The Cotton Bowl was founded in Dallas, Texas in 1937 at the Texas State Fair Grounds, when Texas oil executive J. Curtis Sanford financed the first one out of his own pocket. Texas Christian University took on Marquette, winning, 16-6, but the game lost money even though some 17,000 attended. Nonetheless, Sanford persevered, and in the 1938 the game made a profit as Rice defeated Colorado, 28-14, in front of a gate of 37,000.
Some 40,000 attended the 1939 match between St. Mary's and Texas Tech, with the Gaels upsetting the undefeated Red Raiders, 20-13. In 1940 an underdog Clemson team surprised the Boston College Eagles, 6-3, in the first of several appearances at the Cotton Bowl by Tigers Coach Frank Howard. Attendence at this game was given as 20,000.