonville has since built a new stadium (Bama's win over North Carolina at the end of the 1993 season was the last game played in the old stadium.) At that time, at least, the Gator Bowl was another with very strong organization.
Obviously, Alabama has never played in Indianapolis. The Big Whine really wants the game where it plays its championship, but it could be the sop of the Rose Bowl as a semifinals game for the Big Ten and Pac 12 may eliminate Indianapolis and all of its fun activities for fans from hosting the first national championship game.
What about those old standbys from the Big Four days, the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and the Orange Bowl in Miami?
Both have been up and down insofar as organization over the years, but the Sugar Bowl has made big strides under Paul Hoolihan as executive director. Most SEC fans would be very happy with the Louisiana Superdome hosting the first national championship game, and Hoolihan indicated following Bama's win over LSU in the BCS National Championship Game last January that the Sugar Bowl would have a war chest to buy the game.
Based primarily on its demonstrated ability to put on a big event, our vote would be for Pasadena with Dallas the second choice.
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