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Ask Sports: Why is it called the Liberty Bowl if the game is in Memphis?

The 1964 Liberty Bowl was played in the Atlantic City Convention Hall.
The 1964 Liberty Bowl was played in the Atlantic City Convention Hall. File photo

Like most of the older bowl games, the Liberty Bowl derives its non-corporate sponsored name from something to do with its locale’s history.

It’s somewhat obvious why the Orange Bowl is in Florida, the Sugar Bowl is in New Orleans or the Cotton Bowl in Texas. But what does Memphis, Tenn., have to do with liberty or the founding fathers exactly?

Founded in 1959, the Liberty Bowl is the eighth-oldest continuously played bowl game. It did not, however, begin in Memphis.

Unlike the other bowls which were in sunny locales like Pasadena, Calif. or Jacksonville, Fla., the Liberty Bowl began its time in cold-weather Philadelphia.

The name made sense at the time as Philly is the home of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

Not surprisingly, fans did not flock to watch a bowl game in the the northeast during the winter.

After five years in Philly the organizers moved the game to Atlantic City, N.J.

While still a cold-weather location, Atlantic City offered something unique for the 1964 game – an indoor venue.

Atlantic City businessmen offered a $25,000 guarantee to bring the game to the pre-gambling seaside town, the Press of Atlantic City reported.

Months after the Atlantic City Convention Hall hosted the Democratic National Convention that nominated Lyndon Johnson for the presidency, the 12,000-seat venue built in 1929 hosted Utah and West Virginia in the first major college football game played indoors.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin sports columnist Sandy Grady called it a “new kind of Liberty Bowl – no frostbite, no hip flasks, no icy ear lobes.”

Grass and dirt were brought indoors and placed on top of the concrete floor of the hall. Artificial lights ran 24 hours a day leading up to the game to keep the grass alive.

Due to space restrictions, the end zones were only 8 yards deep instead of 10.

The announced attendance was 6,059.

Despite making a slight profit in Atlantic City, the Liberty Bowl was moved a year later, to its current home in Memphis into a stadium partially built to lure a bowl game to Tennessee.

Formerly Memphis Memorial Stadium, the stadium got its current name of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in the Bicentennial year of 1976.

In addition to the bowl game and Memphis Tigers collegiate football, the stadium hosted the first season of Tennessee’s NFL franchise in 1997, when they were still the Oilers, as well as a plethora of teams from offbrand football leagues.

Remember the USFL’s Memphis Showboats with Reggie White?

Memphis has had a Canadian Football League team (Mad Dogs), a World Football League team (the Southmen) and of course an XFL team (the Maniax) in that league’s lone season.

Kansas State makes its first appearance in the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2.

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