The Cotton Bowl is college football royalty. It isn’t the Rose Bowl, but it is part of the four-game set of traditional bowls which have been a staple of New Year’s Day (or January 2 when the NFL has January 1) for over 85 years.
Rose. Sugar. Orange. Cotton. Those four games defined college football seasons and created national championship memories for many decades until the Southwest Conference died in 1995 and the Cotton Bowl began what was essentially a two-decade period of exile to second-tier status before the New Year’s Six, created in 2014, restored the Cotton’s elite standing as a major bowl game.
That nearly two-decade period of exile — 1996 through 2013 — might mean that for a subgroup of younger college football fans, the Cotton Bowl really isn’t all that special. A lot of people grew up in a world where the Cotton Bowl did not mean much. However, from the late 1930s through the early 1990s, it meant quite a lot. Recent years have brought the Cotton Bowl back to the big stage as part of the College Football Playoff.
Let’s look at the most important and memorable moments in Cotton Bowl history. Giants of the game have played in this New Year’s Day classic:
1979: THE CHICKEN SOUP GAME
Jan 1, 1978; Dallas, TX, USA; FILE PHOTO; Notre Dame quarterback (3) Joe Montana in action against the Texas Longhorns during the 1978 Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Montana was sick. Notre Dame trailed Houston 34-12 in an icy, miserable Cotton Bowl. The Fighting Irish, who won the 1977 national title by thrashing Texas in the 1978 Cotton Bowl on a gorgeous, sunny day in Dallas, were thrust into a pit of cold and brutal hell.
Then Montana had a bowl of chicken soup.
The rest is Cotton Bowl history … and the start of Montana’s legend as the ultimate Comeback Quarterback who would make his NFL career on a come-from-behind win against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game.
Montana led a 23-point Notre Dame rally in the 1979 Cotton Bowl, throwing the winning touchdown pass with no time left. The Irish kicked the extra point for a 35-34 win which remains the greatest comeback in Cotton Bowl history, and one of the greatest comebacks in college football annals.
1954: DICKIE MAEGLE OF RICE TACKLED BY ALABAMA PLAYER WHO RAN FROM HIS BENCH
(1) SYRACUSE 23, (4) TEXAS 14 -- ERNIE DAVIS CAPS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON IN 1960 COTTON BOWL
1964: NO. 1 VS NO. 2
1965: JERRY JONES AND JIMMY JOHNSON, ARKANSAS TEAMMATES, WIN NATIONAL TITLE BY BEATING NEBRASKA
1968: GENE STALLINGS DEFEATS MENTOR, FORMER COACH BEAR BRYANT -- TEXAS A&M BEATS ALABAMA
1970: TEXAS WINS NATIONAL TITLE, NOTRE DAME PLAYS FIRST BOWL GAME SINCE 1925 ROSE BOWL
1971: NOTRE DAME SNAPS TEXAS'S 30-GAME WINNING STREAK
1973: THE ONLY TIME BEAR BRYANT AND DARRELL ROYAL MET IN THE COTTON BOWL (ALABAMA-TEXAS)
1983: SMU AND ERIC DICKERSON VS PITT AND DAN MARINO IN BATTLE OF FUTURE NFL STARS
1984: GEORGIA BEATS NO. 2 TEXAS -- 2ND TIME IN 7 SEASONS TEXAS LOST THE NATIONAL TITLE IN THE COTTON BOWL
University of Texas tailback John Walker (45) tries to dive for a first down on a third and one situation, but the University of Georgia defense, and Georgia linebacker Tommy Thurson (60) hold the Horns at the 22 yard line, Jan. 1, 1984, during the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Texas went on to kick a field goal on the fourth down play. (AP Photo/Paul Moseley)
1985: DOUG FLUTIE WINS COTTON BOWL AFTER WINNING THE HEISMAN TROPHY
Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie (22) hugs offensive guard Steve Trapilo (65) as they celebrate after a play during their 45-28 victory over the University of Houston in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Jan. 1, 1985. (AP Photo)
1989: FUTURE COWBOY QB TROY AIKMAN WINS COTTON BOWL IN DALLAS
UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman drops back and looks for a receiver during action in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas Monday, January 3, 1989. UCLA defeated Arkansas 17-3. (AP Photo/Lou Krasky
2015: ALABAMA WINS COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF SEMIFINAL OVER MICHIGAN STATE
Dec 31, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban (middle) and defensive coordinator (left) react after an interception by linebacker Dillon Lee (25) in the fourth quarter against the Michigan State Spartans in the 2015 CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
2018: CLEMSON WINS PLAYOFF SEMIFINAL OVER NOTRE DAME
Clemson running back Travis Etienne (9) runs against Notre Dame during the second quarter of the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas Saturday, December 29, 2018.Clemson Beats Notre Dame
2021: ALABAMA WINS PLAYOFF SEMIFINAL OVER CINCINNATI
Alabama linebacker Christian Harris (8) and Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. (31) combine to sack Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) in the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal game at the 86th Cotton Bowl in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas Friday, Dec. 31, 2021. Alabama defeated Cincinnati 27-6 to advance to the national championship game. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]
1937: FOOTBALL ICON SAMMY BAUGH WINS FIRST COTTON BOWL EVER PLAYED