When West Virginia football accepted the invitation to play in the 2017 Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, many Mountaineer fans were confused that such a game existed. Fortunately for the football team, this bowl game has some gravitas that is most likely unbeknownst to our fan base.
Originally, the game was played on New Year’s Day as the TicketCity Bowl. After the Cotton Bowl Classic, also historically played on New Year’s Day, moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington in 2009, folks in Dallas looked to bring a college bowl game back to city and the Cotton Bowl stadium. Unlike the Cowboy’s new stadium, the Cotton Bowl sits in Dallas city limits, at the State Fair of Texas park. The game moved to December 26 after the creation of the CFP system.
Though under a third sponsor, the Heart of Dallas Bowl serves to honor first responders in the Dallas area. You may notice the sheriff star, firefighter shield and the Star of Life in the bowl’s logo. One of the major events surrounding the bowl game is Guns & Hoses Climb for Community. This is a fitness competition for first responders in the area in which cops, firefighters, and community members climb 3,100 steps in the lower seating bowl of the Cotton Bowl stadium.
Now in its seventh year, the game began in 2011 with an agreement between the Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, and Conference USA. After just two seasons, TicketCity dropped sponsorship of the game and the bowl received its third name (it was started with the working title “Dallas Football Classic”). The Heart of Dallas Bowl name has stuck since 2013 when PlainsCapital Bank claimed sponsorship rights. The independent bank in Texas withdrew sponsorship after just two games and Zaxby’s the chicken tender restaurant founded and headquartered in Georgia, took over the game. This will be the fourth season Zaxby’s has sponsored the bowl.
Though the Big 12 has been contractually tied into three renditions of the bowl game, WVU will be just the third team to represent the conference. Texas Tech (2011) and Oklahoma State (2013) both claimed victories in the Big D. In 2015, a Pac 12 team claimed the Big 12’s spot. Utah will be the second Pac 12 team to play in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, as Washington defeated Southern Miss 44-31 in 2015.
A few relevant players also competed in this game. Case Keenum, current Vikings starting QB, was named the MVP back in 2012, as Houston downed Penn State 30-14. J.W. Walsh split time as the QB for Oklahoma State in the 2013 game that the Cowboys won 58-14. Current Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon scored two touchdowns in Louisiana Tech’s 35-18 win over Illinois in 2014. It should be noted that in the season before Washington went to the College Football Playoff, the Huskies won the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Cotton Bowl stadium itself lends an air of history to the game. For starters, the 92,000-seat behemoth is well-known as the annual host of the Red River Shootout between Texas and Oklahoma. It was the first home of professional football in Dallas. In 1952, the Dallas Texans played in the Cotton Bowl, but after one season, the team folded. In 1960, both the Dallas Cowboys (NFL) and Texans (AFL) played there from 1960 to 1971, until the Cowboys erected their own stadium and the Texans moved to Kansas City. It also hosted group, round of 16, and quarterfinal matches of the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
The Cotton Bowl was known as “The House that Doak Built” after the star SMU Mustangs running back ran up and down the field in 1947 and 48. SMU played at the Cotton Bowl from 1932 to 1978, then during the 90s after resurrecting the football program.
Basically, the point of this is to say that maybe this bowl game isn’t the worst-contrived event our football team has been a part of. Between the history of the stadium and the community-building efforts of the committee, the Heart of Dallas Bowl should be a good stage for the Utes and Mountaineers to do battle on December 26.