Las Vegas Bowl History
Organized by community leaders out of a need to fill hotel rooms during a traditionally slow period in a world-class destination city, the Las Vegas Bowl first kicked off on Dec. 18, 1992. It has since become one of the Silver State’s premier annual events and been nationally televised on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC every year of its existence.
Of the 39 bowl games recognized by the NCAA, the Las Vegas Bowl is now the 16th-oldest game overall and ranks No. 13 in age on a list of current bowls that have remained in one city during their entire history.
Originally pitting the champions of the Big West and Mid-American conferences, the game’s initial offering was a nail-biter as Bowling Green held on to slip by Nevada 35-34 in what was hailed by many as the best bowl game that year.
Known for the next decade as the first bowl each season, the event was switched to later in the month starting in 2001 when hometown entry UNLV defeated Arkansas on December 21. That was the same year that ESPN Regional Television (ERT) now known as ESPN Events, a subsidiary of ESPN Inc., assumed the ownership and management of the Las Vegas Bowl.
Games on Christmas Day and then Christmas Eve were staged before organizers settled on a pre-holiday kickoff to annually pit teams from the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences against each other at Sam Boyd Stadium.
Overall, the Mountain West and Pac-12 have met head-to-head 14 times in Las Vegas, with the MW winning eight of those battles. No less than nine of the current members of the Pac-12 conference (all but Stanford, Colorado and Washington State) have appeared in the bowl while 10 of the current 12 MW teams have appeared in the game (all but Hawai'i and San Jose State).
The Las Vegas Bowl has enjoyed crowds of more than 32,000 for ten consecutive seasons, including a run of six consecutive sellouts from 2005-2010. On Dec. 21, 2006, BYU defeated Oregon in front of what was then the largest crowd to ever witness a team sporting event in the state of Nevada – 44,615.
In 2011, the inaugural class of the Las Vegas Bowl Hall of Fame was inducted to help commemorate reaching the 20-year milestone. The group was made up of NFL star and former Oregon State RB Steven Jackson, CFL record-holder and former Utah State QB Anthony Calvillo, former NFL and UNLV coach John Robinson, and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) president and one of the game’s founding fathers, Rossi Ralenkotter.
The 2012 game drew the game's second-highest-rated telecast in a decade and third-highest in its 21-year history. Boise State's thrilling 28-26 victory over first-time visitor Washington earned a rating of 3.3 on ESPN. The only game that drew a better rating was played on Christmas Day 2001 as Utah's win over USC remains the highest-rated Las Vegas Bowl in history with a household TV rating of 4.7.
The 2017 Las Vegas Bowl featured the Broncos of Boise State and the Ducks from the University of Oregon. For the fifth consecutive year, ABC broadcasted the game for a 12:30pm PT kickoff. The Broncos jumped out to a 24-14 lead at the half and held the Ducks to a final score of 38-28.
The Washington Huskies sent coach Chris Petersen into retirement the same way he opened his head coaching career - with a bowl win. Washington dominated No. 19 Boise State with a 38-7 victory in the 2019 Las Vegas Bowl - the last bowl game to be played in Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Las Vegas Bowl entered the 2020 season with a new partnership with the Pac-12 Conference, Big Ten Conference and Southeastern Conference where the Big Ten and SEC would alternate every year in matching up with the Pac-12. However, the 2020 Las Vegas Bowl matchup between the Pac-12 and SEC did not come to fruition due to the COVID pandemic that forced the cancellation of the 2020 game.
The 2021 SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl featured a new home and a new matchup as the state-of-the-art Allegiant Stadium played host to the Pac-12's Arizona State Sun Devils and the Big Ten's Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers jumped to a 20-6 halftime lead, then held on for a 20-13 victory.