The Open Man countdowns to the 2018 college football season with 129 — in honor of the 129 programs participating in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year — things we love (and some we hate) about the sport. Click the 129 Things tag to see every entry.
When we last left The Open Man’s 129 Things, I laid out (and in some instances, rehashed) my frustrations with the College Football Playoff. Among my gripes with the national title tournament is its devaluing of traditions, for what ultimately seems like nothing more than a cynical pursuit of cash under the guise of placating those fans who want a real national champion.
The second edition of the College Football Playoff was the first without the Rose Bowl Game, and the changing of the paradigm for New Year’s Eve precipitated a drop in TV ratings. Because a fair number of the college football punditry seems more concerned with ratings than the very essence and history of the sport, a tidal wave of calls to move the Rose Bowl in order to accommodate the Playoff surfaced.
That same Rose Bowl was my first covering as a journalist; a bucket-list career milestone after having watched so many Rose Bowl Games from childhood into my adult life. I made the case for leaving the oldest and original postseason tradition untouched in January 2016, through the context of those involved. Stanford coach David Shaw offered what I thought was the strongest endorsement:
“There’s nothing like the Rose Bowl. When you pull up to the hotel and you see the roses, you remember as a kid, especially — I watched the Rose Bowl every single year — there is nothing that got in the way of the Rose Bowl: not lunchtime, not other bowl games, not family get-togethers. Our world stopped when the Rose Bowl came around.”
When broadcasters, sportswriters, bowl reps, whomever refer to the Rose Bowl as The Granddaddy of ‘Em All, it isn’t just a catchy nickname. The Rose Bowl is truly the forefather of college football’s season, and its 104 editions, has built a history unmatched in the sport.
But I’m not rehashing ancient history for this installment of 129 Things; rather, I refer to much more recent history to profess my love for this Granddaddy.
Since the 2016 edition, I have had the privilege of covering two more Rose Bowl Games. Both rank among the very best college football games of all-time, say nothing of games I have worked personally. The 2017 installment — a classic Rose Bowl pitting a Pac-12 powerhouse against the Big Ten champion Penn State — showcased the game at its very best.
The two exchanged more haymakers than Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago, culminating in a fourth-quarterback comeback, and perhaps the most emotional post-game celebration I’ve ever witnessed.
The sight of Trojans offensive lineman Zach Banner in tears on the field, soaking in the meaning of a landmark victory in his senior season, encapsulated all that makes college football great.
That game served as a launching pad for the Sam Darnold hype train among national media, but having covered USC in the seasons leading up to the 2017 Rose Bowl — including the rise and quick fall of Steve Sarkisian — that afternoon in Pasadena marked the end of a long journey for upperclassmen who endured so much turmoil.
“What they’ve been through and to come out Rose Bowl champions in the end of it is really what means the most,” Darnold said afterward.
Don’t let anyone try to downplay the importance of the Granddaddy. For those involved, it maintains its magic and its significance built up in more than a century — a century that includes the most historically significant college football game ever played.
While I promised not to rehash ancient history, I do have to reference the 1942 Rose Bowl. In the weeks following the 2017 edition, I read the excellent Fields of Battle. The book chronicles the lead-up to the only Rose Bowl played outside of Southern California, but more importantly, what followed. I cannot recommend you read this strongly enough.
Anyway, one of the minor details that might jump out to the uninitiated is that the ’42 Rose Bowl featured Duke. Before it become a traditional Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup, the Rose Bowl featured such teams as Brown, Penn, Pitt, and an Alabama win over Washington that I can only assume Tide fans are still crowing about on Twitter.
While I didn’t love everything about the BCS, and obviously have my issues with the Playoff, the revamped postseason formats produced some nontraditional Rose Bowl matchups — some of which are the best ever. As a result of this shake-up, players who wouldn’t have otherwise get to experience the Granddaddy of ‘Em All.
“It’s a blessing,” said Oklahoma defensive back Steven Parker. “I’ve grown up watching the Rose Bowl my whole life. One of my favorite games, actually, was the USC-Texas game and that right there, it still gets me till today.”
Amen to that, Steven. And you ain’t alone in your sentiment. But if the 2006 Rose Bowl — which featured a nontraditional participant in Texas — has any competition for greatest version ever played, it comes from the 2018 edition with Oklahoma and Georgia, the latter of which participated in its first since 1943.
The Bulldogs coming to Pasadena for the first time in 75 years was certainly special, not the least of which for finally bringing Roquan Smith to town. His otherworldly performance in a transcendent game added a fitting chapter to the long and wonderful legacy of college football’s best game.