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Big Ten Countdown: 02 - The Rose Bowl

Getting to the BCS title game every year is always the goal of a top tier program in college football. However, you can't always control what computers and voters do. Therefore, if you ask many a Big Ten fan, they will tell you that getting to the Rose Bowl is the goal.

The first Tournament of Roses football game, which was the first of its kind in the nation, was staged at Tournament Park on January 1, 1902. The game matched a West Coast Stanford team and a Midwestern team, Michigan, both of whom were later to become members of today’s Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences. Michigan routed Stanford 49-0, prompting the football contest to be replaced with Roman-style chariot races, inspired by the literary classic Ben Hur, until 1916 when football was permanently reinstated.

The Rose Bowl Game agreement between the powerful Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences required a long courtship before today’s exclusive pact was signed. Initially, the Tournament of Roses Association invited teams to compete on the gridiron. In 1924, the Tournament invited only the Western team who then in turn selected its Eastern opponent. Then in 1935, the Pacific Coast Conference began choosing one of its own teams to compete on New Year’s Day and continued to select opposition.

The present exclusive agreement among the Tournament of Roses Association, the Big Ten Conference and the Pac-10 Conference was born in 1947. The pact is the oldest intercollegiate postseason bowl agreement between two major conferences in the United States.

There are a lot of other interesting tidbits about the Rose Bowl. The one that I find neat is when a Big Ten team clinches the Rose Bowl birth, they celebrate on the field with a rose in their mouth.

I can remember the 2001 season when Nebraska was undefeated and headed to Boulder. It was very exciting to be thinking about getting to the Rose Bowl (that years BCS title game). All they had to do was beat Colorado and win the Big XII title game and they were in.  Well, that didn't happen. Colorado humiliated Nebraska 62-36 and knocked the Huskers out of the Big XII title game and to No.4 in the BCS. That's when all the cards fell right.

In an amazing series of events, Florida lost to Tennessee the following week. This game was a make up game from earlier in the year when the 9/11 attacks cancelled/postponed all of the college football games that next weekend. The  same day Florida lost, Texas lost to Colorado in the Big XII title game and all of a sudden, Nebraska was back to number 3 in the BCS behind Miami and Tennessee.  The Volunteers were favored to beat LSU in the SEC title game but were upset and due to strength of schedule and the computers, Nebraska edged out Colorado for No.2 in the final standings. That my boy is how you back into the title game.

It was funny because I sat down after the Tennessee loss and did the math to see if Nebraska was going to make it. Obviously I couldn't figure the computer polls but there weren't too many games played on December 8th when the Volunteers lost, so not a whole lot could really change.  TCU (a Nebraska opponent earlier that year) won a game that previous Thursday and that helped boost Nebraska strength of schedule. With no one else losing above the Huskers and no one to jump them in the polls, I figured Nebraska was Number 2 by the skin of their teeth. Sure enough, they were and the Buffs and the Ducks (who finished 3 and 4 in the BCS) met in the Fiesta Bowl.

We didn't put a great effort in that Rose Bowl against Miami, but it was still really fun to be able to get to go to the Rose Bowl. I know BCS titles are great and all, but I won't be disappointed in the future if/when Nebraska gets back to the Rose Bowl. After all, it's not everyday you get to participate in the Rose Bowl. Just ask Minnesota (1962), Indiana (1968), Oregon State (1965), California (1959), and Arizona (never been). Heck, it's even been 20 years since Iowa has been there. Funny thing is, I remember that game and how excited all my Iowa relatives were to see the Hawkeyes there.