The Lobos finishied tied for third for Mountain States Conference in their final season in the conference. The Broncos had finished tied for second in the Mid-American Conference. This was New Mexico's first bowl game since the 1947 Harbor Bowl and Western Michigan's first ever bowl game. Rutgers and The Citadel were asked to play in the game, but they both declined. Bowling Green was considered to play, but they instead played in the Mercy Bowl, a fundraiser in memory of the members of the Cal Poly team members that died the year before, after playing Bowling Green. Ohio was in the running as well, but they tied their last game against Western Michigan, 20–20. The two inch snowfall that fell prior to the game turned to sleet during the game, making the field wet. 
New Mexico did not win another bowl game until the 2007 New Mexico Bowl.  The entire 1961 Lobo team was inducted into the University of New Mexico's Hall of Honor in 1990 as a result of this bowl win.