When No. 7 Auburn and No. 12 UCF take to shiny, new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Monday's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, it will be the latest moment in the sun for a game that is part of the New Year's Six and in the College Football Playoff semifinal rotation.
But beyond its place in the college football universe, this also marks the bowl's golden anniversary. Only eight current games are older than Atlanta's.
"It's amazing to see how far the bowl has come over these past 50 years," said Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl CEO and President Gary Stokan. "It's truly a culmination of decades of hard work from our staff, board, volunteers, sponsors, partners and the greater Atlanta community that helped us achieve our mission of being the best of the best within the bowl industry."
And it all began at Georgia Tech's Grant Field on Dec. 30, 1968, with 42-degree temperatures, on-and-off-again rain, and wind gusts up to 25 mph wreaking havoc on Florida State and LSU and the 35,000-plus in attendance.
"It was a good game as far as the game, but just watching it was just really cold, damp and kind of rainy," said Albert Tarica, a volunteer with the bowl since its second season in 1969, who was sitting in the stands that day.
The Tigers and Seminoles delivered on the field, but those weren't the teams that Peach Bowl founder George Crumbley and Co. wanted for their inaugural game, started by the Lion's Club of Atlanta as a fundraiser for the Lighthouse for the Blind Foundation (which provides eye care throughout the state of Georgia).
The Peach Bowl tried to lure SEC runner-up Auburn -- which instead went to the Sun -- and also eyed eventually Bluebonnet-bound SMU. The committee also eyed Syracuse and Ole Miss, but ultimately went with unranked LSU, fourth in the SEC, and independent Florida State.
Despite boasting the largest viewing audience of any bowl, airing on 116 stations via Sports Network, Inc., the Peach Bowl settled on the Tigers, losers of back-to-back games to the Rebels and Alabama before getting an invitation, and the Seminoles, which had two games to play before its bowl. Florida State would go into the Peach Bowl ranked 19th after taking down then-No. 10 Houston 40-20.
"FSU was honored, because in those days there weren't many bowl games," said Seminoles receiver Ron Sellers, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. "In fact, in the '60s, FSU played in only one other bowl game that my team and I didn't play in. That was in the '64 Gator Bowl game against Oklahoma. Those three games I went to were the only other ones FSU went to."
The Seminoles were initially picked as the host team and were the first to accept, but wouldn't get that designation when the game was announced. LSU had received its bid days in advance, with Florida State getting its invite the day both said yes, Nov. 19. Plus, it was reported that the Tigers insisted on the conditions of having the option of which color jerseys they would wear, and the side of the field their players would sit on.
LSU wore white jerseys with gold pants; Florida State was in garnet jerseys and helmets, with gold pants. That was a new look for the Seminoles, with coach Bill Peterson hiring a painter to come in and alter the team's helmets.
Florida State, behind Sellers and his nation's best 86 catches, 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns, and quarterback Bill Cappleman (2,410 yards and 25 scores) was a seven-point favorite against an LSU offense that was balanced, but far from explosive. The Tigers averaged just 19 points, while the Seminole scored 40 or more in each of their last three games.
Peterson, though, was having none of the favorite talk. "I wouldn't call this a mismatch," he said. "But we certainly have to be considered a definite underdog."
Circumstances seemed to stack the deck against Florida State.
Peterson's team was down tight end Bill Cox, running back John Pittman, guard Ken Hart and linebacker Joe Benson, all of whom were ruled ineligible. Pittman had played his freshman year at Troy before transferring to Tallahassee and the other three were all in grad school.
The Seminoles had also been hit by the flu days before the game, including kicker Grant Guthrie, punter Bill Cheshire and specialist Frank Loner and Sellers, who skipped church before the game at the advice of a doctor.
"I do remember I was under the weather, but so was probably a third of our team," Sellers said. "We did have a couple starters that were declared ineligible, and we just thought that was crazy. At the last minute, that happened. If I'm not mistaken, they were practicing with us and next thing we know, they're ineligible."
Said Tigers coach Charlie McClendon of the lost players. "They don't need 'em. They've got Sellers and he's the best receiver I've seen."
Plus -- and file away this where you will -- Peterson also noted that a number of his players had also gotten married ahead of the game. "We've got about five boys who'll be on their honeymoons," he told reporters. "They were married over the holidays. I don't know how it affects us, but it might."
Gamesmanship or not between two coaches who both served as assistants under Paul Dietzel at LSU in the 1950s, the Seminoles raced to a 13-0 lead, with the first of those points coming after just 15 seconds after the Tigers fumbled the opening kickoff.
"Our game plan was to try and get out front quick so that they wouldn't be able to play ball control and keep ramming us," Peterson said afterward. "I thought we did a good job when we had that 13-0 lead."
But LSU responded with Craig Burns taking a punt 39 yards for a score, followed by a Mark Lumpkin 32-yard field goal to make it 13-10 at the half. The Tigers added two more TDs in the third with Mike Hillman hitting Bob Hamlett and Bill Stober to go up 11.
Then Sellers went to work. He'd caught just one pass for 17 yards in the first half, but had seven in the second half for 76 yards and two third-quarter TDs. The last of which, a 4-yard grab, gave the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with less than six minutes to play.
"I'll never forget, I thought we had the game won," Sellers said.
Florida State seemed to be helped in that regard as a marching LSU was hit with a 15-yard holding penalty on its ensuing drive. Facing 3rd-and-18 from the Seminoles' 23-yard line, Hillman threw into a crowd and the Tigers' Tommy Morel came down with it and a 21-yard gain to set up Maurice LeBlanc's 3-yard TD for a 31-27 lead with 2:39 remaining.
"I knew he was covered, but I had to throw," Hillman told reporters. "We had to get the first down. I just had to take the chance. I saw him cut and I let it go. And, oh, he caught it."
Recalled Sellers: "I couldn't believe it. Three of our defensive backs were there, and the one LSU receiver, he came down with the ball."
The Seminoles had their final chance, sitting at LSU's 44-yard line on fourth down with the clock ticking and Cappleman had Sellers at the 30. But a diving Barton Frye knocked the ball out of the wideout's hands, preserving the Tigers' win.
"I thought I caught my third touchdown that game and the guy batted it down away from me," Sellers said. "The pass, if I'm not mistaken, was a tad late after I'd broke (free). We had a great year anyway."
The inaugural Peach Bowl wasn't without its missteps. Unable to find any peaches, Morel was given an apple when he got off the plane, and the weather saw a crowd of 35,545 for a stadium that held 60,000.
But, as McClendon put it, "the Peach Bowl people did a wonderful job of entertaining our kids and our kids did a wonderful job of entertaining the people here tonight."
The seed was planted, and 50 years later, another SEC team and another from the Sunshine State will write the next chapter.