The Fiesta Bowl Salutes Arizona’s Centennial

Since its inception in 1971, the Fiesta Bowl has strived to be a source of pride for all Arizonans.

This year, the Fiesta Bowl is proud to help kick off the Arizona Centennial.

“The bowl season always creates a lot of excitement across the state,” Fiesta Bowl board chairman Duane Woods said. “This year, we hope that feeling carries into the Centennial celebration. This is a challenging time for Arizona, but the Centennial gives everyone a chance to reflect on what makes our state so great.”

The Fiesta Bowl is as much a part of Arizona as the Saguaro cactus and stunning desert vistas. The Fiesta Bowl’s familiar yellow jackets are as bright as the sun that warms the tens of thousands of visitors who flock to Arizona for the games each winter.

“The best part about being here for Christmas is the palm trees,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said as his team practiced in the sunshine before last year’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. “I mean, life is good when you see palm trees, especially when you’re from Missouri and the Midwest.”

The Fiesta Bowl organization generated more than $1 billion in economic impact in the last five years, according to a recent study by Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. Nearly all of that impact can be attributed to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. Last year, the trio of games drew a combined 199,288 spectators, many of them from beyond Arizona’s borders.

The Fiesta Bowl has grown into one of the nation’s elite sporting events, and Arizona has developed a reputation as a world-class tourism destination. But like Arizona, the Fiesta Bowl has humble roots.

Former Arizona State University President G. Homer Durham had suggested in the late 1960s that the Phoenix area needed a bowl game. It took a cadre of devoted local boosters to make it happen.

The late Jack Steward, one of the bowl’s founders, explained why Durham’s idea had merit. “The West has been overlooked in the distribution of the bowl games,” he said. “Until we made it, the Rose (in Pasadena, California) and Sun (in El Paso, Texas) were the only ones in our vast area. We can, and want to, coexist.”

In the inaugural Fiesta Bowl, Arizona State and Florida State each received $168, 237. Last season, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl paid more than $20 million per team.

The first game cost a buck and featured ads from such Valley standbys as Hallcraft Homes and Hanny’s Department Store.

The magazine also included a welcome letter from Arizona Governor Jack Williams.

“This is a significant time in the history of Arizona sports, for it marks the beginning of a new tradition,” Williams wrote. “Each of you should know that what you have started will grow and flourish in the years to come to bring honor and recognition to the great state of Arizona, and will glorify the great game of football.”

Growth turned out to be a watchword for both the state and the Fiesta Bowl.

In the decade before the bowl’s inception, Arizona grew by 470,000 residents, to about 1.8 million. In the 41 years since the Fiesta Bowl was born, the state’s population has exploded, from about 1.8 million to 6.3 million in the 2010 census.

It’s difficult to say how much the Fiesta Bowl played in the state’s population boom. But all those pretty pictures on television – the sun glinting off football helmets – certainly helped make the state an attractive destination for snowbirds.

“It is great to be out here in the Valley of the Sun, here in Phoenix, Scottsdale,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said when the Sooners arrived to play Connecticut in the 2011 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. “This whole area’s beautiful. Everybody involved in the Fiesta Bowl always just does an outstanding job of accommodating everybody.”