Fans of American football (and, really, all Americans, because you can’t escape football in the news even if you don’t care about it) are familiar with the use of the word “bowl” in stadium names, the most famous being the Rose Bowl. It makes sense, because such stadiums are shaped more or less like bowls, but it’s not so obvious as to need no explanation; it turns out, as we learn from Mark Alden Branch’s piece in the latest Yale Alumni Magazine, that the nomenclature began a century ago, at Yale:
Next time you sit down to watch the Super Bowl—or any of dozens of other postseason football games—think of Noah Haynes Swayne 2d, Class of 1893. Although Swayne’s life work was in the coal, pig iron, and coke business, he ought to be better known for something he did as a member of the Committee of 21, the Yale alumni group that oversaw the construction of a new football stadium for the Bulldogs in the early 1910s.
According to accounts of the time, it was Swayne who suggested that because of the new edifice’s shape, it should not be called a “stadium” or a “coliseum” but simply the Yale Bowl. It was the first use of the word “bowl” to describe a stadium. Then, when the city of Pasadena borrowed the word for its new Rose Bowl stadium in 1923, their annual postseason football game also took the name, and a bowl became not just a place but also an event.