The History of the Rose Bowl

atkins-bookshelf-triviaThe Rose Bowl, the oldest intercollegiate bowl game in America (and known as “The Granddaddy of Them All”) has a fascinating history. The game evolved from promoting California’s oranges and flowers, exotic animal races, parades, a disastrous early football game, chariot races, and circling back to the classic American tradition: a football game between the Big Ten and Pac-12 conference champions held on the first day of the year.

Over a century ago, the Valley Hunt Club of Pasadena California wanted to host tourism by inviting people from across the country, who were enduring cold weather and snow, to visit their town that was basked in sunshine and blooming flowers. In 1890, club member Charles Holder announced: “Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.” The festival, held on New Year’s Day, was known as the Tournament of Roses that consisted of a parade featuring carriages festooned with flowers followed by a number of competitions — foot races, jousting, chariot races, polo, and tug-of-war — held at a town park (later named “Tournament Park”). Within five years, the parade grew in popularity and the newly formed Tournament of Roses Association (TRA) took over the management of the event. The TRA built stands along the parade route, that now featured elaborately decorated floats rather than carriages, and introduced exotic new games: camel and elephant races, ostrich races, and bronco busting demonstrations. The Tournament of Roses also attracted many movie stars, like Charlie Chaplin, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable, and Shirley Temple (some of whom served as parade grand marshals of the Rose Parade), that only increased the event’s allure.

As the Tournament of Roses matured, the TRA believed that showcasing a post-season intercollegiate football game would be the perfect alternative to animal demonstrations and simple games. The TRA president at that time, James Wagner, raised $3,500 to cover the expenses of the first Tournament of Roses football game held on January 1, 1902. More than 8,000 football fans paid 50 cents to $1 (a real deal compared to today’s average cost of $901 per ticket!), to watch the game between Stanford University and the University of Michigan held at stands built at Tournament Park. The game was a disaster for Stanford that was trounced by the Michigan Wolverines: 49 to 0. Ouch! No wonder the Stanford Captain, Ralph Fisher, was compelled to end the humiliation by quitting the game in the third quarter. With so many egos bruised, football did not return to the Tournament the following year — and several years after that. From 1903 to 1915, the Tournament of Roses featured chariot races. Football returned to the Tournament of Roses by 1916 (back then the games were called the “Tournament East-West football games”) and in order to accommodate the growing crowds (more than 40,000 fans), the Rose Bowl was built in 1923 (at a cost of $3.8 million, adjusted for today’s dollars), the publicly-owned home of the newly christened Rose Bowl Games.

In 2014, the Rose Bowl celebrated its 100th football game, coincidentally pitting another Michigan team against the Stanford team. This time Michigan State narrowly defeated Stanford (24-20) and fortunately Stanford avoided the crushing humiliation they experienced 112 years ago.

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