Thursday's Pizza Bowl game between Pittsburgh and Bowling Green could be the final one. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)
Detroit — Let me begin by confessing my sins of many years ago: I made fun of the Motor City Bowl when it began in 1997 at the Pontiac Silverdome.
I figured it would last about as long as the two-year run of the Cherry Bowl (1984-85).
A bowl game in cold Detroit a day or two after Christmas made no sense, I believed. Who wanted to come here when you had Tempe, Miami and Orlando?
But now that the game is the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and is played at Ford Field, I no longer make fun of it.
I don’t want it to go away. But that is exactly what might happen. Thursday’s game between Pittsburgh (6-6) and Bowling Green (10-3) could be the final one. The Detroit Lions might not be able to win football games in December, but they know a good thing when they see it.
Next season the Lions will host a yet-to-be-named bowl game at Ford Field. Maybe they can name it the Ford Renaissance Bowl to celebrate the new ideas and new growth in Detroit.
Detroit can host a bowl game and host it well. Detroit can also host two bowl games and do them well. No offense to our friends in Mobile, Ala., but if they can do it, then why not Detroit?
Lions president Tom Lewand said it is not possible to host two games. Actually, it is.
The problem is there might be confusion with local fans about the bowls. The Lions are top cats at Ford Field and can do as they wish. They can push the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl to the side or welcome it as a new partner.
Many years ago I sat in the Spartan Stadium press box as public relations man Ken Hoffman fed us stats and coach George Perles coached the team from the sideline. Years later they teamed up to start this new bowl.
Over the years we got to see players like Randy Moss, Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington and local star Chester Taylor play. My old school, Central Michigan, made it four times to the bowl, winning twice.
“It has become a significant signature sporting event in the city of Detroit,” Hoffman says.
More than 700,000 people have attended the bowl, with a high of 60,624 for the classic shootout between Purdue and Central Michigan in 2007. The Chippewas fell behind by 21 points and rallied to tie the game before losing, 51-48.
Good for the city
Little Caesars Pizza Bowl officials say the game provides $12 million to $13 million in economic activity and allows local charities and faith-based groups to attend a college football game for the first time. This year the Pizza Bowl is giving away houses to military families in Belleville and Detroit.
“There are so many things outside of football you talk about with this football game,” said former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who sits on the Pizza Bowl board. “There are three or four days you bring people to town, you make some contributions as far as charities go. To me it is a win-win. And I think it is good for the city.”
If Detroit can successfully host a Super Bowl, Final Four and Major League Baseball All-Star Game, then why not two bowl games? Detroit is growing as people like Dan Gilbert make inroads in rebuilding downtown.
Enhancing this rich sports landscape with two bowl games can only make things better.
So, is Hoffman still hopeful that might happen?
“Yes, he said. “Very.”