February 27, 2007

Cotton Bowl finds new home to build legends

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Joe Montana entered the world in June 1956, but the legend of Joe Montana was born Jan. 1, 1979.

On that bitterly cold day in Dallas, the University of Houston appeared on its way to a resounding Cotton Bowl victory over Notre Dame. The Cougars held a 34-12 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.

But Montana, who spent much of the third quarter in the locker room sipping hot chicken soup to stave off hypothermia, returned to the field in the fourth quarter just in time to lead the Irish to an incredible 35-34 victory.

Such stories are wonderful for legends.

Fifteen years later the Cotton Bowl which historically stood with the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl among college football's premier postseason games was not included when the Bowl Championship Series format was adopted in 1994.

The big shots that run college football would rather Fiesta than freeze. They promoted the Phoenix-based Fiesta Bowl, which was originally considered a lower-tier game, to Big Four status.

The Cotton Bowl was left out in the cold.

However, the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association on Tuesday announced a plan which will relocate the game. The association hopes the move will help restore the Cotton Bowl to its previous big-time status.

Beginning in 2010, the Cotton Bowl will move from the Fair Park stadium where it has been played since its inception in 1937 to the domed Dallas Cowboys Stadium that is being constructed in nearby Arlington.

The CBAA is hopeful the move will be the first step in the Cotton Bowl becoming the fifth Bowl Championship Series venue. Last year the BCS added a fifth game, but the Fiesta Bowl and the BCS national championship were both played in Glendale, Ariz.

"I don't know what the odds are," CBAA President Rick Baker said. "But just looking at the (BCS) landscape it makes sense that if they add a city for the BCS that they look to the state of Texas. Look at the geography Pasadena (Rose Bowl), Glendale (Fiesta Bowl), Dallas, New Orleans (Sugar Bowl) and Miami (Orange Bowl).

"Consider how important football is to the state of Texas. We're in the center of the country. It's easy to get here from the West Coast or the East Coast. It just seems very logical that Texas would certainly be a preferred location."

When relocated, the Cotton Bowl should be included in the BCS mix because it has a TV deal with Fox, a strong sponsor in AT&T and a modern, warm stadium - finally.

But it should also be included as a nod to its place in college football history. Some of the games most memorable moments occurred in the Cotton Bowl.

There's Alabama's Tommy Lewis jumping off the sideline to tackle Rice's Dicky Maegle in 1954; there's Bear Bryant bear hugging rival coach and former player Gene Stallings after the game in 1968; Notre Dame coming out of a self-imposed 45-year bowl hiatus to play No. 1 Texas in 1970 and many remember the Texas defense corralling Navy quarterback Roger Staubach to clinch its first national championship 1964.

And of course, there was Montana nearly freezing to death in '79.

The CBAA commissioned a survey of college football commissioners, athletic directors, coaches, presidents and television executives which revealed the history and tradition was the Cotton Bowl's greatest strength. The survey also determined the antiquated stadium and unpredictable weather was its greatest weakness.

When those weaknesses are addressed, the CBAA is hopeful the Cotton Bowl will be viewed in a much better light.

"We're now going in with a full deck to go to the (conference) commissioners and lay out our story on why we should be considered for one of the BCS games," Baker said.

In truth, the weather and stadium weren't the only factors in the Cotton Bowl's fall from grace, although they were easy scapegoats.

The demise of the Southwest Conference, whose champion always played in the Cotton Bowl, was probably a bigger issue.

By the 1980s, the Southwest Conference was mediocre at best. When Arkansas left for the SEC in 1992, it only got worse. The resulting matchups were far from marquee events.

In fact, the last time the national championship was decided in the Cotton Bowl was when Notre Dame upset No. 1 Texas 38-10 in 1978.

Montana quarterbacked the Irish in that game, but only passed for 111 yards and one touchdown.

Of course, at that time he wasn't a legend.


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