In this, the 150th season of college football, the PlayStation® Fiesta Bowl will kick off in 150 days. It is hard to predict what will happen in the days between now and then, just as it was near impossible to predict what has happened in the last 150 years.
College football’s tradition and legacy will be commemorated by a number of local and national activations backed by College Football 150th Anniversary. The CFB150 is a non-profit corporation formed to plan and administer a national celebration of 150 seasons of collegiate football. On December 28, that celebration will come to Glendale in conjunction with the 49th edition of the Fiesta Bowl.
Breaking down college football by the numbers is a bit overwhelming. There are 897 colleges and universities that participate and over 81,000 current players contribute to the overall 5.33 million players.
Last year alone, the six bowl games that make up the College Football Playoff – Fiesta Bowl will serve as a CFP Semifinal game in 2019 – produced five of the six most-watched cable television broadcasts of the year. The 90 million fans that tuned into the 38 postseason bowl games suggest that college football’s profile is only going to grow.
The game got to the place it is today because of moments. Countless great memories were made over the last 150 years for fans and players alike. Three of those moments – and many more depending on who you ask – took place here in Arizona at the Fiesta Bowl. The following games helped shape the landscape of college football and are part of the reason the 150th celebration means so much.
1987 – Penn State 14, Miami 10; Tempe, Ariz.
The “Battle for Number 1” is one of the most talked about games in college football history. Its 24.9 Nielson television rating (more than 70 million viewers) still stands as the highest-rated championship game in history. Fiesta Bowl leadership matched up the two independents, who were also the two top-ranked teams, to create a national championship game. The game was so big, it was moved from January 1 to January 2 and NBC moved it into the primetime spot.
No. 1 Miami – who famously showed up to Tempe wearing military fatigues – were the favorites over Joe Paterno’s No. 2 Nittany Lions. Miami, led by Jimmy Johnson, was loaded with future NFL talent, including Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde, and carried a perfect regular season record. Penn State was playing for its fourth national title game in nine years and owned an undefeated record as well.
The game looked to be a one-sided affair with Miami outgaining Penn State 133-7 in the first quarter. Penn State’s defense shifted the tone of the game and a battle ensued. Miami took the lead at 10-7 with just under 12 minutes to play. The Nittany lions responded with a touchdown of their own four minutes later to pull ahead. The Hurricanes then marched down the field in the final minutes of the game to set up the famous fourth-and-goal play. With 18 seconds left, Testaverde threw his fifth interception of the game, as Pete Giftopoulos sealed the Hurricanes’ fate and Penn State’s championship.
2003 – Ohio State 31, Miami 24 (2OT); Tempe, Ariz.
Miami entered the game as a perennial power, having won 34 consecutive games as the defending national champions. Ohio State entered the game as a 12-point underdog but had four wins over top 25 competition during the season. Combined, the teams had 37 starters who went on to become NFL draft picks.
One of the most talked-about games had a bit of everything. Both sides shined at times and made mistakes in others. However, the game is still known for the final moments.
After a battle that culminated in a fourth down attempt in the first overtime, Buckeyes quarterback Craig Krenzel threw a pass that fell incomplete, setting off fireworks that signified Miami’s championship – for a brief moment. Field judge Terry Porter flagged Miami’s Glenn Sharpe for pass interference in one of the most debated calls in college football history.
The game went on, Krenzel soon scored and RB Maurice Clarett followed with another in the second overtime. This time it was Miami who faced the pressure. Miami gained its way to the 1-yard line, but the Ohio State defense held for three straight plays to claim the school’s fifth national title.
2007 – Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42; Glendale Arizona
The first game at the Fiesta Bowl’s current site in Glendale was one of the most improbable and memorable moments in college football’s 150 years. Boise State came to the Valley with a No. 8 ranking but were a 7 ½-point underdog to No. 10 Oklahoma. The Sooners had won seven national championships while Boise State was a member of the WAC and had only played one power conference opponent, so the David vs Goliath feel was prevalent.
First-year coach Chris Petersen showed that the Broncos belonged. Boise State jumped out to a 28-10 lead in the third quarter thanks to its offensive prowess. The tides changed and Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson scored a touchdown and the Sooners added a field goal to cut the lead to eight early in the fourth quarter. Four punts later, the game made a name for itself.
Both teams combined to score 22 points over the final 15 minutes, including a hook-and-ladder trick play from the Broncos to force overtime.
Peterson immediately scored with a 25-yard run on the first play of OT and Boise State had to respond. Petersen’s squad used misdirection to respond on 4th-and-2, with a receiver rollout for a score and then opted to go four two. Boise State went into its bag of tricks once again for one of the most unforgettable plays – a Statue of Liberty – that found the end zone for the winning conversion and secure a perfect 13-0 season.