Cotton Bowl hopes to regain elite status with move
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) – Mississippi coach Houston Nutt admits to begging Cotton Bowl officials for the opportunity to let his Rebels have a unique place in the game’s history.
“I was really, really wanting to come back because of being the last team in the old and to be able to be the team that comes into the brand new stadium,” Nutt said. “This bowl game is really, really special. But to me, it’s gone to another level.”
A year after winning the final Cotton Bowl at the game’s namesake stadium, Ole Miss (8-4) is back to play No. 21 Oklahoma State (9-3) on Saturday in Cowboys Stadium.
The move from its home the past 73 years to the nearly $1.2 billion shiny new stadium with a retractable roof could put the Cotton Bowl in position to eventually regain its status as one of the elite postseason games. Before being left out of the Bowl Championship Series mix a decade ago, the Cotton Bowl had helped crown national champions and showcase Heisman Trophy winners.
“Our game was one of the original bowl games and the reason we weren’t selected to play in the BCS originally was because of weather considerations,” said Charlie Fiss, the game’s vice president of communications. “Well, the weather is no longer a factor.”
No more worries about a below-zero wind chill such as the 1979 game between Notre Dame and Houston, the rainy 1992 game that produced 13 turnovers instead of the expected offensive shootout in Florida State’s 10-2 victory over Texas A&M, or 2001 when there was snow on the ground when Kansas State and Tennessee kicked off.
Plus, there is the geographic advantage of being in the center of the country in a football-crazy state.
“If they do decide to add another bowl game (to the BCS), we’ve made it known we want to be right there knocking on the door,” Fiss said.
Before the BCS, the Cotton Bowl was the final game in the season for four AP national champions: Syracuse in 1959, Texas in 1963 and 1969, and Notre Dame in 1977.
Seven Heisman Trophy winners have played in the Cotton Bowl, trailing only the Rose (11), Orange (10) and Sugar (eight) bowls. When Texas running back Ricky Williams was the last to play in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day 1999, the year of the first BCS games, the Rose Bowl boasted only one more Heisman winner, while the Orange and Sugar each then had seven.
Other Heisman winners to play in the Cotton Bowl were Tim Brown, Bo Jackson, Doug Flutie, Earl Campbell, Roger Staubach and Doak Walker.
Despite renovations at the old stadium that boosted capacity – a record crowd of 88,175 attended Ole Miss’ 47-34 victory over Texas Tech last January – Cotton Bowl officials couldn’t turn down the chance of moving to the new home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“As times go on and things change, the venues have changed, the media has changed and the market’s changed,” said Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer, whose father Billy is a former Ole Miss head coach. “I don’t think the history will ever be forgotten about the Cotton Bowl and where it is and where it was. It’s just you’re starting a new page, kind of turning the old page to a new one.”
The 71,167-seat Cowboys Stadium features the world’s largest high-definition television screens, one on each side of the 160-foot long and 72-foot high display that hangs 90 feet above the field and spans almost the entire length between the two 20-yard lines. There are also smaller screens on both ends.
Practices for both teams have been held inside Cowboys Stadium. They have been able to avoid the elements outside, including a snowy day this week, and more importantly adjust to the surroundings with the huge attention-grabbing screens.
“It’s something to get used to,” OSU quarterback Zac Robinson said, though he added it will be different with the screens directly overhead instead of facing him in the end zone in places like Texas. “It’s tough to get used to. You look up there and your face is right there and your nose is taking up the whole screen.”
Ole Miss senior linebacker Patrick Trahan is playing in his third Cotton Bowl, having been to the 2007 game as a freshman with Auburn before the renovations to the old stadium. He had a tackle in the end zone for a safety and forced a fumble for the Rebels last year.
“I definitely like the new stadium. It’s kind of awe-inspiring,” Trahan said. “As time moves on, you have to take new steps. It’s not forgetting about the past, but it’s a new day, a new millennium. It’s all about timing and you don’t want to be get left in the past. I think the Cotton Bowl is making a big step.”