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Tradition of the Gator Bowl

An annual bowl game held in Jacksonville, Florida, stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of pageantry and tradition that defines college football. Since its inception in 1946, the Gator Bowl has become more than just a sporting event; it’s a celebration of athletic prowess, school pride, and the enduring spirit of competition.

Historical Roots

The Gator Bowl’s roots trace back to the post-World War II era when the idea of creating a prominent college football event in Florida gained momentum. Over the years, the game has evolved, but its commitment to showcasing top-tier collegiate talent and providing a platform for teams to prove their mettle has remained unwavering.


One of the distinctive features of the Gator Bowl is its iconic venue originally called Gator Bowl Stadium from 1946-1993, now called EverBank Stadium the home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, located on the St. John’s River. The stadium, with its vibrant atmosphere and capacity to host thousands of passionate fans, contributes significantly to the events grand. The roar of the crowd, the waving of team flags and pompom, and the electrifying energy create an unforgettable spectacle that transcends the boundaries of the playing field.

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Team Selection

Each year, the Gator Bowl brings together two formidable college football teams, from 1946–1952, a team from the Souther Conference played against an at-large opponent. Beginning with the 1953 game, it switched to featuring a SEC team against an at-large opponent. From 1996–2006, the Gator Bowl traditionally hosted the second-place ACC team against the second-place Big East team. 2007, Gator Bowl began hosting the third-place ACC team versus a team from either the Big East, the Big 12, or the unaffiliated Notre Dame. The contract, which ran for four years, was held in conjunction with the Sun Bowl, with the Gator Bowl receiving first choice of teams, and required both bowls to take Big East teams twice and Big 12 teams twice. The Gator Bowl would feature the SEC and the Big Ten starting with the 2010 season. Starting in 2015, the bowl returned to a hybrid arrangement for a six-year period, with SEC teams playing ACC teams for three years and Big Ten teams the other three years; the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are also eligible during ACC years. Through 74 playings, 38 have been contested with both teams ranked, most recently the 2006 Gator Bowl. The highest ranked team to appear was No. 3 Pittsburgh in the 1980 Gator Bowl.

Pageantry on Display

The Gator Bowl is renowned for its elaborate pre-game and halftime ceremonies, showcasing the vibrant traditions of participating universities. From spirited marching bands to captivating cheerleading squads, the pageantry adds an extra layer of excitement, making the event more than just a football game. These traditions reflect the cultural diversity and unique identities of the schools involved, fostering a sense of unity and pride among fans. Beyond the gridiron, the Gator Bowl has become a platform for community engagement and philanthropy. The game organizers actively involve the local community, promoting charitable initiatives and contributing to the betterment of the Jacksonville area. This commitment to social responsibility enhances the game’s significance, transforming it into a positive force within the broader community.

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Enduring Legacy

As the Gator Bowl continues to thrive, its enduring legacy is defined by the memories etched in the hearts of players, coaches, and fans alike. Some of those iconic moments are, in the early morning of December 29, 1963, the Hotel Roosevelt in downtown Jacksonville caught fire after a post-Gator Bowl party in the ballroom. It was determined that the party was not the cause of the fire, the fire resulted in 22 deaths. In the 1978 game between Ohio State and Clemson, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes lost his temper when Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass and ran out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline. Hayes struck Bauman with his right forearm, the play sealed the Tigers’ 17–15 win over the Buckeyes, while Hayes was fired the next day before leaving Jacksonville. The 2010 game was Bobby Bowden’s last game, when Florida State played West Virginia a team that he coached before leaving for Florida State. Bowden had been the head coach at Florida State since 1976 and had won two national championships, 13 ACC championships, and had a 14-year streak of top five finishes during that time. A record crowd of over 84,000 people witnessed Bowden being carried off the field after a 33–21 Florida State victory.

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The Gator Bowl stands as a beacon of pageantry and tradition in the college football landscape. It’s ability to seamlessly blend athletic competition, cultural richness, and community engagement highlights the enduring allure of this annual event. As the Gator Bowl continues to evolve, one can only anticipate the unfolding of new chapters in its storied history, each contributing to the rich tapestry of college football’s grand traditions.

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