Long considered college football's premier post-season game, the Rose Bowl was first played on New Year's Day in 1902, when 8,500 fans watched Fielding H. Yost's Michigan "point-a-minute" Wolverines blank Stanford 49-0. The Tournament of Roses committee in Pasadena, California, was the driving force behind the first contest. Disappointed by Stanford's performance, however, the committee arranged chariot races and other events over the next several years. Consequently, 14 years passed before a second Rose Bowl was held, with Washington State shutting out Brown, which was led by the black All-American halfback Fritz Pollard, 14-0. Held continuously since 1916, the East-West classic was played in the Rose Bowl stadium from 1923 onward; ultimately, the capacity crowd surpassed 100,000. Starting in 1947, when Illinois defeated UCLA 45-14, the champions of the Western Conference—later called the Big 10 and eventually joined by Penn State—and the Pacific Coast Conference—superseded first by the Athletic Association of Western Universities, then by the Pacific 10—battled one another. By 1998, the two conferences agreed to join in the Bowl Alliance that sought to bring the top pair of ranked teams in the country to determine an uncontested national champion. Consequently, in the future, such a highly rated Big Ten or Pac-10 championship team could play in the title game, to be waged in the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, and Rose Bowls on a rotating basis.
Beginning with Michigan's undefeated 1901 team, 19 squads that won Rose Bowls were proclaimed national champions. Two schools, Wallace Wade's Alabama and Pop Warner's Stanford, played to a 7-7 tie and were named co-champions following the 1926 season. Three competitors had already been named the best team in the country prior to their defeat in the Rose Bowl. Other Hall of Famers who guided teams to Pasadena included Notre Dame's Knute Rockne, Southern California's Howard Jones, Ohio State's Woody Hayes, and USC's John McKay. Some of college football's legendary games were played in the Rose Bowl, such as the 27-10 shellacking in 1925 by Rockne's team, featuring its Four Horsemen backfield, of Stanford and fullback Ernie Nevers. In 1948, Fritz Crisler's great Michigan team, boasting a two-platoon system, destroyed USC 49-0, resulting in a second "final" Associated Press poll that placed the Wolverines at its top, not Frank Leahy's unbeaten Notre Dame squad. In one of the most exciting finishes, Wisconsin, in 1963, roared from far behind but still fell to McKay's Trojans, 42-37. In 1968, USC, led by halfback and MVP O.J. Simpson, beat Indiana 14-3. The following year, notwithstanding an 80-yard touchdown scamper by Heisman trophy winner Simpson, USC's bid for a repeat national championship ended with a 27-16 Rose Bowl defeat at the hands of Hayes's Buckeyes.
The stature garnered by the Rose Bowl for both its participants and sponsors, along with the economic doldrums engendered by the Great Depression, led to the formation of additional post-season college games during the 1930s. Hoping for a financial windfall, boosters in the American South helped establish the Orange (1933), Sugar (1935), Sun (1936), and Cotton (1937) Bowls. Initially, monetary rewards were lacing, but a series of additional bowls were created in the following decades. Indeed, by the 1990s, analysts contended that the large number of such bowls enabled mediocre teams to play, while detracting from the quality games. However, the amount of available television revenue ensured that no scarcity of bowl games would likely result. By the end of the decade, universities participating in the Bowl Championship Series received 12 million dollars apiece.
Many bowl games, such as the one generally held on January 1 in Pasadena, are preceded by elaborate parades. Once again, the most famous is the Tournament of Roses carried out in Pasadena, involving scores of elaborately designed floats, richly covered with floral arrangements. Marching bands, festively attired horses and riders, a grand marshal, and the Rose queen are prominently featured for both the gathered throng and large television audiences. The television presence of the Tournament of Roses parade followed by the Rose Bowl every New Year's Day has guaranteed their place in the American popular consciousness.
—Robert C. Cottrell
Hendrickson, Joe, with Maxwell Stiles. The Tournament of Roses: A Pictorial History. Los Angeles, Brooke House, 1971.
McCallum, John Dennis. Big Ten Football since 1895. Radnor, Pennsylvania, Chilton Books, 1976.
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Michelson, Herb, and Dave Newhouse. Rose Bowl Football Since 1902. New York, Stein and Day, 1977.
Perrin, Tom. Football: A College History. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland, 1987.