The GREAT LAKES BOWL was a short-lived college football bowl game played at CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL STADIUM in 1947 and 1948.
The game was the brainchild of the Knights of Columbus, which had organized a successful track meet beginning in 1941, and was going to be one of five new bowl games for 1947. Originally, the Knights sought the University of Michigan and Notre Dame to play in the game, but both schools turned the bowl game down. The inaugural bowl game was played between Villanova (a Catholic school in Philadelphia and a regular participant in the K of C track meet) and the University of Kentucky. It was the second ever bowl appearance by Villanova, and the first as a coach by Paul “Bear” Bryant, who was coaching Kentucky.
The inaugural Great Lakes Bowl on 6 December 1947 was broadcast on WGAR, with a trophy donated by Rickey Tanno Jewelers (Tanno was a member of the Knights of Columbus, and later the namesake for a chapter for the organization). The Knights estimated a crowd around 40,000, but about 20,000 tickets were sold for the game, which saw Kentucky take a 10-0 lead into the fourth, but fought off a furious Villanova comeback to win 24-14 and collect the trophy. Bill Boller scored two touchdowns for Kentucky, and George Blanda kicked a field goal and three extra points.
Organizers believed the flaw in their plan was that the Great Lakes Bowl didn’t capture the public’s attention because it didn’t have two unbeaten teams, or teams that were of local interest. For 1948, they’d have at least one in-state school. “We feel that people here would like to see Cleveland’s best against some new opposition,” said Jim Carney, the director of the game.
Organizers considered BALDWIN-WALLACE, Dayton and Miami before finally settling on JOHN CARROLL, making its first bowl appearance. For out-of-state teams, they looked at Pitt or Michigan State before signing up Canisius, a Jesuit school in Buffalo.
The second Great Lakes Bowl, on 5 December 1948, was another corker, with John Carroll scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown for a 14-13 win. This edition was better attended than its predecessor, with 17,964 fans.
The game was scheduled again for 1949, but fell by the wayside as Cleveland tried unsuccessfully to pry the Army-Navy game away from Philadelphia. The city hasn’t hosted a bowl game since.