Despite being a big baseball fan, for me, the single best one-day sporting event is the Rose Bowl, aka the Grandaddy of Them All®. (Note, don't mess with the Tournament of Roses people and their intellectual property rights!) Before it became all BCS-ized, it was the event to watch every New Year's Day. And now with the addition of an extra BCS bowl, the Rose Bowl will still be played on New Year's Day or January 2 (never on a Sunday!) in the venerable old stadium in the Arroyo Seco of Pasadena.
The game starts around 2 pm on New Year's Day. Normally, January 1 in Pasadena is sunny with pleasant temperatures and the San Gabriel Mountains make a dramatic backdrop. By the time game ends, the sun has set, the weather has become cooler and the lights of the Rose Bowl seem to put the players on the field into sharper relief. (Or in this this case, just plain dark.) The Rose Bowl even makes me want to watch marching bands perform. And I never want to watch marching bands. Then again, it's also really hard to get in and out of your seats and go to the bathroom at halftime, so you better want to watch the bands perform.
I've been fortunate to attend six Rose Bowls in my lifetime. And I have a ticket for the 2007 game.
So today, I will start a series of posts about the Rose Bowls I've been to. I hope you find them interesting.
And no, they won't all involve UCLA, although four of them do. But they are all Pac-10 vs. Big 10 matchups.
January 1, 1983, UCLA vs. Michigan - The first Rose Bowl I attended came during my senior year in high school. But since I had two brothers attending UCLA at the time, they were able to score me a ticket. They sold for the princely sum of $30 each that year. The 2007 ticket has a face value of $135.
After years of sharing the Coliseum with USC, UCLA had moved its regular season games to the Rose Bowl, which is actually not particularly close to the UCLA campus. But at least it wasn't across the street from USC. And the Bruins had a great year, going 9-1-1 and winning the Pac-10. The Bruins won the Pac-10 with a 20-19 win over USC in the season finale with Karl Morgan sacking Scott Tinsley on a potential game-winning 2-point conversion with no time left on the clock. The same day, Washington lost to Washington State in an upset and the Bruins won the conference for the first time since the 1975 season.
The Bruins would face Michigan, whom they had beaten in a thriller in Ann Arbor in late September. The Wolverines had jumped out to a 21-0 lead, but UCLA quarterback Tom Ramsey led the Bruins to a dramatic 31-27 win. Michigan was deep inside UCLA territory when the game ended. Michigan was 8-3 in the regular season with losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State as well.
The game was going to be a matchup of two seemingly irresistible forces. It was supposed to be impossible for one team to beat a quality opponent twice in one season. On the other hand, it was supposed to be impossible for a Bo Schembechler-coached Michigan team to ever win a Rose Bowl game.
Tom Ramsey was one of our favorite players on the UCLA team because he went to the same high school as us: John F. Kennedy High in Granada Hills. Kennedy's archrival was Granada Hills High, which was quarterbacked by John Elway. Elway had gotten the better of Ramsey during high school, but in college, Ramsey had the upper hand. In their final meeting as collegians, UCLA beat Stanford 38-35 at the Rose Bowl.
As usual, it was a gorgeous day at the Rose Bowl. 104,991 fans were shoehorned into the stadium (its capacity has been lowered through subsequent renovations).
UCLA led 10-0 on at halftime and Michigan had lost its starting quarterback, Steve Smith, to a separated shoulder after a nasty hit from Don Rogers after scrambling out of the pocket. Michigan had also lost starting offensive tackle Rich Strenger early in the game and the Bruins defensive line feasted on Strenger's backups.
Despite these handicaps, Michigan managed to pull to within 3 points at 10-7 in the third quarter when backup quarterback David Hall threw a touchdown pass to Eddie Garrett.
After UCLA took over on its 20 after the kickoff, the Bruins faced a third and 10 when Ramsey found receiver Jojo Townsell for a 12-yard gain. Two plays later, it was third and five, and Ramsey again found Townsell for a 12-yard gain. After a short gain by Danny Andrews, Ramsey scrambled for a 15 yard gain. Two plays later, Ramsey connected with Cormac Carney for an 11-yard gain. Five plays later, Andrews scored from the 9 and the Bruins had a 17-7 lead.
On Michigan's next possession, Hall went back to pass, but was picked off by Blanchard Montgomery and run back 11 yards for a TD to make it 24-7. Montgomery, along with UCLA's tight end Paul Bergmann, had played against Ramsey at Granada Hills High. Michigan would get a late touchdown to make it a 24-14 final. It was the first Rose Bowl win for UCLA coach Terry Donahue, who finally learned to love the forward pass. Helping out was offensive coordinator Homer Smith, whom my mother always thought was one of the best in the game. Remember when it comes to getting your favorite team to drop the veer and start passing more, Mom knows best.
Ramsey and Rogers were named co-MVPs. Ramsey was 18 of 25 passing for 162 yards while Rogers had an interception and led a UCLA secondary that made Michigan star receiver Anthony Carter a non-factor.
Coming up in part two: The Land of Lincoln takes one on the chin.