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How the Peach Bowl Became One of College Football’s Great Games

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 CFP Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Oklahoma v LSU Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Peach Bowl has become one of college football’s greatest attractions in recent years.

It wasn’t always this way.

Originally, the game was managed by the Georgia Lions Club’s Lighthouse Foundation, which conducted charitable work on behalf of the state’s deaf and blind populations.

The Peach Bowl was first played in December 1968 and was strictly a second-tier bowl game, pitting also-rans from the ACC and the SEC against one another in contests that typically drew small crowds and were played, more often than not, in drizzly, near freezing conditions. Initially, the Peach Bowl was not even played at Atlanta Stadium.

The first three Peach Bowl games were played at Georgia Tech’s Grant Field due to conflicts between the Bowl’s schedule and the final stretches of the Atlanta Falcons’ seasons.

The regionally-based broadcasts of the early Peach Bowls on the Mizlou television network reached few homes outside of the Southeast while the payouts the schools received for participating barely covered their travel expenses. The game teetered on the brink of bankruptcy for much of the 1970s and 1980s

What changed?

The arrival of the Georgia Dome in the early 1990s played no small role in upgrading the profile of Atlanta’s college bowl game. Even before that, The Peach Bowl’s fortunes began to turn around in 1985 when the Atlanta Chamber took control of the game’s management, stabilizing its shaky finances and securing the game a spot in the newly constructed Georgia Dome in 1992.

In 1993, Atlanta-based Chik Fil-A became the game’s title sponsor, providing it with the financial clout to offer multimillion dollar payouts to participating schools. In short order, the Chik Fil-A Peach Bowl secured a plum New Year’s Eve night television spot on ESPN (unopposed by other sporting events) and exclusive agreements with the region’s two premiere collegiate athletic conferences, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), to each send a high-caliber team to play in the game.

During the late 1990s and 2000s, the Peach Bowl became one of college football’s best attended bowl games (seventeen consecutive sellouts) and highest rated televised bowl games, frequently earning the most viewers for a non-Bowl Championship Series game. The success of the Peach Bowl helped Atlanta secure the annual Chick Fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome and the Peach Bowl a spot in college football’s Bowl Championship Series starting in 2014. The game found a new home in Mercedes-Benz Stadium and has continued to be one of college football’s great events.

Thanks for your support for Down the Drive and our continuing coverage of Cincinnati’s matchup with Georgia in the Peach Bowl.