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Headed Down South: History Of The TaxSlayer Bowl

Penn State was selected to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville, Florida on Jan. 2, 2016. James Franklin and his squad will take on a formidable foe in the 9-3 Bulldogs, who are without defensive-minded head coach Mark Richt. The game will be in familiar territory for the Bulldogs, as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ EverBank Field is also home to the annual Florida-Georgia matchup.

This bowl isn’t Penn State’s first matchup with Georgia — the first and last time the two played was in 1983 when Georgia had a Heisman Trophy winner in Herschel Walker, Penn State had Joe Paterno as head coach, and most importantly, the Nittany Lions walked away with their first National Championship.

The name “TaxSlayer” doesn’t particularly invoke thoughts of bowl tradition, but this bowl is actually one of the most historically significant in college football history. Formerly known as the “Gator Bowl,” this game is the sixth oldest of all bowl games, and has been played since New Year’s Day of 1946. The name “TaxSlayer” actually came to be in 2014 when the company behind the bowl, Gator Bowl Sports, announced that it had made a new deal with the company TaxSlayer. The deal resulted in a new name for the Gator Bowl, as well as a new time-slot and logo.

TaxSlayer isn’t the first corporate sponsor to grab onto the bowl’s name. In fact, the bowl has gone by the Gator Bowl, Mazda Gator Bowl, Outback Gator Bowl, Toyota Gator Bowl, Konica Minolta Gator Bowl, Progressive Gator Bowl, and most recently the Gator bowl. The new name is officially the “TaxSlayer Bowl” and features a new logo and name that both lack anything related to the name “Gator Bowl.”

Although the name has changed, the history behind the bowl remains the same. It begins with the fact that the Gator Bowl was actually the first bowl game to be nationally televised. The interesting legacy of the TaxSlayer bowl doesn’t stop there, though.

Three distinct occurrences make up the notoriety of this bowl in sunny Florida. The first is a tragic event known as the Hotel Roosevelt Fire. The fire took place in 1963 at the historic Hotel Roosevelt in downtown Jacksonville. The fire took place simultaneously as a celebration party for the Gator Bowl, but the fire and party were never linked despite initial allegations. Tragically, the fire resulted in the death of 22 people. The cause of the fire was declared a mystery. 

The second famous occurrence surrounding the TaxSlayer Bowl is less gruesome, but is just as notorious. Coach Woody Hayes of the Ohio State Buckeyes was coaching against Clemson in the 1978 Gator Bowl, and in the final minutes of the game Coach Hayes made a career-defining mistake. Ohio State threw an interception to the Clemson nose-guard, and when returning the pick the defensive lineman went out of bounds upon being tackled. Once out of bounds, head coach Woody Hayes struck the nose-guard himself, and a fight ensued. Needless to say, Hayes was fired before he was even on a plane back to Columbus. Thanks to the internet, the footage still exists for your viewing pleasure:

The final significant event surrounding the TaxSlayer Bowl is definitely one on a lighter note. Legendary Florida State head coach and runner up to JoePa in the all-time wins list for Division I FBS coaches, Bobby Bowden, coached the Gator Bowl as his final college football game. The final game in 2009 resulted in a victory for the Seminoles against the West Virginia Mountaineers, sealing a long history that had Bobby Bowden as the head of the Noles. Bowden led Florida State from 1976-2009, and his resumé included two national championships, 12 conference titles, 377 victories (32 less than JoePa), multiple bowl victories, and he coached hundreds of NFL players across his tenure. The final game in Jacksonville ended with triumph for the Seminoles, where Bobby Bowden was hoisted high for his accomplishments at Florida State.

Specific events at the bowl have built some of its notoriety, but a plethora of close, exciting, and memorable games have been played by great teams with exceptionally talented players in the bowl game over the years. Among the list of MVPs of the Gator Bowl are:

  • Donovan McNabb
  • E.J. Manuel
  • Galen Hall
  • Dave Robinson
  • Calvin Johnson
  • Phillip Rivers
  • Michael Vick

This game will not be Penn State’s first go-around with the bowl, as it has appeared in the game four times since 1961. In the four games, Penn State took on Georgia Tech, Florida, Florida State, and most recently Notre Dame in 1976. Penn State has a record of 1-2-1 in the bowl, and will look to improve that when it takes on Georgia next in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl.

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About the Author

Tim Reams

Tim Reams is a senior majoring in labor employment relations.

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