ORIGIN OF THE BAHAMAS BOWL 2012-2013
Lea Miller, the CEO of Complete Sports Management, brought a NCAA men’s basketball doubleheader to the Atlantis resort on Nassau’s Paradise Island in the Bahamas in 2011. Miller worked to gain a crucial NCAA exemption for the Bahamas so the Atlantis could host an annual tournament the following year. That approval was granted, thanks to Miller and Conference USA, which sponsored the needed NCAA legislation for the 2012 event.
As Miller and C-USA worked on getting the NCAA’s blessing of a basketball tournament in the Bahamas, another idea took hold in the spring and summer of 2012. What about a bowl game in the Bahamas? The NCAA had put a three-year new bowl game moratorium in place starting for the 2011 season, but there was support to add more games in the future.
Miller was pitching the idea of a college football game in the Bahamas. C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky reached out to Miller to start the process of possibly creating a bowl game in Nassau. Miller, Banowsky and C-USA consultant Richard Giannini began to work on the details, and the trio, along with several other college conference administrators, later traveled to the Bahamas to meet with the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and the National Stadium Authority-Bahamas, which were interested in adding the event to its’ annual calendar as part of a sports tourism marketing push.
Miller and Giannini continued to meet with government officials through late 2012 and much of 2013 to reach needed agreements in the Bahamas, as Banowsky began work on the certification of the game by the NCAA, logistics for the first international bowl game outside of the U.S. or Canada since 1937 and securing conference partners.
The NCAA announced in 2013 that new certified bowl games could be added for a six-year cycle starting in 2014, and the Bahamas Bowl was finally poised to become a reality.
BAHAMAS BOWL ANNOUNCED – OCTOBER 14, 2013
The bowl was announced in Nassau as commissioners from Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference along with a representative of the American Athletic Conference were on hand for the official announcement with the Bahamas Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe and bowl founder Lea Miller at Atlantis – Paradise Island.
“As we have learned with our other bowls, student-athletes, coaches and fans get excited about a great destination. It’s hard to imagine a better destination than this wonderful country for a bowl game,” Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said. “We are thankful for the support of The Bahamas Minister of Tourism and Lea Miller in providing not only a great venue, but a fantastic opportunity to showcase the hard work and dedication of our teams.”
“The Mid-American Conference is proud to partner in the creation of the Bahamas Bowl beginning with the 2014 season and to feature the only bowl game outside of the United States,” said Dr. Jon Steinbrecher, Mid-American Conference Commissioner. “This will truly be a one-of-its-kind bowl experience for our student-athletes, coaches and fans. The Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium will be a wonderful host venue, and the accommodations with the Atlantis Resort will certainly be a destination to reward our football programs.”
“The Bahamas Bowl is an innovative event under excellent and experienced management that will be an immediate success and will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our student-athletes,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco stated. “We know that our fans will enjoy following their teams to one of the most popular travel destinations in the world and will enjoy watching them, along with a national television audience, in a high-quality game in a state-of-the-art stadium.”
The game was founded by Miller, president of Complete Sports Management, which operated the 2014 game under the auspices of Bahamas Bowl, LLC, a subsidiary of Conference USA.
Richard Giannini, a former athletic director at Southern Miss who founded the Blockbuster Bowl (now the Camping World Bowl) in Miami/Fort Lauderdale in 1990, advised both the Bahamas Bowl and Boca Raton Bowl in their inaugural year and served three terms on the NCAA Postseason Football Committee, is the bowl’s Executive Director.
BAHAMAS BOWL CERTIFIED – MAY 1, 2014
The NCAA certified the Bahamas Bowl as part of five new bowl games to begin play after the 2014 regular season.
POPEYES SIGNS AS TITLE SPONSOR – AUGUST 26, 2014
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen was announced as the title sponsor of the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
The announcement marked the first time Popeyes sponsored a college football bowl game.
2014 POPEYES BAHAMAS BOWL – DECEMBER 24, 2014
The 2014 inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl featured Western Kentucky of Conference USA against Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference in the first FBS-level bowl game outside of the United States or Canada since 1937.
A crowd of 13,422 in Robinson National Stadium and those watching on ESPN witnessed the Hilltoppers hold on for a 49-48 victory over the Chippewas in one of the most memorable bowl games of the 2014 season.
WKU built a 49-14 lead after three quarters, but CMU rallied with a 34-point fourth quarter, including a last-gasp, 75-yard, three-lateral pass play that resulted in a touchdown as time expired — a sequence that was named the top play of the 2014 bowl season by ESPN’s SportsCenter. A 2-point conversion pass by the Chippewas that would have won the game was broken up in the back of the end zone. The final series of plays captured the imagination of college football fans who saw countless replays on national and local TV and shared the crazy ending through social media outlets.
WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty was the Offensive Player of the Game after completing 31 of 42 passes for 486 yards and five touchdowns. Hilltopper defensive end Derik Overstreet was the Defensive Player of the Game after he had five tackles, which included two sacks.
Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush threw for 493 yards and a FBS-bowl-record seven TDs in defeat, including the game’s final thrilling TD.
The teams set FBS bowl records for most combined passing touchdowns (12) and combined passing yards (971).
WALTON SELECTED IN 2015 NFL DRAFT – APRIL 30-MAY 2, 2015
Central Michigan nose tackle Leterrius Walton became the first bowl alumni to be selected in the NFL Draft, as he was picked in the sixth round (No. 199 overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
ESPN EVENTS TAKES OVER OWNERSHIP – MAY 12, 2015
ESPN Events announced the acquisition of the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl from Bahamas Bowl, LLC, which owned the inaugural game in 2014. The addition of the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl makes the game a part of an impressive stable of events in football and basketball for ESPN Events.
“We are excited to be adding the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl to our portfolio of events,” said Pete Derzis, senior vice president, ESPN Events. “The inaugural game was a tremendous success, and we hope to build on that by bringing a one-of-a-kind bowl experience for our student-athletes, coaches and fans. The level of support from the entire country of the Bahamas makes this event truly unique — making this game a true destination event that fans across the country will want to attend and support.”
POPEYES SIGNS MULTIYEAR EXTENSION AS TITLE SPONSOR – JUNE 9, 2015
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen extended its title sponsorship in a multiyear deal with the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.
FINAL TD OF 2014 POPEYES BAHAMAS BOWL REACHES FINALS OF ESPY VOTING – JULY 8, 2015
The improbable finish of the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl in which Central Michigan scored a 75-yard, three-lateral touchdown as time expired advanced to the Finals for the 2015 ESPY Best Play award.
CMU’s touchdown, the No. 2 seed in the 16-play bracket, received 69 percent of the online vote to defeat No. 15 seed Dwayne Bravo of the West Indies cricket team in the first round and 60 percent of the online vote to defeat No. 7 seed Tyler Ennis of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres in the Round of 8 to move on to the final fan vote.
The Central Michigan players involved in the touchdown were guests of ESPN at the 2015 ESPYS Presented by Capital One from Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on July 15.
2015 POPEYES BAHAMAS BOWL – DECEMBER 24, 2015
The 2015 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl featured Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference against Middle Tennessee of Conference USA.
A crowd of 13,123 in Robinson National Stadium and the TV audience on ESPN saw Broncos pull away in the fourth quarter for a 45-31 victory over the Blue Raiders — the first-ever bowl victory for Western Michigan.
WMU’s Jamauri Bogan ran 19 times for a career-high 215 yards and four touchdowns to power the Broncos to victory. Just like the previous year, the contest between Western Michigan and Middle Tennessee was one big play after another as the two teams combined for 1,055 yards of total offense and seven scoring plays of 29 or more yards.
Bogan was named the Offensive Player of the Game of the game for his efforts, while WMU linebacker Grant DePalma was named the game’s Defensive Player of the Game. DePalma led all tacklers with 12 stops (five solo) and a tackle for loss.
WMU quarterback Zach Terrell was 18-of-26 passing for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Corey Davis caught eight balls for 183 yards and a TD.
Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill had a solid day for Middle Tennessee, completing 26-of-39 passes for 327 yards and three scores to lead the Blue Raider offense.
The two teams combined for 475 yards of total offense and 34 points in the first quarter.
Western Michigan finished the day with an impressive 613 yards of total offense, and the Broncos, second in FBS in time of possession, held the ball for nearly 35 minutes.
SEVEN ALUMNI SELECTED IN 2016 NFL DRAFT – APRIL 28-30, 2016
A bowl-record seven student-athletes who played in the first two Popeyes Bahamas Bowls were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, held in Chicago.
All four universities that participated in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl – Central Michigan (2014), Middle Tennessee (2015), WKU (2014) and Western Michigan (2015) – had at least one player selected during the NFL’s seven-round draft. Inaugural 2014 champion WKU led the way with three selections, and 2015 champion Western Michigan had two players taken.
In the third round (No. 64 overall), Middle Tennessee safety Kevin Byard was selected by the Tennessee Titans.
2016 POPEYES BAHAMAS BOWL – DECEMBER 23, 2016
The 2016 Popeyes Bahamas Bowl featured Old Dominion of Conference USA against Eastern Michigan of the Mid-American Conference.
A crowd of 13,422 in Robinson National Stadium and those watching on ESPN saw another exciting Popeyes Bahamas Bowl as Old Dominion beat Eastern Michigan 24-20 for the Monarchs’ first-ever bowl victory.
Led by Offensive Player of the Game running back Ray Lawry and his 133 rushing yards, the Monarchs (10-3) left the Bahamas with a six-game win streak and their first bowl trophy. Quarterback David Washington added 188 passing yards and three touchdowns for ODU.
Eastern Michigan quarterback Brogan Roback did all he could to keep the Eagles (7-6) in the game, throwing for 300 yards and two second-half touchdowns, but it was not enough to help EMU to a title in their first bowl game in 29 years.
Through the first 30 minutes, Old Dominion was the only team able to put points on the board, holding a 10-0 lead at the half.
Eastern Michigan dominated the time of possession, holding the ball 32:30 to the Monarchs’ 27:30, and converted on a season-high 13 third-down attempts, but it was the Old Dominion defense that made one final stand late in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles had a chance late, driving the ball to midfield, but couldn’t keep their drive going, punting the ball back to Old Dominion. ODU ran out the final 5:21 to secure the victory.
ODU senior linebacker TJ Ricks was named Defensive Player of the Game after finishing with nine tackles, including one for a loss.
SIX ALUMNI SELECTED IN 2017 NFL DRAFT – APRIL 27-29, 2017
Six student-athletes who played in the first three Popeyes Bahamas Bowls were selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, held April 27-29 in Philadelphia.
In the first round (No. 5 overall), Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis was selected by the Tennessee Titans, the highest selection of a alumni in the history of the bowl. Davis set bowl records with eight receptions for 183 yards and scored a touchdown in the Broncos’ 45-31 victory over Middle Tennessee in 2015.
Three of the universities that participated in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl – WKU (2014), Western Michigan (2015) and Eastern Michigan (2016) – had at least one player selected during the NFL’s seven-round draft. The bowl’s 2015 champion Western Michigan led the way with three selections, while inaugural 2014 champion WKU had two players taken and 2016 runner-up Eastern Michigan had one player selected.
2017 BAHAMAS BOWL – DECEMBER 22, 2017
The 2017 Bahamas Bowl featured Ohio of the Mid-American Conference against UAB of Conference USA.
Dorian Brown tied a Bahamas Bowl record with four touchdown runs to lead Ohio to a 41-6 victory over UAB in the fourth Bahamas Bowl in front of 15,585 in Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
The Bobcats (9-4) posted their first bowl game win since a 45-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe in 2012 and the third bowl game win in the history of their program. The Blazers, who reinstated their football program in 2017 after a two-year hiatus, finished with an 8-5 record.
Ohio dominated almost from the start, scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions and eventually getting out to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter. Ohio out-gained UAB 459-353 in total offense, including a 249-99 edge in rushing yards.
Ohio swept the postgame awards as Brown was named the Offensive Player of the Game after he scored on runs of 74, 9, 25 and 14 yards and ended the day with 152 yards rushing on just 12 carries. Bobcats safety Javon Hagan was named the Defensive Player of the Game as he had a game-high nine tackles (six solo) and a forced fumble to lead the stout Ohio defense.
Ohio jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead in the first quarter on a pair of TD passes from quarterback Nathan Rourke. Brown ran for a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter for a 27-3 Ohio halftime lead. Brown added two more TD runs in the third quarter.
Rourke finished the day 12-of-18 passing for 185 yards and two touchdowns and ran three times for 30 yards to finish with 215 yards of total offense. Ohio’s Papi White led all receivers in the contest with four catches for 106 yards and a score.
Kicker Nick Vogel hit a pair of field goals for UAB’s only points of the game.
UAB quarterback A.J. Erdely completed 24-of-45 passes for 254 yards. Defensively, Anthony Rush and Tevin Crews had a team-high seven tackles each for the Blazers.
FOUR ALUMNI SELECTED IN 2018 NFL DRAFT – APRIL 26-28, 2018
Four student-athletes who played in the Bahamas Bowl were selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, held April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas.
In the third round (No. 92 overall), Western Michigan tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Three of the universities that participated in the Bahamas Bowl – Middle Tennessee (2015), Ohio (2017) and Western Michigan (2015) – had at least one player selected during the NFL’s seven-round draft. The bowl’s 2015 champion Western Michigan led the way with two selections, while 2017 champion Ohio and 2015 runner-up Middle Tennessee each had one player selected.
ELK GROVE VILLAGE ANNOUNCED AS MAKERS WANTED BAHAMAS BOWL TITLE SPONSOR – JULY 31, 2018
Elk Grove Village, Illinois, using its business slogan – Makers Wanted – was announced as the title sponsor of the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl.
This was the first time a non-tourist municipality had ever sponsored a bowl game.
ED SMITH NAMED 2018 MAKERS WANTED BAHAMAS BOWL HONORARY AMBASSADOR – OCTOBER 16, 2018
Ed Smith, who was a college All-American, the first native Bahamian drafted by an NFL club and played two seasons for the Denver Broncos, was announced as the 2018 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl Honorary Ambassador.
A native of Nassau, Smith went to school at St. Augustine’s College, where he was a multi-sport athlete for The Big Red Machine. He moved to the United States in 1965 at age 15 and attended Denver’s George Washington High School, where he began to play football competitively.
He became a three-year starter at defensive end at nearby Colorado College, and he was selected by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) as a 1972 College Division I Kodak All-American.
Smith was selected in the 13th round (No. 319 overall) of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Broncos.
The 6-5, 241-pound defensive end played in five games as a rookie in 1973. Smith saw action in 13 games with three starts in 1974 as he played on the defense alongside a pair of future Broncos Ring of Honor members in Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson with Lyle Alzado, who would all be cornerstones of the Broncos late-1970s famed Orange Crush units. An injury prior to the 1975 season effectively ended his pro football career.
Smith was inducted into the Colorado College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003, and he was also inducted into the Bahamas National Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Smith’s son, Alex, followed in his footsteps as he played in the NFL for 11 seasons (2005-15) as a tight end with five teams.
2018 MAKERS WANTED BAHAMAS BOWL – DECEMBER 21, 2018
The 2018 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl featured FIU of Conference USA against Toledo of the Mid-American Conference.
FIU erased a 10-0 first-quarter deficit by halftime, and the Panthers (9-4) held on for a 35-32 victory over Toledo in the 2018 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
FIU quarterback Christian Alexander was named the Offensive Player of the Game, going 17-for-26 through the air for 209 yards and a touchdown. He also added 87 yards on 10 carries, which set the bowl’s record for a quarterback. Panther running back Anthony Jones carried the ball 15 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns to lead FIU in rushing as the Panthers had a 236-124 advantage in rushing yards.
FIU linebacker Edwin Freeman was selected as the Defensive Player of the Game as he led the Panthers with eight tackles, including five unassisted stops.
The Toledo (7-6) offense also flexed its muscles at times, led by quarterback Eli Peters, who threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns and was the Rockets’ rushing leader with five carries for 43 yards. Jon’Vea Johnson caught two of the touchdown tosses, while Diontae Johnson had six receptions for 98 yards and a score.
Maurice Alexander extended the FIU lead to 28-17 with 11:12 remaining in the game on a 16-yard TD run. Toledo then closed the gap to 28-25 with 7:21 to go as Peters connected with Diontae Johnson for a 2-yard TD and added a 2-point conversion pass.
The Panthers iced the game when Jones scored his third TD run of the game, an 18-yard scamper, with 41 seconds to play for a 35-25 advantage. Peters hit Jon’Vea Johnson for a 43-yard TD pass with two seconds left for Toledo to cut the margin to 35-32, but the Panthers recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the victory.
Maurice Alexander led the Panthers with five catches for 30 yards, while Tony Gaiter IV had four catches for 52 yards.
Linebacker Richard Olekanma and defensive end Tuzar Skipper each had eight total tackles to lead Toledo.
FIVE ALUMNI SELECTED IN 2019 NFL DRAFT – APRIL 25-27, 2019
Two student-athletes from Toledo who participated in the 2018 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl joined three other alumni from previous years as they were selected during the 2019 NFL Draft, held April 25-27 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson was selected in the third round (No. 66 overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Rockets cornerback Ka’dar Hollman was selected in the sixth round (No. 185 overall) by the Green Bay Packers. Three alumni from the 2016 game between Old Dominion (two selections) and Eastern Michigan (one selection) were also chosen.
2019 MAKERS WANTED BAHAMAS BOWL – DECEMBER 20, 2019
The 2019 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl featured Buffalo of the Mid-American Conference and Charlotte of Conference USA.
Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson rushed a bowl-record 32 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns to help secure the program’s first-ever bowl victory, as the Bulls (8-5) defeated Charlotte 31-9 in the 2019 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
Patterson was selected as the Offensive Player of the Game and punctuated the victory with his second touchdown run with 1:43 left in the contest. The Bulls’ final drive went for 16 plays and spanned 9:07. Patterson accounted for 81 rushing yards on 13 attempts during the drive, as he was handed the ball on the first nine plays of the possession to ice the game.
Buffalo defensive end Malcolm Koonce was awarded Defensive Player of the Game honors thanks to his five tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. Koonce’s strip sack of Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds was recovered by the Bulls’ Ledarius Mack with six seconds remaining in the second quarter and helped the Bulls preserve a 17-0 lead heading into halftime.
Aside from Patterson’s performance on the ground, both defenses turned in solid performances. Buffalo held a slight 282 to 278 advantage over Charlotte (7-6) in total offense. The combined 560 yards were the fewest in bowl history.
Charlotte defensive end Markees Watts led all players with 11 tackles, while safety Marquavis Gibbs tallied an interception for the 49ers. Buffalo linebacker James Patterson (Jaret’s twin brother) also had an interception for the Bulls.
Antonio Nunn led the Bulls with five catches for 53 yards and a score, while Charlotte’s Tyler Ringwood had five receptions for 64 yards.
THREE ALUMNI SELECTED IN 2020 NFL DRAFT – APRIL 23-25, 2020
Two student-athletes from Charlotte who participated in the 2019 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl joined one other from FIU who played in the 2018 game as they were selected during the 2020 NFL Draft, held in a virtual format April 23-25.
Charlotte defensive end Alex Highsmith was selected in the third round (No. 102 overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Charlotte offensive tackle Cameron Clark was selected in the fourth round (No. 129 overall) by the New York Jets and FIU cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver III was selected in the seventh round (No. 221 overall) by the Carolina Panthers.
The three selections gave the Bahamas Bowl a total of 26 total alumni chosen in the last six NFL Drafts. Hightower’s third-round selection extended the bowl’s streak of an alumni taken in the first three rounds to five consecutive years.