Organizers at the Tournament of Roses Parade set off all this bowl-game hysteria when they decided a football game would more appealing to parade watchers than a polo match. So they invited the varsity teams from Stanford and Michigan to play on New Years Day 1902 in Pasadena, Calif. The visiting Wolverines destroyed Stanford 49-0 in front of a crowd of 8,000 people.
Athough they made a profit, parade officials were disappointed by the lopsided game and replaced it with a chariot race the following year.
It wasn't until 1916 that parade officials stopped horsing around and made the Rose Bowl an annual game. By 1947, nine more bowl games had been established and more than 300,000 college football fans attended bowl games. The Rose Bowl had a sellout crowd of 90,000 that year and it's been a sellout every year since.
This Jan. 1 the Rose Bowl will be the 20th of 23 bowl games to be played this season starting on Dec. 18 and ending with the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4. More than a million fans will attend bowl games this year and hundreds of millions more will watch and listen on television and radio.
Bowl games have become a much bigger deal at the end of the century. Contracts with specific bowls have garnered college football conferences millions of dollars over the years, and the revolving door of corporate sponsorship has broadcasters mentioning cell phones and web sites as often as first downs and touchdowns.
The bowl season has created football dynasties like Alabama, which has appeared in (49) and won (28) more bowl games than any other team. And transformed coaches like Paul "Bear" Bryant, Joe Paterno and Lou Holtz into legends.
But, crowning a Division 1-A college football national champion has never been easy. They've tried A.P. Final Polls, mathematical systems and bowl alliances. But the Bowl Championship Series rankings may be college football's best shot at it yet. Learn more about it here.