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10 Memorable College Bowl Game Heroes

Bowl season is here! Put your game face on as we look back at some of the most heroic college football players in bowl game history.

College football bowl games hit a different chord than most other sporting events in the U.S. From their passionate fan bases to their absurd branding, bowl games are a chance for colleges to put their school pride on full display.

Over the years, bowl games have produced some of the most iconic matchups in sports history. Within these matchups emerged heroes of the game, players that almost singlehandedly delivered glory to their school. We’ve listed 10 of these athletes whose names will go down in history because of their bowl game heroics. Sports logo featuring animated athlete with raised hands.

How to watch the NCAA bowl games

While ESPN airs the most bowl games, you’ll want to check our college football bowl game schedule for a complete outline of this season’s NCAA bowl games. Matchups will typically air on ABC, CBS, ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, and even Barstool Sports.

Our How To Watch College Football guide is also an excellent resource for finding a TV provider with the best college football coverage.

#10: Tom Clements—Sugar Bowl (1973)

You’re always in for a good treat when two undefeated teams meet in a bowl game. That’s exactly what happened at the 1973 Sugar Bowl when the Alabama Crimson Tide met the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The game lived up to the hype, as the two teams battled neck and neck. Just as things were looking bad for the Irish, quarterback Tom Clements rescued his side from their own end zone with a long pass to secure the first down and run the clock out for the win.

#9: Pat Haden—Rose Bowl (1975)

During the 1975 edition of the historic Rose Bowl, the USC Trojans were losing by seven against the Ohio State Buckeyes with only two minutes left to play. Suddenly, USC quarterback Pat Haden completed a 38-yard touchdown pass.

Then, instead of tying the game with a field goal, USC went for it and Haden completed his two-point conversion pass to not only secure a Rose Bowl victory but also claim the national title.

#8: Tim Tebow—Sugar Bowl (2010)

Long before Tim Tebow pursued a minor league baseball career with the New York Mets, he made quite the name for himself in college football.

During his last college game, in particular, the Florida Gators quarterback had the game of his career when he threw for 482 yards against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the 2010 Sugar Bowl. It was a dominant attacking performance, and many of the Gators’ offensive records stand to this day.

Get ready for college football game day

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#7: Tommie Frazier—Fiesta Bowl (1996)

In another blowout performance, quarterback Tommie Frazier led the No.1 Nebraska Cornhuskers to a 62–24 win over the No.2 Florida Gators.

Because it was a No.1 vs. No.2 situation, many thought the game would be a much closer matchup. However, Frazier had other plans. One of which was an amazing 75-yard touchdown run that you gotta see to believe.

#6: Ernie Davis—Cotton Bowl Classic (1960)

The 1960 Cotton Bowl Classic saw the Syracuse Orangemen face off against the Texas Longhorns. Orangemen halfback Ernie Davis stole the show that day with two touchdowns, including an 87-yard scoring play.

While Syracuse was the favorite going into the game, Davis’s athleticism proved to be the deciding factor as the New York-based team won 23–14.

Davis’s story was the subject of a 2008 biopic called The Express: The Ernie Davis Story.

Pro tip: If you’re looking for expanded access to all things college sports, we recommend checking out ESPN+. The streaming service offers both live and on-demand access to college conferences like the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Big 12 Conference, and the Ivy League.

#5: Joe Montana—Cotton Bowl Classic (1979)

In what is known as the “Chicken Soup Game,” Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Joe Montana fought off hypothermia to stage one of the greatest college bowl game comebacks.

With a wind chill of –6°F, Notre Dame faced the Houston Cougars in an uncharacteristically cold Dallas, Texas. After Montana took a break to warm up and eat some soup, he returned to the field and led Notre Dame to score 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter—winning the game 35–34 as the clock ran out.

#4: Jim McMahon—Holiday Bowl (1980)

Everybody loves a comeback. In the 1980 Holiday Bowl, the BYU Cougars did just that, courtesy of quarterback Jim McMahon. With only four minutes left on the clock, the SMU Mustangs were in full control of the game with a 45–25 scoreline.

McMahon and company pushed onward, scoring three touchdowns and proving to spectators that you should never leave a game early. If you like Hail Mary plays, then this match is for you.

#3: Bobby Layne—Cotton Bowl Classic (1946)

It’s difficult to compare early 20th century football to what we have today. But there’s no doubt that old-timey football had its heroes too.

Texas Longhorns quarterback Bobby Layne was just that. In the 1946 Cotton Bowl Classic, Layne was involved in every scoring drive for his team, defeating the Missouri Tigers 40–27.

#2: Vince Young—Rose Bowl (2006)

The Texas Longhorns have a history of being involved in some of the most thrilling bowl games. The 2006 Rose Bowl was no different. In another back-and-forth game between two unbeaten teams, the Longhorns found themselves trailing late in the fourth quarter against the USC Trojans.

With no option left, Texas quarterback Vince Young took matters into his own hands and raced into the end zone, propelling Texas to a 41–38 victory.

#1: Herschel Walker—Sugar Bowl (1981)

“I didn’t come there to be injured. I came there to play.” That was the mentality going through the mind of Georgia Bulldogs running back Herschel Walker when he dislocated his shoulder on the second play of an all-important New Year’s Day matchup against Notre Dame.

Despite his injury, Walker rushed for 150 yards in an MVP performance that saw Georgia win its first bowl game in nearly seven seasons.

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