January 1, 1999 - Wisconsin vs. UCLA - 1999 was the first Rose Bowl to be part of the BCS and was the first year since 1946 that it was possible for a team other than one from the Pac-10 or Big 10 to play in the game. However, as the season shook out, the 1999 game matched up the Pac-10 and Big 10 champs although one of the teams really wished it wasn't there.
Wisconsin had won the Big 10 and had a 10-1 record, losing only to Michigan. Wisconsin finished in a 3-way tie for the conference title with Michigan and Ohio State and won the tiebreaker to earn the Rose Bowl bid, that being the team that had gone the longest since appearing in the game. Not many people were happy to see Wisconsin play in the game as the Badgers were considered a dull and unimaginative team. However, Pasadena merchants were no doubt looking forward to the increased sales from visiting cheeseheads.
UCLA won the Pac-10, but really wanted to be playing elsewhere. The Bruins had started the season 10-0 and won the conference. They were primed to play in the Fiesta Bowl, which was the first BCS championship bowl under the new system. But the Bruins had to play a game in Miami the first week of December that was a makeup of a game that was postponed because of a hurricane threat. And Edgerrin James ran through, over, and around the Bruins defense to the tune of 299 yards and the Hurricanes won 49-45. So the Bruins had to "settle" for the Rose Bowl and Arizona, which thought it was finally going to shed the title of "only Pac-10 team not to play in the Rose Bowl", had to settle for the Holiday Bowl.
Bowing to contractual obligations from ABC, the Tournament of Roses had to add a corporate sponsor's name to the game, although they did managed to get the name put after the name of the bowl game. So in 1999, it was the Rose Bowl, presented by AT&T. It surprisingly wasn't all that annoying if you were at the game.
I was a UCLA season ticket holder by this time and I got tickets from UCLA's allotment and sat in the northeast corner of the Rose Bowl. Of the 93,000 and change fans in attendance, I estimated that about 80% of them were Wisconsin fans. And that could have been a conservative estimate. UCLA fans, thinking that their team had nothing to play for of any importance and hoping to take advantage of visiting Wisconsites, sold their tickets as fast as they could get them.
While the Wisconsin fans in 1994 were the epitome of Midwestern friendliness, the 1999 fans were a much younger bunch that no longer looked at their team as loveable losers who worked their way up to the top. They were now primarily drunken frat members who viewed winning football with a sense of entitlement. There was no free meat this year. Instead there were a lot of unprintable remarks.
It didn't take long to see that Wisconsin's monstrous running back, Ron Dayne, would go all Edgerrin James on the UCLA defense. Dayne scored on a 54-yard run on Wisconsin's second possesion and after the Bruins tied it up, Dayne scored again on a 7-yard run.
Dayne scored another touchdown before the half and Wisconsin led 24-21 after two quarters. In the first half, Wisconsin rushed for 258 yards on 25 carries.
After Dayne scored his fourth TD of the game in the third quarter, he tied a "modern" Rose Bowl record for TDs in a game, joining Sam Cunningham of USC in 1973 and Eric Ball of UCLA in 1986. Neil Snow scored five TDs in the 1902 game.
UCLA was down 31-21 and had the ball at the Wisconsin 6 when Deshaun Foster fumbled, thinking that he was going to get a handoff instead of a pitch from quarterback Cade McNown. Later, after UCLA had cut the lead to 31-28, McNown underthrew Foster while being hit and Jamar Fletcher intercepted it and ran it back 46 yards for a scored to make it 38-28. The Bruins got a field goal but nothing else and lost 38-31. Dayne missed the Rose Bowl rushing record by one yard with 246 yards on just 27 carries. Charles White set the record with 247 yards in 1980.
In many ways, the UCLA program never recovered from the end to this season. Several players were suspended to start the following season because of misuse of handicapped parking permits. Foster would later be ruled ineligible for accepting illegal benefits. Players got into fights or arrested for DUI. Assistant coaches were let go and eventually head coach Bob Toledo got the ax after a couple of disappointing seasons and Karl Dorrell was brought in for reasons not entirely made clear.
Wisconsin would lose back-to-back games in the 1999 regular season to Cincinnati (!!!!) and Michigan, but would still win the Big 10 and return to the Rose Bowl and beat Stanford 17-9 in the 2000 game to earn the distinction of being the only Big 10 team to date to win consecutive Rose Bowls.
As for the 2007 Rose Bowl, it's hard to figure out just what's going to happen. Both USC and Michigan could view the game as a letdown after having chances to play for the BCS Championship. One would hope that the players can grasp the importance of playing in the Rose Bowl. Both teams are playing in the Rose Bowl for the third time in four years. It's the eighth USC-Michigan matchup and the Trojans hold a 5-2 edge, losing only in 1948 (49-0) and 1989 (22-14). Michigan is the last Big 10 team to beat USC in the Rose Bowl (in 1989). Michigan should have more offensive weapons than USC, especially in the ground game, where UCLA exposed its shortcomings.
I don't really have a dog in this hunt and I'm going for the fun of it. Granted, it's an expensive day out for me, but I have really missed going to the game as I've missed seeing it during the 21st century. The game may not match up to the 2006 classic, but I'll settle for a game decided by less than a field goal. Or maybe even the first overtime game in Rose Bowl history.
But I really hope that the players appreciate the game. Yes, they do want to play for the national championship, but the Rose Bowl is still the standard by which all other college bowl games are judged. And it's coneviently located near my home!