By: Tom Scott
It was early 1997, and the Big West
Conference was without a guaranteed bowl
game for its football champion. With Las
Vegas having essentially become a Western
Athletic Conference city the year before with the
move of UNLV to the WAC, the bowl had elected
to follow suit and switch its affi liation from the
Big West to the Rebels’ new league to maintain
local interest in the event.
Were there any volunteers to come to the aid
of the Big West? Boise State athletic director
Gene Bleymaier raised his hand. What about
creating a unique bowl game at a cold-weather
site, one that had embraced football at all levels for
decades? The idea germinated with the support
of Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell, and
on June 12, 1997, the new bowl received offi cial
certifi cation from the NCAA.
The event would be named the Humanitarian
Bowl in a partnership with Boise’s World
Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. The initial
agreement paired the Big West champion with
a representative from Conference USA. In a
day of fewer bowls and more fl exible selection
processes, there was competition for the C-USA
berth. Cincinnati, with a promise of healthy
ticket sales and a future visit to Boise State by its
nationally-ranked men’s basketball team, earned
the bid opposite Utah State.
The inaugural Humanitarian Bowl was played
on December 29, 1997, in front of 16,289 fans on
Bronco Stadium’s blue turf. It was considered a
good crowd at the time, given USU coach John L.
Smith’s lame-duck status. Smith was on his way to
Louisville, and the Aggies’ fan base was less than
motivated. Cincinnati was inspired, though, and
the Bearcats took home a 35-19 victory.
The 1998 Humanitarian Bowl pitted Idaho
against Southern Miss and provided a glimpse into
the bowl’s high-scoring future. The Vandals and
Golden Eagles put on an off ensive show before
Idaho prevailed, 42-35. With a title sponsor
aboard for the fi rst time, Boise State made its
fi rst-ever bowl game in the 1999 Crucial.com
Humanitarian Bowl, another back-and-forth
aff air that saw the Broncos squeeze out a 34-31
win over the John L. Smith-coached Cardinals.
In 2000, the fi nal season of Big West football,
the Crucial.com Humanitarian Bowl transitioned
to a Western Athletic Conference opponent. Boise
State returned as Big West champion and, in Dirk
Koetter’s fi nal game as Broncos coach, topped
UTEP 38-23. An eight-year association with the
Atlantic Coast Conference began in 2001, when
Tommy Bowden’s Clemson Tigers rolled up a
49-24 victory over WAC winner Louisiana Tech.
The 2002 Crucial.com Humanitarian Bowl
marked the return of Boise State, which wrapped
up a 12-1 season with a 34-16 triumph over
Seneca Wallace and Iowa State, fi lling the bowl’s
ACC slot. The Broncos’ Brock Forsey notched
three touchdowns to fi nish his senior year as
the nation’s leading scorer. The 2003 game was
actually played January 3, 2004, sandwiched in
between BCS bowl games. Georgia Tech’s P.J.
Daniels rushed for a bowl record 307 yards in a
52-10 conquest of Tulsa.
The game secured a new title sponsor in 2004
and was renamed the MPC Computers Bowl.
Under that moniker, the bowl went 3-for-3 in
thrillers, beginning with the fi rst overtime in the
game’s history as Fresno State edged Virginia,
37-34. In 2005, Matt Ryan and Boston College
scored the fi rst 27 points of the game before
holding off Boise State, 27-21, a year before the
Broncos’ famous Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.
The 2006 MPC Computers Bowl brought Nevada
to the blue turf to play Miami in Larry Coker’s
HISTORY OF THE
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL / JANUARY 3, 2020 95