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History of the Gasparilla Bowl

What even is a gasparilla?

NCAA Football: Gasparilla Bowl-Wake Forest at Missouri Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay hosted the first-ever magicJack St. Petersburg Bowl in 2008 pitting the Jim Leavitt-led USF Bulls against Tommy West and the Memphis Tigers. After several name changes, it was formally renamed the Gasparilla Bowl in 2017.

More than the history of the game itself, though, I’m sure you’re wondering. where does the name Gasparilla come from?

Well, in 1904, Louise Frances Dodge (the society editor for the Tampa Tribune) and George Hardee (Tampa’s director of customs) wanted to liven up the city’s May Day celebration. Hardee suggested to use the legend of Gasparilla as the theme, so he formed a krewe of 50 men, and the Tampa Tribune began publishing a series of letters from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Each letter detailed a pirate invasion by King Gasparilla and his court. When the May Day Festivities arrived, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla pirates appeared on horseback throughout the city, to the delight of locals.

Who is Jose Gaspar, and what is the legend behind Gasparilla?

Jose Gaspar, or Jose Gasparilla as he is also known, is the famed Spanish Pirate who invaded the coast of Florida hundreds of years ago. A former member of the Spanish Navy, Gasparilla was well-educated and intelligent. During his pirating years, he captured many ships, earning a fortune in treasure, most of which remains lost to this day. In 1821, a US Navy ship in disguise confronted Gasparilla’s ship, and a furious battle ensued. With defeat on the horizon, Gasparilla tied himself to an anchor chain and jumped into the sea, never to be seen again.

The next year, the pirate invasion was less of a surprise. Automobile owners across the town were invited to join the pirates in the parade. Although these periodic occurrences started in 1904, it was not until 1913 that the Gasparilla Carnival was organized as an independent event.

The History of the Gasparilla Parade

1904 – The First Gasparilla Parade is held as part of Tampa’s May Day festivities. The invasion takes place on horseback.

1910 – Gasparilla festivities are held for the first time in a few years after a short hiatus from 1907-1909.

1911 – Our swashbuckling krewe of pirates invade by ship for the first time.

1918-1919 – The Gasparilla carnival is not held due to World War I.

1937 – Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla sails the first Krewe-owned ship, the Jose Gasparilla I, during its annual invasion.

1942-1946 – World War II leads to Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla canceling until the war ends.

1947 – The first Gasparilla Children’s Festival is held, a shorter version featuring local children’s groups from throughout Hillsborough County.

1954 – The Jose Gasparilla II sets sail for the first time as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration.

1969 – Pirates begin the tradition of visiting hospital pediatrics wards the week before the parade to bring the festival to children who could not attend.

1975 – The Jose Gasparilla II sails up the Hillsborough River on invasion day for the last time due to the completion of the Crosstown Expressway.

1978 – The First Gasparilla Distance Classic and Run for Fun is held on Invasion morning.

1988 – The Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates moves from being hosted on a Monday to a Saturday.

1997 – George Steinbrenner funds the YMKG Scholarship Foundation, paving the way for the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla Community Fund.

2001 – The Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates moves to the last Saturday in January to coincide with Super Bowl XXXV.

2002 – Children’s Gasparilla is held on a Saturday for the first time in the event’s history.

2021 – Gasparilla festivities are canceled due to the Covid pandemic.

There are some great photos from past Gasparilla Festivals that you can find on their website.

Now, the Gasparilla Festival is not held until January, but the Bowl game serves as a kickoff for the festival season, and by all accounts, it seems like a fun time.

Instead of going through all the games in its history, I want to share some fun facts about its history:

  • Brent Key is 1-2 all-time in his appearances in past iterations of the Gasparilla Bowl. He appeared in the bowl three times with UCF (2009, 2012, and 2014).
  • The ACC is the only conference (still in existence) to be undefeated in the different iterations of the Gasparilla Bowl (2-0). The Big East sports a 3-0 record in the game, but no longer exists to play FBS football.
  • UCF has appeared in iterations of the Gasparilla Bowl five times before this season (3-2 overall record). The only other school that comes close is Marshall, who has appeared in the game four times (3-1).

The Gasparilla Bowl will be held on December 22 at 6:30 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.