2:00 PM ET, January 2, 2009
Cotton Bowl, DALLAS, TX
2:00 PM ET, January 2, 2009
Cotton Bowl, DALLAS, TX
DALLAS (AP) -- When J. Curtis Sanford sat in the stands of the Rose Bowl in 1936, the Dallas oilman thought his city should also have a New Year's Day game.
So the following year he got Sammy Baugh and TCU to play Marquette in the stadium called the Cotton Bowl and tacked that name onto the game itself.
Sanford's bowl became among the best in the land, good enough to crown national champions and showcase Heisman Trophy winners. The 1954 edition produced one of the most memorable plays in college football history when Alabama's Tommy Lewis came off the sideline to tackle Rice's Dicky Maegle and prevent a 95-yard touchdown run, only to have officials give it to him anyway.
But, things change. Even namesakes can be dumped.
When No. 7 Texas Tech plays No. 20 Ole Miss on Friday, it will be the 73rd and final time the Cotton Bowl is played at the Cotton Bowl.
Left out of the BCS largely because of the old stadium and a tendency for cold weather, game organizers hoping to reclaim top-tier status couldn't say yes fast enough when Jerry Jones invited them to move into his $1.1 billion palace opening later this year.
The unanimous vote was nearly two years ago. The countdown has been on ever since, with the Red Raiders (11-1) and Rebels (8-4) just happening to land in the finale. Coincidentally, it'll also have a record-breaking crowd of 88,175 because of a stadium renovation that's boosted capacity.
The game is an interesting matchup, with the same Big 12 vs. SEC subplot as the national championship. In fact, Texas Tech and Ole Miss are here largely because of the teams in that No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown. The Red Raiders lost their chance at a national championship after getting stomped by Oklahoma and the Rebels branded themselves as upstarts worthy of a major bowl by becoming the only team this season to knock off Florida.
Still, the end-of-an-era story line trumps everything.
That's why a drawing of the stadium's facade dominates the cover of the program, instead of, say, quarterbacks Graham Harrell of Texas Tech and Jevan Snead of Ole Miss. That's why The Dallas Morning News ran a two-page spread Thursday celebrating "the games and people that have made the Cotton Bowl a Classic" (the formal name is the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic). And it's why Sanford's widow, Betty, will handle the pregame coin flip.
Rebels coach Houston Nutt certainly understands.
A coach's son who grew up in Arkansas back when the Razorbacks' annual goal was to play in the Cotton Bowl, Nutt is like several generations of football fans from this part of the country: His childhood memories of New Year's Day revolved around this game.
"Mom had black-eyed peas going, and cornbread, and all of that, while we were getting ready to watch the Cotton Bowl. There's no question about that," Nutt said, smiling. "I remember great games -- not good games, great games -- all the way through growing up."
The Rebels haven't been to any bowl game since the Cotton in 2004, when Eli Manning led them past Oklahoma State 31-28. Just making the postseason is a thrill, especially for the seniors who feared they never would. It was a legitimate concern considering Ole Miss didn't win a single conference game last season and was breaking in a new coach.
"We came in, worked day in and day out and never saw the fruits of our labors. Now, we have," said fullback Jason Cook, a fifth-year senior.
The Rebels boast an All-American on each line; Peria Jerry on defense and Michael Oher on offense. Oher also is known for being the subject of the best-selling book "The Blind Side: The Evolution of a Game."
Snead is a good story, too.
The quarterback grew up in Stephenville, Texas, about 90 miles from the Cotton Bowl. He started college at Texas the same season as Colt McCoy. Realizing he wouldn't play much, Snead transferred to Ole Miss and sat out last season. Finally getting his chance, he's led the Rebels to road wins over Florida and LSU, and nearly pulled off a late upset at Alabama.
"The last four or five games, he has really been accurate and taken care of the ball," Nutt said. "He has managed the game, controlling the traffic on and off the field with different personnel groupings. ... But the biggest thing is that he finally figured out, 'I don't have to do it by myself.' I think that's the key."
The Red Raiders could be disappointed at playing in "only" the Cotton Bowl considering how their season went.
Mike Leach's powerful offense was better than ever with the combination of Harrell and receiver Michael Crabtree, who was picked as the nation's top receiver as a freshman last year and again this season as a sophomore. An upgraded defense made Tech a legitimate contender.
The Red Raiders knocked off No. 1 Texas with a last-second pass from Harrell to Crabtree, then steamrolled Oklahoma State. Up to No. 2 for the first time in school history, a 65-21 loss to the Sooners cost them chances for the conference and national titles. They also lost a BCS at-large berth to the Longhorns, despite having won a head-to-head matchup.
There's no pouting, though. Texas Tech is still aiming for its best end-of-year ranking.
A bowl finish as wacky as its head coach is becoming a school tradition, too.
The Red Raiders won their last two bowls behind huge late comebacks and the year before that lost a Cotton Bowl on a long, low, wobbly kick in the final seconds.
"We just want to make the most of this opportunity," Leach said.
Graham Harrell should be recovered from surgery and will be throwing to Michael Crabtree for the last time in his Tech career as the Red Raiders hope to cap off the winningest season in school history. They will try to end the Rebels' five-game winning streak and spoil the Texas return of Mississippi quarterback Jevan Snead, a one-time backup behind Colt McCoy at Texas. -- Tim Griffin
There will be plenty of points, but Ole Miss will be the team with more firepower in the end, shocking Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
|Avg Points Allowed||19.0||27.8|