Cotton Bowl Classic founder J. Curtis Sanford sought to create a unique experience for his game's participants in its early days.
Decades later, as No. 11 Oklahoma and No. 9 Texas A&M prepare to meet January 4 in the 76-year old game, first-class hospitality remains a proud Cotton Bowl tradition.
John Crawford, the founder's son-in-law, sees to it.
“We try to do things in such a way that if people don't come here and have a good time, it's their own damn fault,” said Crawford, president of Downtown Dallas, Inc., and a past Cotton Bowl chairman.
That reputation has helped the Cotton Bowl elevate itself back into the national spotlight, and just in time for college football's budding playoff system.
Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell, who has coached in 10 different bowl games throughout his career, was on Nebraska's staff for the Cornhuskers' 2007 Cotton Bowl appearance.
“This has been one of the most enjoyable bowls I've ever been associated with,” Norvell said. “The people from the Cotton Bowl really bend over backwards to make sure that it's an enjoyable week.”
Cotton Bowl officials provide a plethora of activities — sporting events, concerts, etc., — for players, coaches, administrators and their families. Vehicles — as well as a pool of drivers — are made available to coaches and other VIPS.
“If they want to go from the stadium to go shopping, or they want to go out to dinner, or anywhere in our community, we make sure we have a driver available to them,” Crawford said. “I think that's somewhat unique.”
Steve Davis, Oklahoma's two-time national championship quarterback in the mid-1970s, was a college football broadcaster for 18 years and covered several Cotton Bowls.
“They do it Texas-style,” Davis said. “The Cotton Bowl takes no backseat to any bowl in terms of hospitality, the professionalism and how they execute the event. It's a big deal for the city of Dallas.”
The Cotton Bowl's hospitality — along with its move to the plush, climate-controlled Cowboys Stadium — has helped it persevere since 1993, when the Bowl Championship Series' precursor didn't designate it a “Tier 1” bowl.
Oklahoma's clash with Texas A&M marks the fourth Cotton Bowl Classic played in nearby Arlington, instead of at the game's namesake in Dallas' Fair Park.
Beginning with the 2014-15 season, college football will move to a highly anticipated four-team playoff. Semifinal sites will be selected and rotate between the current BCS games and two others. Super Bowl-like organizing committees will place bids for each year's national championship game.
“They want to be recognized as one of the important bowl games,” Norvell said. “They're doing everything in their power to make it a special, special game.
“We're excited to be a part of it ... I know I am, and I've expressed that to our players.”