From the Sun Bowl Vault: A History of the Sun Bowl

Dec. 5, 2006

History of the Sun Bowl

For the last 72 years, the Sun Bowl has featured the color and pageantry that is college football Six of the top 10 winningest program of all-time have participated in the Sun Bowl and 26 college programs that have won national championships in the past have appeared as well.

Through the years, 37 Sun Bowls have been decided by a touchdown or less, including five of the last seven games. The Sun Bowl has featured some of the greats of the game, like coaches Tom Osborne (Nebraska), Barry Switzer (Oklahoma), Bill Walsh (Stanford), Sammy Baugh (Hardin-Simmons) and Don Nehlen (West Virginia) and players like Don Maynard (UTEP), Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State), Carson Palmer (USC), James Lofton (Stanford), Ladainian Tomlinson (TCU) and Tony Dorsett (Pittsburgh).

The Sun Bowl has also produced some exciting and somewhat strange moments as well. Who can forget the infamous “Fog Bowl” of 1974, when a freak winter storm the night before the game left frost on the field. The morning warmth of the sun created a rising steam from the field during the first half, thus giving it its name – “The Fog Bowl.”

Then there was the time Lee Corso and Buddy (Burt) Reynolds played in the same Florida State backfield in 1955.  Or there was the time that No. 17 George Washington in 1957 upset Texas Western (now UTEP). Then there were the six times that the Sun Bowl has eclipsed 50,000 fans – Texas vs. North Carolina (50,612); Michigan State vs. USC (50,562); Arizona vs. Georgia Tech (50,203); Maryland vs. Tennessee (50,126); Arizona State vs. Purdue (51,288); and this past season Northwestern vs. UCLA (50,426).

There have been many rememberable moments over the years, but none of this would have ever have been possible if it had not been for the vision of the El Paso Kiwanis Club.

The Sun Bowl was first played on January 1, 1935, as a fund-raising event for a local service club, to benefit underprivileged children and to finance improvement to the El Paso High School Stadium.  It has grown into El Paso’s number one national attraction.



On October 18, 1934, at a meeting of the El Paso Kiwanis Club, Dr. Brice Schuller suggested that the club sponsor a football game on New Year’s Day matching an El Paso High School All-Star Team against a worth opponent.  The motion was passed unanimously.  It was decided to ask for public suggestions as to the name of this annual game, and the name “Sun Bowl” was submitted by Doctor C. M. Hendricks, who became the first Sun Bowl Association President.  The following year a weeklong schedule of events was added to the Sun Bowl festivities, and four other local service clubs (Rotary, Lions, Optimist and Active 20-30) joined the Kiwanis in coordinating the entire “Sun Carnival” calendar.

The Sun Bowl Association was founded in 1935 with a threefold purpose: 1) to present a football attraction of national importance, 2) to promote El Paso and the Southwest and 3) to generate tourist income for the area.  Economic impacts study by Dr. David Schauer of the Economics Department at the University of Texas at El Paso revealed that the direct economic impact to this area from the bowl game is 12 to 15 million dollars.  This figure does not include the value of the national media exposure resulting from the game.

In 1936, New Mexico State and Hardin-Simmons Universities were invited to play, and the Sun Bowl has been a college game ever since.  During the early years of the Sun Bowl it was a tradition to match the Border Conference Champion against the best available opponent.  Today, the Sun Bowl matches a Pacific-10 Conference versus either the Big 12 Conference or the Big East Conference.

To alleviate the financial burden of decreasing television rights fees for college bowl games, in addition to rising costs imposed by the NCAA, the Sun Bowl, in 1986, attracted John Hancock Financial Services, based in Boston, as its title sponsor, and became the John Hancock Sun Bowl.  In 1989, to make team payments larger and to secure the life of El Paso’s bowl game, the John Hancock Sun Bowl was renamed the John Hancock Bowl.

After a two-year hiatus with no title sponsor, Norwest Bank became the game’s title sponsor in 1996. Norwest merged with Wells Fargo Bank in 1999 and the game was renamed the Wells Fargo Sun Bowl until 2003. In 2004, the publicly-traded El Paso based company Helen of Troy became the games title sponsor and the Sun Bowl was renamed the Vitalis Sun Bowl. Helen of Troy then renamed the game in 2006 to the Brut Sun Bowl.

Here is a chronological listing of some important Sun Bowl milestones:

1935 – The first Sun Bowl game was played at El Paso High School Stadium, with the El Paso All-Stars defeating Ranger 25-21. 2003 Legend of the Sun Bowl Ken Heineman accounted for ever El Paso All-Star point.

1936 – The first college Sun Bowl game between New Mexico State and Hardin-Simmons ended in a 14-14 tie.  Hardin-Simmons had missed the tying extra point following its second touchdown, but New Mexico State was offside on the play, and the re-kick was successful.

1938 – The Sun Bowl game was moved to Kidd Field, at 15,000-seat stadium on the UTEP campus.

1941 – Hascall Henshaw of Arizona State turned in the longest run in Sun Bowl history, a 94-yard touchdown, in a losing cause, as the Sun Devils fell to Western Reserve 26-13.

1943 – All profits from the Sun Bowl were donated to World War II charities.

1948 – Miami University of Ohio capped an undefeated season with a 13-12 Sun Bowl victory over Texas Tech.  Miami’s reputation as the “Cradle of Coaches” was enhanced by this team which included Sid Gillman as head coach, and Richard “Doc” Urich, Paul Dietzel, High Hindeman, and Ara Parseghian as players.  In fact, Parseghian dislocated his shoulder during the second quarter, and was unable to return to the game.  The Sun Bowl gained more national exposure when celebrity Art Linkletter originated his popular national radio broadcast from Liberty Hall in El Paso during the Sun Bowl week of activities.

1954 – Dr. C. M. Hendricks, one of the Sun Bowl founding fathers, its first President, and an active director in the Association from 1935-45, died on December 9th.  A Most Valuable Player Award was established in his honor, and UTEP quarterback Dick Shinaut was the first recipient for his efforts in the Miners 37-14 Sun Bowl victory over Southern Mississippi.

1955 – The highest scoring Sun Bowl to date occurred as UTEP defeated a Florida State squad, which included actor Burt Reynolds 47-20.

1958 – For the first time in Sun Bowl history two games were played in the same calendar year, January 1st and December 31st.  It was believed that a move away from New Year’s Day would allow the Sun Bowl to get more national exposure.  In the December 31st game a legendary coaching match up developed as Wyoming, coached by Bob Devaney, defeated Hardin-Simmons, coached by Sammy Baugh, 14-6.  For the first time, a lineman (Leonard Kucsewski of Wyoming) won the MVP Award.

1959 – Charlie Johnson of New Mexico State (and later the St. Louis Cardinals) won the first of his back-to-back MVP awards.  The Aggie team included NCAA rushing champion Pervis Atkins.  El Paso County voters approved a $1.75 million bond issue to finance the construction of a 30,000 seat Sun Bowl stadium adjacent to Kidd Field.  Construction was set to begin in 1961.

1960 – New Mexico State completed a perfect season with a 20-13 victory over Utah State. Charlie Johnson won his second MVP Award, and set a Sun Bowl record for passing accuracy (18 of 26 for .692).  For the second straight year, the Aggies boasted the NCAA rushing champion (Bob Gaiters).  Pro Football Hall of Fame member Merlin Olsen was a member of the Utah State team.

1963 – The first Sun Bowl game was played in the present Sun Bowl Stadium on December 31st, as Oregon beat SMU 21-14.

1964 – The first national network telecast of a Sun Bowl game was carried by NBC between Georgia and Texas Tech.

1965 – UTEP quarterback Billy Stevens won the first of his two MVP awards, as the Miners beat TCU 13-12.  Stevens also won MVP honors in 1967, and joined Charlie Johnson as the only players to be honored twice.

1967 – The first sellout crowd of a Sun Bowl game in the new stadium saw UTEP defeat Mississippi, 14-7.

1968 – This was the first CBS network telecast of the Sun Bowl (Auburn vs. Arizona).  CBS sent its top sportscasting team to cover the game, Lindsey Nelson and Frank Gifford.  The Sun Bowl has been telecast nationally by CBS ever since. 

1974 – A freak winter storm in El Paso the night before the Sun Bowl left a frost on the field.  The warmth of the sun created steam rising from the field during the first half creating a very eerie effect and later the game was affectionately dubbed the “Fog Bowl”.  Mississippi State defeated North Carolina, 26-24, in the closest Sun Bowl played on artificial turf.

1976 – No game was played during the calendar year 1976; the next Sun Bowl was scheduled for January 2, 1977.  Texas A&M defeated Florida, 37-14, on the January 2nd game.  The Aggies Tony Franklin kicked the longest field goal in Sun Bowl and NCAA post-season history, 62 yards.

1980 – The University of Texas System Board of Regents and El Paso County completed a complicated land-swap deal in which the Regents agreed to pay for a 20,000 seat expansion to the Sun Bowl Stadium.  Construction began in 1980, but was not completed until 1982.

1981 – When Jane T. Thornton took over the reins as Sun Bowl Association President, it marked the first time ever that a woman had been named to the top spot not only in the Sun Bowl Association, but in any bowl association in the country.  One of the milestones marking her presidency is the expansion of the Sun Bowl stadium, under construction, to be completed for the 1982 game.

1982 – This was the first Sun Bowl played in the completed 51,000-seat stadium, the first Sun Bowl played on Christmas Day, and the first time it ever snowed during a Sun Bowl.  North Carolina rallied to beat Texas, 26-10.

1984 – Maryland’s 28-27 win over Tennessee marked the biggest comeback win in Sun Bowl history.   Trailing 21-0 at halftime, the Terrapins scored 28 second half points (21 in the third quarter for a Sun Bowl record) to nip the Volunteers 28-27.  Earlier in the season, the Terrapins have engineered the greatest comeback in college football history.  Trailing defending national champion Miami Hurricanes 31-0 at halftime, Maryland scored 42 second half points to win 42-40.  The 1984 Sun Bowl marked Johnny Majors’ third appearance as a head coach representing three different universities (Iowa State in 1971, Pittsburgh in 1975, and Tennessee), a Sun Bowl first.

1986 – The Sun Bowl became the first post-season classic to be sponsored commercially when John Hancock Financial Services entered into a five-year agreement with the Sun Bowl Association.

1987 – The second highest-scoring game was played as No. 11 Oklahoma State defeated West Virginia 35-33.

1988 – The Sun Bowl made its first-ever million-dollar payment to the competing teams, Alabama and Army.

1990 – Michigan State became the first-ever Big Ten school to play in the Sun Bowl.

1992 – Baylor’s legendary Grant Teaff concluded his coaching career by leading the Bears to a 20-15 victory over the University of Arizona. Additionally, the Sun Bowl made its largest-ever team payments: $1,100,000 per team.

1996 – Norwest Corporation of Minneapolis, Minn. established a corporate relationship with the Sun Bowl Association and the annual football game was renamed the Norwest Sun Bowl. Stanford quarterback Chad Hutchinson establishes a new Norwest Sun Bowl pass completion percentage record (22/28, .786).

1999 – The name changes officially to Wells Fargo Sun Bowl in April as a result of the Norwest/Wells Fargo Bank merger.

2001 – CBS Sports extends Sun Bowl contract through the 2006 game. UTEP stadium renovations result in a new field surface, AstroPlay, and a permanent big screen (Diamond Vision). Hundreds of seats are removed from the lower corners of the stadium in order to accommodate soccer games, resulting in a new capacity of 50,426.

2002 – Purdue overcame a 17-point deficit to topple Washington 34-24. The Sun Bowl made its largest payout ever: $1,350,000 per team.

2003 – The Sun Bowl Association reached agreement with the publicly-traded company Helen of Troy to begin sponsoring the game in 2004. The game officially became the Vitalis Sun Bowl.

2004 – The first Vitalis Sun Bowl will be played, marking the seventh name change in the 71-year history of the game – Sun Bowl (1935-85), John Hancock Sun Bowl (1986-89), John Hancock Bowl (1990-93), Sun Bowl (1994-95), Norwest Sun Bowl (1996-98), Wells Fargo Sun Bowl (1999-03) and Vitalis Sun Bowl (2004-05).

2005 – The Sun Bowl Association reached an agreement to align itself with the Big 12 Conference, the Big East Conference, the Pacific-10 Conference and Notre Dame beginning 2006. The alignment runs through the 2009 season, pitting the Pacific-10 Conference against either the Big 12, Big East or Notre Dame.

2006 – The Sun Bowl was renamed the Brut Sun Bowl for 2006, after securing the game’s title sponsorship through 2009.  This year, the Sun Bowl will make its largest team payout ever: $1.9 million per team.

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The 73rd Brut Sun Bowl will feature the Missouri Tigers and the Oregon State Beavers on Dec. 29th at 1 p.m. CT. It will be broadcast nationally by CBS.
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