If you had to choose one college football bowl game as the greatest one ever, which one would you choose? Maybe it would be the 1963 Rose Bowl when Wisconsin almost made a great comeback to beat USC, scoring 23 points in the last 12 minutes to close in on a 30 point deficit. Then there was the 1979 Sugar Bowl, where Alabama has a fantastic goal-line stand keeping Penn State out of the end zone from first and goal at the 8-yard line and hanging on to a 14-7 victory. Then again, it could be the triple-overtime win in the 2006 Orange Bowl when Penn State beat Florida State or even the 2006 Rose Bowl, where Vince Young led Texas to a win over USC.

But, as exciting as these games and many others were, there is one that stands out among all the others. In my opinion, that honor goes to a game played on Thanksgiving Day in 1961 called the Mercy Bowl. On that day, Fresno State beat Bowling Green 36-6 before 33,000 fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

But it wasn’t the game that made this one great. In my view, it was why the teams played. Today there are over 30 bowl games involving millions of dollars in proceeds to the schools. The teams are playing for the prestige of being a bowl winner and the top ones to be crowned national champions. But not the Mercy Bowl, this bowl had a much higher purpose in mind.

On October 29, 1960, a leftover WWII C-46 Arctic-Pacific charter taxied down the runway of the Toledo Express Airport. Whether the plane made if off the ground in zero visibility is uncertain, but before it left the airport, the plane hit and broke apart, killing 22 people, including 16 Cal-Poly football players, a manager, and a booster. It was the first plane crash of an American sports team.

The following year the Mercy Bowl was held to raise money for the medical costs, funeral expenses, and families of those on the plane. In an act of kindness and love, the game raised over $230,000, the equivalent of over 1.6 million dollars today. What a great game, one played not to honor self but to help those in need. Wouldn’t it be great if every year there was at least one bowl game that played for a cause! A game where the winners were not on the field, but in the hearts of the people. A game where something mattered more than just winning a trophy.

Jesus was a man of compassion. He was always thinking of others more than himself. One of my favorite verses is Mark 10:45, “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Barnabas once sold a field and gave the money for the poor. The book of Acts informs us how the early church would sell things from time to time and bring the money to the Apostles for those in need. People not only like to help but want to help when there is a need.

The Mercy Bowl is not in the record books as an official bowl game. Still, it is in the record books, in my opinion, as the greatest bowl game ever played, not because of the score, not because of the fantastic plays, not because of a fantastic finish, but because of why they played: out of love for our fellow man. 


“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ


One comment

  • As I read Danny Minton’s article about the greatest bowl game to my husband who was playing football for Abilene Christian College in that year of 1961, he mentioned a 2020 charity golf match, where Peyton Manning/Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson/Tom Brady teamed up last Sunday to raise $20 million for COVID-19 relief. This was held at Woods’ home course, the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida. Kudos to them and may more generous hearts follow in the giving heart of Jesus.


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