As a child of the Big Ten Conference, I believed the Rose Bowl was a place of magic, enchantment and, inevitably, frustration and resignation.
With piles of snow outside our homes in suburban Cleveland, we’d tune in to the game as the sun was setting in Eastern time. We’d watch in fascination as 100,000 people in T-shirts filled up the stands in Pasadena under a warm California sun. How many families watching the Rose Bowl from frosty towns in Indiana, Iowa and Ohio each New Year’s Day got the spark of inspiration to move to California from the Rose Bowl? Thousands, I suspect.
I can’t recall the first Rose Bowl I watched, but Ohio State’s victory in 1969 is firmly planted in memory. The Buckeyes defeated USC 27-16, and the one and only player I forever associate with that game is OSU quarterback Rex Kern. That’s significant. I’d forgotten that O.J. Simpson played for the Trojans.
That one taste of Buckeye victory was glorious, but through the 1970s and beyond I came to the realization that the Rose Bowl was where either Ohio State or Michigan lost to USC or UCLA. The Big 10 teams, coached respectively by Woody Hayes (above) and Bo Shembechler, were proponents of the running game — three yards and a cloud of dust, as the old saying goes. SC and UCLA had dynamic passing games, and those Pac 10 teams seemed much more exciting and talented by comparison to the stodgy Big 10 squads.
My awe for the Pac 10 carried over for many years after I left Ohio. While living in Omaha, I remember heading to Lincoln for a UCLA-Nebraska game in the mid-80s. My Midwestern psyche expected the Bruins to win, although as I recall the Cornhuskers won that day.
Having lived on the West Coast for most of the past 20 years, I still have not adjusted to being in Pacific Time for the Rose Bowl. It’s too sunny and warm outside for it to be Rose Bowl Day, and I still can’t quite come to grips with the game coming on early in the afternoon instead of in the early evening.
I will be watching today and rooting for the Buckeyes, of course. But if the Oregon Ducks win, I won’t be surprised. And I won’t be able to play in the snow when the game’s over.
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