The Independence Bowl’s rich history spans more than three decades. The nation’s 11th-oldest bowl game celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2010. On Dec. 13, 1976, McNeese State defeated Tulsa in the inaugural game. The Southland Conference (SLC) sent a team to Shreveport for the first five years of the Bowl’s existence, but in 1981 the Bowl’s leadership ended their agreement with the SLC, which provided them the opportunity to scour the country for the best teams available in the NCAA Division I-A ranks.
That first year, the Independence Bowl struck gold as the Aggies of Texas A&M traveled over from College Station, Texas, to take on the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. This storied rivalry between the Southwest Conference and Big-Eight Conference drew national attention to the Shreveport-Bossier City area. The first Southeastern Conference team to make an appearance in the Independence Bowl was the University of Mississippi in 1983. Ole Miss’ opponent, the Air Force Falcons, battled the explosive Rebels in a torrential downpour to carry home a 9–3 victory.
In 1990, Louisiana Tech tied Maryland 34-34 in the first Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl and only tie in I-Bowl history. A record-breaking crowd of 48,325 filled Independence Stadium. In 1995 the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl took another giant step in its continuing climb up the ladder of postseason games, signing a three-year agreement with the Southeastern Conference for the fifth selection out of one of the nation’s premier football conferences. Later that year the bowl enjoyed what was its greatest success to date with a sellout crowd watching in-state favorite LSU take on Michigan State. The Tigers and Spartans put on an offensive clinic, as 28 points were scored in less than two minutes of play. LSU won that contest 45–26 and helped to elevate the bowl another notch.
The 1997 game was a regular season rematch between the Tigers of LSU and Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, played on a frigid night at Independence Stadium. LSU avenged a 24-6 loss a month earlier in Baton Rouge by besting the Irish 27–9 in front of an all-time record crowd of 50,459. Poulan/Weed Eater announced in April of 1997 that it would no longer be the game’s title sponsor. At that time Glen Krupica, Independence Bowl Executive Director, and a search committee, began the task of finding the second title sponsor of the Independence Bowl. In just under a year Sanford stepped up as the new title sponsor, signing on for three years.
The Oklahoma Sooners and Ole Miss Rebels met on New Year’s Eve in 1999 for the 24th Independence Bowl. Ole Miss made its fourth appearance in the game while the Sooners made their debut. Oklahoma got out to an early lead and appeared to be dominating the Rebels, but Ole Miss fought back and won the battle 27-25 on a field goal in the final seconds. The 1999 Sanford Independence Bowl was the last football game of 1999 and the first game of the new millennium in the eastern time zone, as it ended at 12:03 a.m.
The 2000 matchup has become known as the “Snow Bowl.” Texas A&M and Mississippi State met in the 25th anniversary game in a driving snowstorm that began during pregame warmups and continued throughout the entire game. Mississippi State won in overtime by a score of 43–41. The 2000 Independence Bowl garnered a 4.2 television rating, the second highest in the game’s history.
In 2002, Shreveport-Bossier hosted one of college football’s most storied programs as the Nebraska Cornhuskers came to town for a matchup with Eli Manning and the Ole Miss Rebels. As has been the case the past few years the Independence Bowl was a close one, as the Rebels came back from a 17–14 halftime deficit to beat the Huskers 27–23. It marked Ole Miss Head Coach David Cutcliffe’s third Independence Bowl appearance, and his third win.
The year 2005 marked the 30th anniversary of the Independence Bowl, and the match-up between Missouri and South Carolina provided the 41,332 in attendance with a showdown for the ages. South Carolina, making its debut in the Independence Bowl and led by legendary head coach Steve Spurrier, raced out to a 21–0 lead after one quarter of play before Missouri rallied for an eventual 38–31 victory. The Tigers, which had lost the 2003 game to Arkansas, evened their all-time record in the Independence Bowl to 1–1. Senior quarterback Brad Smith was named the game’s Offensive MVP after setting an Independence Bowl record with 432 total yards and scoring four touchdowns.
The 2009 game will go down in I-Bowl history as one of the most memorable games for many reasons. The marquee matchup between the Texas A&M Aggies and Georgia Bulldogs helped AdvoCare put an exclamation point on its first year as the bowl’s title sponsor, and a sellout crowd enjoyed a beautiful day at Independence Stadium between two traditional college football programs. The Bulldogs ran away from the Aggies in the second half, expanding a 14-7 halftime lead into a 44-20 final margin in front of 49.653 and a national television audience on ESPN2. Georgia’s Brandon Boykin returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, and the Bulldogs rushed for 208 yards en route to the convincing victory. The game was the highest-rated bowl game ever to be played on ESPN2.
The year 2010 was a landmark occasion for the Independence Bowl as it celebrated its 35th anniversary with a matchup between the Air Force Falcons and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The teams, meeting for the first time since 1979, waged a defensive battle on a cool, clear day on the freshly installed playing surface at Independence Stadium as Air Force held off Georgia Tech, 14-7 in front over 39,000.
The 2011 installment of the Independence Bowl was marked by a deluge of rain prior to kickoff, as Missouri and North Carolina took the gridiron for the only bowl game on TV the day after Christmas. UNC got off to a quick start with a big return on the opening kickoff and an amazing 22-yard touchdown grab by Dwight Jones on the first drive. The Tigers answered on the ensuing possession with a trick play, as receiver TJ Moe took a backward pass and threw to a wide-open Wes Kemp for a 40-yard touchdown. The Tigers remained in control of the game from that point on, defeating the Tar Heels 41-24. Missouri sophomore dual threat quarterback James Franklin earned offensive MVP recognition after completing 15-23 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 142 yards and two more scores.