Tigers have notable role in Peach history

The history of the Peach Bowl is a long and storied one.

Throughout its 37 year existence, it has ushered in numerous changes that has seen it develop from just another match-up to one of the leading destinations for bowl bound football teams. One of the main reasons that this contest has garnered so much attention revolves around the actual game. The Peach Bowl has played witness to some of the most exciting and dramatic finishes that the bowl systems have ever seen. Over the years fans have enjoyed both the development of first-rate features and the epic struggles that have occurred within.

The Peach Bowl officially began in 1968 but the vision had been around long before that. The Lion's Club of Atlanta enlisted George Crumbley to secure the necessary license for Atlanta to host a bowl game. For three years Crumbley petitioned the NCAA and each time was rejected. Finally, he received the necessary credentials from the NCAA and the Peach Bowl was born.

But for a while it was in name only. They needed a venue and eventually found Georgia Tech's Grunt Field. That would be the home for three years. Although its tenure as host was short lived, it saw one game of particular interest. In the inaugural game, LSU beat Florida State 31-27 on the strength of quarterback Mike Hillman. He passed for 229 yards and two touchdowns amid nasty conditions. In 1971, the committee moved the location to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It would be the home of the Peach Bowl for 20 years.

During its tenure as host, Fulton County saw some exciting and closely contested football. Vanderbilt and Texas Tech played in the 1974 game that ended in the bowl's only tie, 6-6. In the fourth quarter Texas Tech line up for a 33 yard field goal for a chance to win the game. The Commodores blocked it to end a hard fought game that saw no clear winner.

The 1975 contest was a preview of eventual college football icons that would become mainstays in the scene. West Virginia was coached by Bobby Bowden, who become head coach at Florida State one year later. Lou Holtz was in his final year of being the head coach for North Carolina St. The following year he would be in the NFL as the head coach of the New York Jets. It was a rematch of the 1972 Peach Bowl and West Virginia was out for revenge. They got it by beating the Wolfpack 13-10.

Five years later, the Peach Bowl pitted the University of Miami against Virginia Tech. Jim Kelly, considered the charter member behind Miami's nickname "Quarterback U", led the Hurricanes past Virginia Tech. The sophomore quarterback emerged on the national scene with his performance. He threw for 179 yards and was rewarded as the MVP. Kelly left two years later and went on to great fame as a Buffalo Bill in the NFL.

Another future NFLer, Jack Trudeau, threw for 401 yards in the 1985 match-up. He added to a game that saw 16 Peach Bowl records broken. But Trudeau's performance was not enough to lead Illinois past Army. The Black Knights from West Point gained 291 yards on the ground, 107 by Rob Healy, to squeak by Illinois 31-29. Illinois was in contention up to the final ticks of the game. With :34 seconds remaining, Illinois failed a two point conversion attempt that would have tied the game.

1986 was another turning point in bowl history. The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce took over the responsibilities of the bowl and began a vigorous campaign to finance and market the event. Their labor was rewarded by the final scores in the next few games. Virginia Tech needed a 57 yard drive with 1:53 remaining to set up for the game winning field goal. Chris Kinzen split the uprights from 40 yards out as time expired to narrowly defeat North Carolina St. 25-24.

Georgia lead Syracuse for fifty nine minutes and thirty five seconds of the 1989 game. But the old adage of playing a full "sixty minutes of football" became agonizingly true for the Bulldogs. The Orangemen finally took the lead with :25 left with a 26 yard field goal and won 19-18.

That outcome was similar to most of the Peach Bowl games played to that point. They were normally won late in the game, usually in the fourth quarter, and it was done in dramatic fashion. In the 1990s, the Chamber of Commerce was searching for a way to broadcast their hardly fought contests to outside the surrounding area. They struck gold in 1991 by obtaining a TV contract with ESPN. The relationship would pay dividends for both parties because the Peach Bowl became attractive sights for many teams and ESPN could trust that the game would yield some of their highest viewing audience numbers for the bowl season. With this new found commodity, The Chamber began looking for a better venue that would guard against the nasty, rainy weather that Atlanta is prone to experience.

So the 1991 Peach Bowl was to be the last game played at Fulton County Stadium. Future Saint quarterback Jeff Blake threw for four touchdowns to lead East Carolina over North Carolina St 37-34. The most important of these scores was the last one to tight end Luke Fisher with 1:32 to give them the lead and the victory.

The Chamber of Commerce took the next step in 1992 by making the Peach Bowl a national competitor by agreeing to contracts with the SEC and ACC to send teams each year. They also found a weather-proof venue by obtaining the rights to playing the game in the Georgia Dome.

In the newly renovated Peach Bowl, ACC representative North Carolina St. took on SEC's Ole Miss under the lights. A fourth quarter interception thrown by Ole Miss was returned for a North Carolina St. touchdown. This gave them a slim 21-17 victory.

LSU continued to play a part in Peach Bowl history. After playing in the first one ever, they were again present for another landmark moment. The 1996 Peach offered the final step in assuring that it would take its place among the top bowls when Chick-fil-A joined in the trend of bowl sponsorship by teaming up with the Peach Bowl. They again were rewarded by another grudge match. LSU's Wade Richey kicked a 22 yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead against Clemson. LSU's Aaron Adams blocked the attempted game-tying field goal with less that two minutes remaining to give LSU a 2-0 record at the bowl.

Another Louisiana tie-in played a major role in the 1998 Peach Bowl. Aaron Brooks and Virginia took the lead in the third quarter against Georgia with a 67 yard Brooks' touchdown pass. Georgia answered and took an eight point lead. In the fourth quarter, Brooks scampered for a 30 yard touchdown to cut the Georgia lead to two points. After recovering the ensuing onside kick, Virginia lined up for a 48 yard field goal and missed with 1:19. Georgia won 35-33.

LSU again turned up in the 2000 edition with a thrilling Rohan Davey driven comeback to upset number fifteen Georgia Tech 28-14. The Tigers scored 19 unanswered second half points to give head coach Nick Saban his first bowl victory under the Tigers. This marked the advent of the Nick Saban era that would see the Tigers win two SEC championships and a national title.

Even as late as 2003, the Peach Bowl was still host to some of the wildest finishes in college football. Unranked Clemson came in with few people thinking they had a shot against number six Tennessee. But seldom used running back Chad Jasmin had other plans. He ran over the Volunteer defense for 130 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. That was good enough to earn Offensive MVP honors. Vols quarterback Casey Clausen gave it his best shot with 384 yards passing and touchdowns. But it was not enough and Clemson left with the third straight Peach Bowl victory for the ACC.

The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl has become a premier bowl. The Chick-fil-A presence has been a welcome addition for the last eight years. It holds the distinction of having contributed more money and charity than any other bowl game in the nation. Heading into 2005, they have had eight straight sellouts which makes them the highest attended bowl game outside of the BCS. Also, their partnership with ESPN has the Peach Bowl continually ranked as the highest watched bowls on the ESPN schedule.

This year's should be no different as they host a contest that ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit calls, "the most intriguing match-up outside of the BCS." Not bad progress for a bowl that was created by a local service organization.

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