When Michigan State squares off against Stanford in Pasadena's Rose Bowl on New Year's Day 2014, it will mark the 100th Rose Bowl game, a milestone in the quirky and storied history of the tournament.
A few things you may not know about the Rose Bowl and its annual championship:
1. The first Rose Bowl game took place in 1902 (in Tournament Park, where the California Institute of Technology now stands). That was the year the Tournament of Roses took charge of the New Year's Day festivities from the Valley Hunt Club, which founded the event in 1890. For that first football game, the tournament invited Michigan to face Stanford in “The Tournament East-West Game.” Before football, the Valley Hunt Club had staged activities that included a tug of war, foot races and jousting.
2. The second Rose Bowl football game did not happen until 1916. That's because the first game was a disaster. “They thought they’d only get about 1,000 people showing up for it," said Scott Jenkins, president of the Tournament of Roses. “They had about 8,000 people show up. There weren’t nearly enough grandstands. Apparently it was quite chaotic.” As for the game itself: “It was 49 to nothing. Michigan was ahead at the end of the third quarter. That’s when a touchdown was five points, by the way. They called the game, invoking a nonexistent mercy rule.”
3. During the break from football, organizers tried out several other sports, including ostrich races. But for about 12 years, they staged chariot races, said Michelle Turner, the collections manager at the Pasadena Museum of History and the author of a book about the Rose Bowl. “They were inspired by the Broadway production of ‘Ben-Hur.’ And one year, in 1913, they even raced an elephant against a camel. They really were doing whatever they could to get people’s attention.”
4. The current Rose Bowl stadium wasn't built until the 1920s, and it made its debut on New Year's Day 1923. Modeled after the Yale Bowl in Connecticut, the Rose Bowl was originally shaped like a horseshoe. The project was so unusual construction workers mounted a huge sign that said “STADIUM” to help confused local residents.
5. One Rose Bowl game was played outside of Pasadena, in North Carolina. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the 1942 contest was canceled because of concerns that large crowds in California could be a target for the Japanese. Duke University offered to host the game. Despite having the home-field advantage, Duke lost to Oregon State.
6. It wasn't until later in the 1940s that the Rose Bowl began its tradition of welcoming the champions from the predecessors to the Pac-12 and Big 10 conferences. In 1978, the Washington Huskies were the underdogs — pun intended — against mighty Michigan. But Washington prevailed, led by quarterback and Los Angeles native Warren Moon, who was named Most Valuable Player. After a 17-year NFL career and induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Moon still considers the Rose Bowl victory significant. “To me, it was probably the highlight of my career," he said."It was the first big stage I ever played on, so that Rose Bowl was huge for not only myself, but for our program. And just the fact that you got a chance to play in ‘the granddaddy of ‘em all,’ something that I had watched as a kid growing up, you couldn’t have had a better feeling about it.”
7. In 2014, there will be two "Rose Bowl" games. After the traditional game on New Year’s Day, the stadium will host Florida State and Auburn on Jan. 6, 2014, for the final national title game under the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) system. Next year, a new four-team playoff format will begin, with the Rose Bowl in the rotation as a semi-final game.
Legendary announcer Keith Jackson says the game’s place in the sport may change, but its appeal will not. “There’s always been something happening in the context of the Rose Bowl and the Tournament of Roses that makes it all worthwhile, makes it a real, true festival,” Jackson said.
He added: “And the setting is so spectacular because you see the sun sinking in the West. Dramatic, always dramatic. And then you watch a ballgame that’s being played, as I’ve oftentimes said, under the shadow of the broad-shouldered San Gabriels.”
Doug Tribou is a reporter for NPR’s sport show "Only A Game."
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