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The reason why college football bowl games are called bowl games

An American institution like no other, college bowl games owe their name to a single stadium design and a fabulous parade.

Así lucía el Estadio Rose Bowl para presenciar el primer duele del Real Madrid de la temporada 2023/24.
Kirby LeeUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

America means mom, apple pie, and college football bowl games. It is such an ingrained part of our culture, that we don’t even question it, even as visitors to our shores are often puzzled as to why these games are referred to as “bowls.” Some British friends told me that they assumed that the winner of the Super Bowl was awarded some kind of bowl as a trophy. Erm… no.

The origin of the phrase can be traced back to a single stadium. And no, it isn’t the one you are thinking of.

The Yale Bowl Stadium in New Haven, Connecticut was the archetype for all bowl-shaped stadia across the country. Opened in 1914, the home of the Yale Bulldogs inspired designers across the continent to copy the design and name for the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Already the site of the New Year’s Day East vs West football game, organizers had long since included parades, races, and festivities in what was dubbed the Tournament of Roses around the event. With the new stadium and in a nod to the Yale Bowl, the stadium and event were renamed the Rose Bowl.

Almost immediately, other cities around the country saw the attraction of turning their regional championship game into a similar event. The label “bowl” was attached to the event, whether the hosting stadium was bowl-shaped or not.

Traditionally, bowl games were held exclusively in the south and west of the country, owing to their warm climates, mild winters, and ease of travel. California, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida became the incubator for college football and the new “bowl” concept.

As covered stadiums became more prevalent, an increasing number of bowl games were added to the calendar in northern and midwestern states. When the NFL decided to institute a championship game of their own, the word “bowl” was the natural choice as a descriptive term and the Super Bowl was born.

Today, it would be impossible to imagine New Year’s Day without college bowl games. And a calendar without a Super Bowl in it is hardly worth thinking about. So perhaps when enjoying your favorite of the championship games, raise a glass to Yale and the Rose Bowl, who have made our live so much richer.