There is a reason the Rose Bowl is called the Granddaddy of Them All. Not only is it the oldest college bowl game, but it comes with the most prestige and pageantry of any post-season college football game.
Growing up on the East Coast, I never appreciated the Rose Bowl. Like most Easterners, particularly New York area natives, I thought this bowl game was overrated. After all, it was a Big Ten vs. Pac 10 game for decades. Why would a Jersey guy be drawn to a game that has such deep regional roots – that are nowhere close to home?
My ignorance continued through my 20’s and 30’s. As a college student at Virginia Tech when they were joining the Big East, I still had an ethnocentric sense that football east of the Mississippi was superior.
This sort of closed-mindedness is exactly what prevented me from ever acknowledging the spectacular event that is the annual occurrence of the Rose Bowl.
Now that my son is a Penn State student, I have grown to appreciate the Big Ten. And when the Nittany Lions accepted a bid to the Rose Bowl, I jumped at the opportunity to make this once-in-a-lifetime trip with him. Boy, am I thankful I did!
For those of us who are the type to seek bucket list opportunities in life, a trip to the Rose Bowl checks a few of those boxes. It allows for attendance to the oldest and most prestigious of all bowls, as well as a viewing of one of the most iconic parades in the land. And the proximity to Los Angeles provides fans with the chance to extend their stay and take in all that the City of Angels can offer.
I am sure that there are plenty of people in non-Big Ten/PAC 12 regions who shared my previous sentiments. But now that I have experienced my first Rose Bowl, I say whole heartedly that all college football fans should attend at least one Rose Bowl in their lifetimes. Here are 5 reasons why:
The Pageantry of the Game is Incredible
The greatest argument for attending a Rose Bowl is to be a part of the experience, to say that you were there. No other bowl still has such pageantry. Being the only college football stadium of all the New Year’s Six bowls (the rest are played in professional stadiums), the venue still has a college feel. The tailgating is widespread, yet there are still family friendly areas, such as the festival behind the building.
The setting is gorgeous, sitting at the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. And the stadium is like a museum, with its ageless bowl shape and iconic Rose Bowl logo atop the south entrance with palm trees adorning the south gates. Even though the stadium – a National Historical Landmark – is one hundred years old, it does not feel like you are in an “old building.”
This history of this structure will send chills down the spine of any college football enthusiast. Who wouldn’t get sentimental about sitting in the same building where Knute Rockne once coached the Four Horsemen? In that same game, Pop Warner was the opposing coach. Legends played on this field.
Over the past 100 years, a multitude of Heisman Trophy winners and future first round NFL draft picks played in this bowl.
And legendary games were played here. Arguably the best and most exhilarating bowl game ever played was right here in 2006. Down five with half a minute to play, Vince Young’s eight yard touchdown scramble on 4th and 5 gave Texas the national title over USC, one of the most storied programs in Rose Bowl – and college football – history.
Let us not forget the elite broadcasters who worked this game. Mel Allen called the first twelve televised Rose Bowls. Yes, THAT Mel Allen from the New York Yankee broadcasts. Other greats included Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg, Brent Musberger, and now Chris Fowler. Color commentators included Chick Hearn, Don Meredith, Merlin Olsen, and now Kirk Herbstreit. But most of us remember Keith Jackson calling this one. I can hear him now…”WHOA NELLY!”
Once inside the stadium, you will be treated to a unique scene that includes only three colors: the lush green of the immaculately prepared field, and two colors from the participating schools, usually with a clear dividing line behind the endzones. One side of the stadium is dressed in one of the visitor’s colors and the other side is in one of the home team’s colors. The blimp shot that captures this is also iconic, and no other bowl game replicates this view.
The moment I walked through the tunnels to the seats, I immediately felt like I was part of something special. It was similar to when I first saw a game in Fenway Park. Or when I toured Wrigley Field. Similar to the one and only game I saw at the Montreal Forum. Or when I ate a buffalo wing at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. I felt like I was part of history, part of the spectacle that is the Rose Bowl. And as a college football fanatic, it was an amazing experience!
The Rose Parade is Iconic
Part of the pageantry of the event is the Rose Parade, hosted by the Tournament of Roses and held in Old Town Pasadena. Now, I’m usually not a parade guy. I’ve been to one Halloween parade in Greenwich Village (which was nothing short of amazing!) and one Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, and that’s it! I don’t watch parades on TV, but I have to admit, being live at this parade was cool.
The parade features a slew of marching bands. From high school bands across the nation to international bands that engage the crowd to bands from the two competing schools, the music is great and it brings a festive atmosphere to the streets. The floats are creative, and while they are not the flying balloons of the Macy’s Parade, they are unique and add to the pageantry of the day.
The crowd is impressive, with each side of the street about six to eight people deep. The hardcore fans in the first two rows are mostly locals, who were probably there since the wee hours of the morning or even the night before. Their winter hats and heavy blankets are dead giveaways! But there are also those who come to Old Pasadena just for the parade, such as the man next to me. He and his wife came down from Fresno just to see the parade. And of course, there was plenty of Penn State white and a lot of Utah red in the crowd.
When the last emergency vehicles have passed, signaling the end of the parade, fans can saunter about the streets and take in the stores and shops before making the short walk or (free) shuttle trip to the stadium.
There is Plenty to do on Game Day and the Day Before
The Rose Bowl offers fans plenty to do prior to game day. For those who are not gallivanting around Hollywood or the other attractions near Los Angeles, there are game-related events for fans of both teams. The official pep rallies are both held downtown the day before the big game. Utah had theirs at The Bloc, while Penn State gathered at LA Live.
The Rose Bowl also hosts a free Rose Bowl Bash at the stadium. The event offers food, drink, music, attractions, and of course, performances by pep bands and spirit squads of both schools. And of course, there are kid-friendly activities and free giveaways.
On game day, fans can pregame at the establishments in Old Pasadena, or they can find a tailgate at the stadium. Yes, there is tailgating at the Rose Bowl, much unlike the dilemma that is going down at SoFi Stadium for the National Championship game. This is college football – how can SoFi not allow fans to tailgate for the biggest game of the year? Rose Bowl fans need not worry, as the tailgating in Pasadena is plentiful.
Also, there is a fan festival area behind stadium. Once guests clear the gates, they are allowed in and out of the festival area that is actually on part of the golf course north of the stadium. Fans have access to food trucks, beverages, games, and of course, more giveaways! This area is a nice little getaway from the craziness of the crowd, as there are tens of thousands of people on the concourse for pregame and only a fraction of that in the festival area.
So if you are traveling with a small group and have no plans, you need not worry. There is a lot going on for this event.
The Rose Bowl is Likely to Have Excellent Weather
When most people think of Southern California, they think of a temperate climate and warm winters. And it is usually dry. So Rose Bowl-goers should expect good football weather for the big game.
This year, a slight rain came down in the second half, but that was only the third time it rained on the Rose Bowl game since 1955. And even though it did rain, it held off until late, which meant that the parade and the tailgates and the first half were dry.
With the stadium set at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains and the likelihood of clear skies, your Facebook and Instagram posts will most likely be stunning!
There are So Many Things to Do in the Area
If you make the trip to Southern California for the Rose Bowl, try to make a week out of it. The greater Los Angeles area has so much to offer. You can visit Hollywood and find your favorite stars on the Walk of Fame or their handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Perhaps you can take a hike to the Hollywood sign or view it from Griffith Park. Maybe you could stroll along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, go to the Santa Monica pier, or absorb the beauty of Malibu.
If you have a car, take a ride up Mulholland Drive or through Bel Air and see the spectacular houses. If you do not have a car, then book a tour – there are plenty of buses that will take you to the attractions.
Theme park lovers can visit Mickey and Minnie Mouse at Disneyland or go for the thrill rides at Universal Studios. In the unlikely event of inclement weather, you can find refuge in one of the many museums in the area, or you can spend the day shopping downtown. There is so much to do in the area, so if you have the luxury to extend your stay, do it!
- Because the Rose Bowl is such an iconic event, you should expect large crowds and traffic. Getting in and out of the stadium by car can take a long time due to the limited access in and out. While in the stadium, expect long lines for concessions and restrooms. There is only one concourse for 94,000 fans, so expect delays prior to the game and during halftime. It is a great event, but be prepared for these kinds of issues.
- The Rose Bowl is a must-see event, but I wonder what its future holds. Next year it will be a National Semifinal game. The following year, it will become part of the expanded playoff system. We do not know how this will affect the actual Rose Bowl game, as the Big Ten – PAC 12 matchup will probably die with USC and UCLA’s move to the Big Ten. But I have a hard time believing that the Rose Bowl will cease to be the prolific event that it is. The Tournament of Roses will still host the Rose Parade and the actual game will try to keep is prestige.
- Because of this, I think all serious college football fans should make the effort to attend the Granddaddy of Them All in their lifetimes. And do it before you become a Granddaddy or Grandmommy yourself!
You can read more of my articles HERE.
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