Originally titled the Blockbuster Bowl, the game was born in Miami, Florida, in 1990 and thrived in its first year with a marquee matchup between Penn State and Florida State which drew more than 74,000 fans. Over the next 11 years, however, the game’s attendance dwindled, and it became apparent that the game would not survive in south Florida.
Sensing a unique opportunity to bring a second bowl game to Orlando, then Florida Citrus Sports (FCSports) Executive Director Chuck Rohe and the Board of Directors initiated a process of obtaining the bowl’s certification. The first game was called the Tangerine Bowl, a tribute to the name of Orlando’s original bowl game (now the Capital One Bowl). Pittsburgh defeated NC State in the game’s first year in Orlando.
In year two, a new agreement was signed which provided for the Big 12 Conference to send a team to Orlando to face an opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The 2004 season brought a new title sponsor in athletics retailer Champs Sports, along with a strong commitment to upgrade the status of the bowl. Highlights of this new agreement called for major changes to be phased in during a period of time. Among the changes being phased in was the moving of the game from a pre to post-Christmas date. This freed the participating schools from conflicts with final exam week while allowing FCSports to create a college football festival with the Champs Sports Bowl and Capital One Bowl, anchoring each end of the week-long celebration.
From 2006 to 2009, the game featured the nation’s only postseason matchup between the ACC and Big Ten conferences. In 2010, the Big Ten’s third or fourth pick after the BCS was replaced by the Big East’s top non-BCS team (or Notre Dame) as well as the No. 2 post-BCS selection from the ACC.
With each successive year in Orlando, the bowl has continued to make strides. In fact, the Champs Sports Bowl is the ONLY postseason bowl game to have posted eight-straight years of attendance increases. No other bowl has even posted five. That growth reached a crescendo in 2011, the last game under the Champs Sports Bowl name, when Florida State and Notre Dame played before a sold-out crowd of 68,305.
In early 2012, Russell Athletic signed an agreement with Florida Citrus Sports to be the new title sponsor of the game through 2015. Now called the Russell Athletic Bowl, the game will continue to match the top non-BCS selection from the Big East with the second non-BCS selection from the ACC.