DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – The 77th Cotton Bowl Classic will play out in Arlington Friday night. But did you ever stop to think, who founded the annual event and how did it become so popular?

The President and CEO of Downtown Dallas, Inc., has ties to the classic.  “My father-in-law—J. Curtis Sanford—founded the cotton bowl game, the Cotton Bowl Classic, in 1937,” John Crawford tells CBS 11 News.

Crawford says it was SMU’s trip to the 1936 Rose Bowl that got his father-in-law’s wheels turning.

“He was on a 100-car train that went out there, saw the Rose Bowl, came back and said, “‘We need to have one of those here in Dallas.'”

Sanford funded the game its first four years before turning it over to the old Southwest Conference to run.

(credit: CBS 11 News)

(credit: CBS 11 News)

Early players like Doak Walker cemented its popularity, the stadium even nicknamed, “The House that Doak built.”   Crawford agrees.  “It played an enormous role because it helped establish the stadium—The cotton bowl stadium—and the cotton bowl classic football games as big items.”

One of the most infamous plays was in the 1954 game when a breakaway Rice running back named Dickey Maegle was tackled by a player, Tommy Lewis, who came from out of bounds off the Alabama bench. Maegle recalled what he felt for a later documentary.  “When I hit the ground it knocked the wind out of me, even if I wanted to get up and go get him I couldn’t get up.”  He was awarded the touchdown anyway.

Crawford has been to more than 35-consecutive games: the most memorable?   “The Ice Bowl, back in ’79 between the University of Houston and Notre Dame, when Joe Montana was playing. It was some kind of cold–and it was a great game.”

It could be argued the most important change came at the end of the 2009 game, the very last game played at the Cotton Bowl Stadium at Dallas Fair Park before the game moved down the road to Arlington. It was thought the venerable Cotton Bowl Stadium was too old and needing to many amenities and upgrades to attract a fresh, new audience.

“It was extremely bittersweet,” Crawford, but necessary for the game to evolve.  “I wish my father-in-law was alive today to see what it started with, what it’s become, and where it’s going. I think he would be absolutely the first one to agree with everything that’s been done and be amazed.”

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