Long before there was a Fiesta Bowl, the college football postseason scene was a conspicuously color-coded rainbow of selection committee sports coats that a Cotton Bowl representative once described as making bowl representatives “look like a bunch of shoe salesmen, but I don’t want to make any shoe salesmen mad.”
Red for the Rose Bowl. Blue for the Sugar Bowl. Green for the Cotton Bowl. And orange, of course, for the Orange Bowl. The so-called lesser bowls of the late 1960s before the Fiesta Bowl came to be—Sun, Gator, Tangerine, Bluebonnet, Liberty, Peach, and Pasadena—had their own versions, too.
It’s hard to say, exactly, where this tradition began.
In earlier times, before bowls proliferated and conference tie-ins lessened the need for heavy recruiting, bowl organizing committees sent representatives to games across the country to identify that year’s best teams and to try to persuade university representatives to come to their towns with their fans and their dollars for a few days of festivities and football.
Bowl reps wanted to be readily identifiable and finding ways to stand out in the crowd was important to that effort, especially for a bowl game that was just getting started.
Before the proposed Phoenix bowl game earned NCAA approval or even had a name, a group of civic leaders formulating the idea for staging a game were audacious enough to choose yellow. It symbolized the sunshine that characterized the Valley, plus it was a way for committee members to really attract attention for what became the 12th college football bowl game in 1971.
“The first game was still a couple of years off,” remembers founder Bill Shover. “We were kicking around ideas about how we could stand out among the well-established bowls, especially as the payout to the participating teams was the very bottom of the scale. ‘What can we do to be different?’ they asked. The color needed to be outrageous.”
Says Fiesta Bowl founder Jim Meyer, “Yellow seemed to fit the idea. It was identifiable. Yellow was really a quick decision.”
“Arizona is the sunshine state, no matter what they say in Florida,” says Stover. “So what other color is there?”
They started wearing those bright jackets in 1970 as committee members scattered across the country, and they certainly did the job intended.
“We’re out there wearing a bright yellow jacket in November,” Meyer recalls. “’Who is that?’ people asked. When it snowed, that yellow blazer stood out even more.”
“They were just as warm as anything blue or red that everyone else had,” Stover says.
After a few years of showing up in such college football meccas as South Bend, Ann Arbor, State College and Tuscaloosa, the refrain was, “Here come those guys in the yellow jackets again.”
“We weren’t expecting to land Alabama,” Meyer says of those early days. “We just wanted to be seen.”
Over the years, as the bowl landscape has expanded and changed, those first jackets fashioned from Scotch wool have changed as well—more modern materials, like today’s polyester blend, and an even brighter yellow. And still they stand out as symbols of what is now a big-time player on the college bowl field.