College Football: Sun Bowl Shines Outside the Spotlight

El Paso's Sun Bowl (Photo /
El Paso’s Sun Bowl (Photo /

Born in the depth of the Depression, El Paso’s Sun Bowl has persisted into its 79th year, despite lacking the prominence of its better known brethren, the Cotton and Sugar Bowls. All three were first played on New Year’s Day in 1935.

The game is currently played at the permanent home of the UTEP Miners at Sun Bowl Stadium, which first opened in 1963 and was fitted into the rolling hills leading into the adjacent Franklin Mountains. The configuration makes the game prone to long shadows, and the El Paso climate is not always sunny, or even warm, for its annual New Year’s Eve game day.

Fog, snow, rain, and even sun, have greeted players and fans over the years. Weather is so often unpredictable it begs the question of whether the original organizers were doing some optimistic marketing for their annual college bowl game in choosing its name.

Despite the unpredictable elements and less-than-marquee opponents, this year USC, the preseason #1 FBS team, comes in at 7-5 to face a 6-7 Georgia Tech team, the game captures what bowl games were envisioned to do. It provides an annual boost to the local economy and an opportunity for celebration just prior to the New Year.

It is accompanied by the oldest collegiate holiday basketball tournament, the Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational. Haskins made history at UTEP, then called Texas Western, when he started five black players in the team’s 1966 NCAA Championship triumph over Kentucky. This year, fittingly, UTEP won the invitational.

The game is preceded in November by the Sun Bowl Parade, another highlight of the El Paso annual calendar. 280,000 people turned out for this year’s event.

In the current bowl era, BCS games seemingly receive ceaseless hype and promotion, and smaller bowls come and go with annual frequency. The Sun Bowl for 79 years has managed to avoid the pitfalls of both.

This year’s game airs at 2 PM Eastern on CBS.