What Do Will Rogers and Bowl Games Have in Common?

With bowl season just getting started and all the state schools playing in bowl games around the country it got me thinking about our states history with bowl games. Have we ever hosted a bowl game? Yes, we have the first in 1947 the inaugural and subsequently the last year for the Will Rogers Bowl held in Oklahoma City. The two lucky teams were Pepperdine University and Nebraska Wesleyan University. The night before the big game a storm blew in leaving snow and cold temperatures in it’s path with a high for the day at 30° only 800 people showed up for the game. It was held on January 1, 1947 at 2:30 p.m. at Taft Stadium. Pepperdine won the game 38-13 and it is their one and only bowl appearance as they do not play football at the school anymore.

Pepperdine bus with the Will Rogers Bowl banner.
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Promotional photo for the game. Pepperdine coach Warren Gaer (Left) player Dennis Horn, and Will Rogers Jr. (Right)

Taft Stadium was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1934 it had a capacity at the time of 18,200 it was and still is located at  NW 23rd and May Ave. The stadium is currently home to Northwest Classen and John Marshall High School football teams. It has seen everything from the Oklahoma bowl games, stock car racing, soccer, and countless high school football games. It was recently “remodeled” but looks to me that it is a shell of what it once was.

There is not a whole lot of information that I was able to find about this game as far as advertising or pictures but seeing how only 800 people showed up I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal at the time. However, there is a very interesting 27 minute silent video of the game if you have the time take a look at it, the link will be at the bottom of the page. I took some screen shots of the video just to show some scenes from it as well.

It was brought to my attention that there were also four other bowl games played at Taft stadium called the All-Sports Bowl from 1961-64 all included a team from Oklahoma.

1961: Oklahoma Panhandle -28 vs. Langston 14 (8,000 people in attendance)

1962: Nebraska-Omaha – 34 vs. East Central 21 (2,500 people in attendance)

1963: Northeastern St. – 59 vs. Slippery Rock 12 (attendance unknown)

1964: Sul Ross St – 21 vs. East Central 13 (attendance unknown)

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Players warming up before the game.

It seems like there are bowl games everywhere now and there are, 40 games to be exact.  The University of Tulsa will travel to Shreveport, Louisiana which has a population of 446,471 in the metro area. Which shows there is no reason we don’t have a bowl in Oklahoma! Oklahoma City is roughly 1.4 million people in the metro area and Tulsa is just under a million. Why can’t we be one of the 40 bowl games that smaller cities around the country host and bring money into their states by doing so? I wish I had an answer for everyone reading, I don’t know if it’s just because we don’t want one or don’t think we have the facilities to handle one which is probably the case. Norman would be the most plausible place to play a bowl game. I do think it is time our state pushes to bring back the Will Rogers Bowl or shall I say the Devon Energy Will Rogers Bowl or something along those lines, it won’t bring 900 million into the state to offset the deficit, but it wouldn’t hurt. Oklahoma deserves another chance to show the country that we can bring more people out to a bowl game in our great state.

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Close up Taft Stadium scoreboard 1947

 

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Taft Stadium before remodel

 

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Will Rogers Bowl Trohpy

Taft Stadium picture via: Waymarking

Pictures of run down Taft Stadium before the remodel: Daily Oklahoman

Info on Taft Stadium: Daily Oklahoman

Trophy and Will Rogers Jr. pictures from Pepperdine Archives

All other pictures are screen shots from the video link above.

Bowl scores NCAA

If anyone has any pictures of the All-Sports Bowls held at Taft Stadium I would love to see them and will ad them to the page with permission.

Follow me on twitter @OkieHistoryPics

Email at okhistorypics@gmail.com

 

Originally posted: 12 December 2015

 

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