Games of the Century
Celebrating 100 years of college football, the Rose Bowl Game remains a major event in American sports
By André Coleman 06/18/2014
The first Rose Bowl game in 1902, which pitted the Michigan Wolverines against the Stanford Cardinals, drew about 8,000 people. However, Michigan’s lopsided 49-0 victory that year in what was known then as the Tournament East-West Football Game led Pasadena city officials to forego football and instead hold chariot races, ostrich races and other events over the next 13 years.
After football returned to Pasadena on Jan. 1, 1916, something unexpected happened. Over the next six years attendance at the annual game swelled to a maximum of 40,000 people, and event organizers realized that the stands in the park near Caltech, where the contest was originally played, could not contain such a crowd.
Pasadena had to have its own stadium, so from 1921 to 1922 the Rose Bowl was built, based on designs created by famed architect Myron Hunt, who was influenced by the Yale Bowl stadium in New Haven, Conn. Shortly after construction was complete, the first game called the Rose Bowl Game was played. Originally built in a horseshoe shape, the stadium was expanded several times over the next few years, with the southern stands completed in 1928, giving the structure its bowl shape.
Over time, the Rose Bowl Game has become one of the best-known college football contests in the world, and it continues to pit two of the nation’s top football teams against each other on either New Year’s Day or Jan. 2, if Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday. Neither the Rose Bowl Game nor the Rose Parade is held on Sunday.
The historic game was once played outside of Pasadena. That was in 1942, less than a month after World War II had formally begun on Dec. 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In that contest, Duke University and Oregon State met at Duke in North Carolina after local officials threatened to cancel the game due to fears that a large gathering on the West Coast could provoke a strike by Japanese military forces. In fact, the only two times the game was not played by college teams were in 1918 and 1919, during and just after World War I, which saw military personnel suiting up to take the field. In 1918, the Marines beat Army 19-7, and the following year the Marines lost to Navy 17-0.
“The Rose Bowl represents history,” said Councilman Victor Gordo, who sits on the Rose Bowl Operating Co. board of directors and serves as the liaison between city government and the stadium.
Of the Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl and Rose Bowl, the Rose Bowl is the only game still played in its original stadium. It is also the oldest of the bowl games, earning it the moniker “Granddaddy of Them All.”
To date, USC has played in 33 Rose Bowl Games — more times than any other school. Michigan comes in second place with 20 appearances, followed by Ohio State, Stanford and University of Washington, each with 14 appearances. UCLA, which plays its home games in the Rose Bowl, has appeared in the New Year classic 12 times.
“The Rose Bowl just resonates all that is good about sports,” said Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn.
The Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, National Champion was decided in the Rose Bowl Games in 2002 and 2006. The BCS game was also played in the stadium on two other occasions, only not on Jan.1. The first time was in 2010, and the last BCS game was played this year.
The most infamous play in bowl history happened on Jan. 1, 1929, when the Cal Berkeley Golden Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. About halfway through the second quarter, Cal’s Roy Riegels picked up a fumble and ran 69 yards in the wrong direction, earning him the nickname “Wrong Way” Riegels.
But as bad as that play was, recent moves by the NCAA could turn out even worse for the game.
For the next 12 years the Rose Bowl game will be a semifinal game of the College Football Playoff every three years, and that system could move the game off of its usual Jan. 1 date. Under the BCS system, which ended at the Rose Bowl shortly after the 100th Rose Bowl Game was played, the stadium hosted the championship game every four years. Now city officials will have to bid against other cities to host the championship game.
“It is a large part of Pasadena history,” Gordo said of the aging stadium. “The game is interwoven with the city and with the history, teamwork and pageantry of college football.”