My recollection of the Rose Bowl: one team getting smoked by a mediocre team. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
One of the toughest aspects of the Big Ten to accept is the Rose Bowl obsession. Prior to June 2010, Husker fans were like the rest of college football in mocking of the Rose Bowl. Sure, its the Big Ten's tradition...but it's a tradition that continually frustrates the rest of the college football world. Prior to the BCS, the Rose Bowl stood as the obstacle to numerous #1-versus-#2 matchups. Without the Big Ten's commitment to the Rose Bowl, Nebraska's 1994 and 1997 national championships wouldn't have had as much controversy. (And yes, Nebraska would have won the title both seasons, no matter what Penn State and Michigan fans delude themselves into thinking.)
Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald wrote this week that the "Bloom (was) off the Rose for Big Ten Teams". With the rest of the college football world finally accepting a playoff starting in 2014, the Rose Bowl will simply become less relevant and less meaningful. That doesn't mean that the Rose Bowl should go away either; it can still exist, it just can't be the ultimate goal for Big Ten teams.And that's the thing that might be toughest for Big Ten fans to accept. I'm not sure I truly understand the reason Big Ten fans still embrace the Rose Bowl to the extent they do. Sure it's a tradition, but traditions evolve over time. The Big Ten used to always play on Saturday afternoons, but that's changed. We've seen games on Saturday night as well as on Thursdays and Fridays. Yet the Rose Bowl continued to stand in the way of the Big Ten's place in the college football world without nary a complaint.
I always remember the Rose Bowl being the pause in the middle of the New Years Day bowl lineup. There were usually two or three games in the morning and early afternoon, and then the Orange and Sugar Bowl at night. And so often, most of those games were anticipated and meaningful on a national scale. Except for the Rose. The Rose seemed to be the time to take a break, eat dinner away from the TV, and anticipate the games that night. I guess there were nationally meaningful Rose Bowls over the years, but none come to my mind. If there was a good Big Ten team playing, it was a lesser Pac-10 team.. Or vice versa. So in my mind, it was always just filling time for the big games still to be played that night.
Then there was the 2002 Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl had to bypass their traditional Big Ten/Pac-10 matchup, and instead got #1 Miami and #2 Nebraska. Of course, how could I miss that game? Once the bowl matchup was set, I had my plane tickets to southern California purchased within seconds online. I was off to see the bowl game I'd always ridiculed as the Irrelevant Yawner Bowl..only this time, it wasn't Irrelevant.
Hit southern California that morning, and found myself subject to derision. The locals were upset that tradition was being trampled on; the game was two days after the parade, and we weren't Michigan...or Ohio State...or whatever. We were usurpers. Found our way to the golf course to park, and reveled at the spectacle. Maybe this was it. What a venue; acres of green surrounded by the San Gabriel Mountains. Absolutely exquisite. I was in awe.
Then we headed to the game. This was less than four months after the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, so we were warned that security was going to be long and to arrive early. We took those warnings to heart and got in line for the gates at 3:45 pm for a 5:30 pm kickoff. And we stood. And stood. And stood. We watched the clock tick...and tick. At 4:15 we started to wonder why the lines were hardly moving. By 4:30, we were realizing we were going to miss kickoff at this rate. And by 4:45, we wondered if we were going to make it in by halftime. Then suddenly, the lines started to move as fast as we could walk. Apparently stadium security realized that they couldn't frisk everybody prior to the game and gave up. We did make it into the stadium, and raced to our seats. Suddenly we saw the dark underside of a decaying monument. We squeezed into dark tunnels that nearly induced claustrophia, and found our way to ridiculously narrow seats in the end zone that were seemingly a football field away from the actual playing field.
At halftime, we headed out for concessions and the restrooms, not having a chance to do any of that before the game. I punted the concessions quickly after realizing how long the lines in the bathroom were. My brother-in-law was starving, and wasted nearly the entire third quarter in an unsuccessful search for a hot dog or anything to eat. After the game, Rose Bowl security funneled people into lines separated by security fences to funnel traffic...and funneled people into both ends. So what happens in the middle when the two lines meet? Human gridlock. I help my wife and mother climb over the fences to safety before they get trampled in the middle.
Yeah, the game sucked. Miami smashed the Huskers that night, but my recollection was that the Rose Bowel was such a horrible experience outside of football that we swore never to return. And frankly, if Nebraska makes it back to the Rose Bowl, I doubt I'll be interested in returning again.
Maybe Pasadena has fixed the stadium issues by now. Maybe it was just one of those things. But my one Rose Bowl experience was bad enough that I have no desire to go back. If we have to use a bowl system for a playoff, I certainly hope the Big Ten doesn't try to anchor themselves to the Rose. Find a bowl site that's somewhat modern and equipped to handle these types of events...and is somewhere in the central or eastern timezone.
In any event, the Rose Bowl is hardly worth holding up progress in college football. The Big Ten needs to wake up and realize that college football has so much more to offer than the Rose Bowl can ever offer. Doesn't mean that the Rose Bowl has to go away, but Big Ten fans need to put the Rose Bowl in it's proper place.