Stanford University

Rose Bowl Game – The Oldest American Football Bowl Game

Nicknamed “The Granddaddy of Them All”, the Rose Bowl is the oldest American football bowl game in the country.  First played in 1902, this annual college football tournament has been the highest attended bowl game since 1945.

Usually played on New Year’s Day, the Rose Bowl is part of the Tournament of Roses which includes the historic annual parade.  The Rose Bowl hosts the designated Big Ten (the oldest Division I college athletic conference) and the Pacific-12 (a college athletic conference operating in the western U.S.) conference representatives unless they are involved in the BCS National Championship Game which is a separate event from the Rose Bowl Game.

The first tournament football game was played on January 1, 1902 between the Eastern team Michigan Wolverines and Western team Stanford University.  The game was hugely lopsided as Michigan crushed Stanford by a score of 49-0.  The game was so skewed that football would not be played for the next fifteen years.  The Tournament of Roses officials decided to run chariot races, ostrich races, and other events instead.  When the Rose Bowl Games resumed from 1916 to 1922, the games were held at Tournament Park in Pasadena until the Rose Bowl stadium was built in time for the January 1, 1923 match.  The stadium had the largest football stadium capacity in the U.S. until it was surpassed by Michigan Stadium in 1998.

During the early years, the two rivals who played in the Rose Bowl consisted of a team from the Pacific Coast Conference against a team from the Eastern U.S.  Fears of a possible Japanese attack on the West Coast following the bombing on Pearl Harbor almost cancelled the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl game until the venue moved to Duke University’s home stadium in Durham, North Carolina in 1942.  The start of World War II and the draft reduced the number of males being able to play football in colleges. Many college football schools dropped some conference opponents and instead played against local military base teams.  By 1946 the first post-war college football season returned to their regular schedules.

The Pacific Coast Conference disbanded in 1959 following a “pay-for-play” scandal at several PCC institutions like Cal, USC, UCLA and Washington.  In its place the Athletic Association of Western Universities was formed on July 1, 1959 made up of charter members from Cal, USC, UCLA, Stanford, Washington.  Since then the conference has been known as the Big Five, Big Six, Pacific-8, and Pacific-10.  In 2011, it became the Pacific-12 and has won more NCAA National Team Championships than any other conference in history. 

The Rose Bowl game was first nationally televised in 1952 and became the first bowl game and college game of any sport to be nationally televised for the first time.  The 1962 Rose Bowl was the first college football game broadcast in color.  USC has played the most times with 33 appearances and has the most wins.  The most frequent Rose Bowl matchup has been between USC and Michigan.

The Rose Bowl Player of the Game Award is a crystal trophy created in 1953 and awarded to the most valuable player in the Rose Bowl game.  It was awarded retroactively for players all the way back to the 1902 Rose Bowl.  In the 2005 Rose Bowl Game, the trophy was awarded to both offensive and defensive players of the game.

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