The year was 1999, and the number of post-season bowl games had reached just 23. New on the scene was a contest that did not even have a sponsor. It was simply called the Mobile Alabama Bowl.

Since that first outing — won 28-14 by Texas Christian over East Carolina — some exciting games have taken the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. In 2001, Marshall rallied from a 38-8 deficit to shock East Carolina, 64-61, in double overtime. This set the record for most combined points in a bowl game.

The star was quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was twice named the Most Valuable Player as he led the Thundering Herd to victory the next year against Louisville. Other NFL superstars to earn MVP honors in the bowl game include LaDainian Tomlinson for TCU in 2000 and Ben Roethlisberger for Miami of Ohio in 2003.

Corporate sponsors saw something special was happening and jumped aboard. GMAC led the way for a decade, followed by GoDaddy for another five seasons.

(Photo | Courtesy of Troy University) Troy senior end Rashad Dillard was named Defensive Player of the Year after collecting 7.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, an interception and eight quarterback hurries.

When the Troy Trojans and Ohio Bobcats face each other this Saturday, Dec. 24, it will be known as the Dollar General Bowl. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.

“We are excited to have Dollar General — who has such a large national and localized presence — support Mobile’s biggest event of the year,” Jerry Silverstein, Dollar General Bowl president, said. “We are looking forward to another great bowl game.”

Representing the Sun Belt
The Trojans are coming off an impressive regular season. They climbed to No. 25 in the AP rankings, becoming the first Sun Belt team to achieve the feat.

Troy (9-3 overall, 6-2 league) topped the SBC in scoring, passing and total offense with 49 touchdowns and 5,263 total yards.

“We are excited to be selected to play in the Dollar General Bowl against an outstanding Ohio University team,” Troy athletic director Jeremy McClain said. “We look forward to spending our bowl season in Mobile, and bringing the Troy fan base down to cheer on the Trojans.”

At the helm is Neal Brown, who at 36 is one of the youngest head coaches in the nation. Troy’s five-win improvement ranks as the fifth-best turnaround nationally.

Troy placed a league-high seven players on the All-Sun Belt first-team and a total of 15 players on the select squad. Senior end Rashad Dillard was named Defensive Player of the Year after collecting 7.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, an interception and eight quarterback hurries.

Joining him on the first-team are quarterback Brandon Silvers, running back Jordan Chunn, wide receiver Emanuel Thompson, offensive lineman Antonio Garcia and return specialist Jabir Frye. Chunn was also named to the first-team as an all-purpose player.

The second-team squad includes wide receiver Deondre Douglas, offensive lineman Tyler Lassiter and defensive back Jalen Rountree. Kicker Ryan Kay, linebacker William Lloyd, defensive lineman Baron Poole and defensive back Kamryn Melton were honorable mention selections, while Kris Weatherspoon was on the All-Newcomer Team.

Representing the MAC
Ohio University (8-5 overall, 6-3 conference) is making its second appearance in the bowl, having lost to Southern Miss 28-7 in 2007. They won the East Division of the Mid-American Conference and lost the league championship game by six points to undefeated Western Michigan.

“We are proud of the accomplishments of our team to go to another bowl game and excited for the opportunity to return to Mobile. This is an outstanding bowl and a great destination for our student-athletes, coaches and fans,” Ohio athletic director Jim Schaus said. “This has been an exciting year for our team and we are looking forward to the opportunity to play in a great city against Troy in the Dollar General Bowl.”

Head coach Frank Solich, who has led Ohio to 84 wins since 2006, had 10 players earn all-conference honors. Defensive end Tarell Basham (11.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hurries, 49 tackles) was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year while safety Javon Hagan (3 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 50 tackles) was selected the Freshman of the Year.

Basham is joined on the first-team defense by linebackers Blair Brown and Quentin Poling. Place-kicker Louie Zervos is also in the unit.

Hagan is on the second-team along with offensive lineman Troy Watson. On the third-team are wide receiver Sebastian Smith, center Jake Pruehs, defensive lineman Casey Sayles and punter Michael Farkas.

Schools benefit from art
For the 11th year, the cover for the Dollar General Bowl program was selected through an art competition. This year’s theme was “Wildlife and Waterways of the Bay Area.”

The contest received more than 200 entries. Judges from the Eastern Shore Art Center and the Mobile Museum of Art selected the finalists.

Winning first place were Catherine Chung (6th to 8th-grade division, Dunbar Magnet), Ashley Suchan (9th to 10th-grade division, Bayside Academy) and Caroline Myers (11th to 12th-grade division, St. Paul’s Episcopal). However, it will be artwork by Sarah Posey of St. Paul’s that will be featured on the cover. The work of all winners will appear in the program. More than $18,500 has been awarded to local school arts programs by the competition.

Plenty to do for the fans
The 18th annual bowl game is one of the largest sporting events in Mobile each season, along with the Senior Bowl all-star clash.

“Football has been a part of Mobile’s history and culture for decades,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said. “Gridiron greats such as Ben Roethlisberger, LaDainian Tomlinson, Walter Payton, Dan Marino and Brett Favre have all competed in our very own Ladd-Peebles Stadium. I want to thank Dollar General for embracing this proud tradition in our city. Dollar General has long had a presence in Mobile as an employer and retailer. We’re excited to take that partnership to another level.”

The first big event is the Mayor’s Luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 22, featuring former South Carolina and Florida head coach Steve Spurrier as the keynote speaker. The luncheon will be at noon at the Mobile Convention Center. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased online at or by calling 251-635-0011.

Activities that night will revolve around Bienville Square. A street party with live music starts at 5 p.m. The always-popular Mardi Gras-style parade featuring 16 local parading societies plus college bands and cheerleaders begins at 6:30 p.m. Pep rallies for both teams will follow in Bienville Square.

Fanfest — a tailgate experience with games and activities for all football fans — starts at 5 p.m. Friday and runs until kickoff. A fireworks display is planned for after the game.

Dollar General Bowl game tickets can be purchased at the Dollar General Bowl website (see Mayor’s Luncheon details above). Prices are $45 for sideline seats and $15 for general admission.