|A tennis club entered this decorated stage coach in the 1893 parade.|
Today will mark two milestones—the 125th Tournament of Roses and the 100th football game associated with the tournament and called the Rose Bowl since 1923. Confused? Don’t be. We are here to explain it all.
Pasadena, California in Gay Nineties was a very wealthy suburb of Los Angeles famed for its posh Millionaire’s Row of showy mansions and plenty of room for the horsey set to cavort at the Valley Hunt Club. Like some other older, tonier suburbs of major cities it was also the home to a prestigious university, in this case the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
After a series of particularly brutal winters back east—think of the legendary Blizzards of 1887-88, local boosters began to think of ways to lure their wealthy Eastern friends to sunny Southern California. One way to do that would be to stage a colorful local celebration that would get picked up and written about in the society pages of Eastern Newspapers.
In 1890 the members of the Valley Hunt Club did just that on New Year’s Day. The event featured a parade of fashionable carriages festooned with flowers followed by games on the Town Lot. But no football. The games included polo matches, foot races, and a tug-of-war. About 2000 of the “best people” showed up.
Sure enough, the celebration got written up and the following year trainloads of wealthy folks arrived for a repeat. That second celebration was officially termed the Tournament of Roses for the first time because of a profusion of roses used in the decorations—and the fact that an earlier freak frost had killed the competition that year—Orange blossoms.
In 1893 New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday. Pasadena was already noted for its piety and for the large, handsome, respectable Protestant churches which grace the city. Lest the parade and festivities disrupt Sunday morning services, the event was put off to the following Monday. It was the beginning of a “never on Sunday” rule that continues to this day.
The parade and games became too much for the Hunt Club to manage. For the 1895 event, a new Tournament of Roses Association took over management. The Association still exists, housed in the former California mansion of William Wrigley, Jr. after his widow’s death in 1958 and now officially known as Tournament House. The Association officially considers 1895 as the founding date of the Tournament, despite the years under Hunt Club management. Thus the now ballyhooed 125th anniversary this year.
Under Association management the parades grew longer and more elaborate. Marching bands were added, the famed matching equestrian units, and after about 1900, motorized floats. The tradition of a ceremonial Grand Marshall to lead the parade also was their innovation. In the early years it was some local leader, often a deep pockets donor to the Association. Later Hollywood celebrities like Mary Pickford (the first woman) Shirley Temple, Bob Hope, Walt Disney, and John Wayne; heroes like Dwight D. Eisenhower and US Air Lines Flight 159 pilot Captain Chesley Sullenberger; and politicians Richard Nixon and Earl Warren. Last year Jane Goodall of ape fame was tapped and today it will be veteran sports caster Vin Scully.
The Association also added various contests to the actual tournament games, including ostrich races introduced by those fun loving Caltech students and a rodeo. But still no football.
Until 1902 when the Association staged an East-West collegiate football game to raise money for the rest of the events. Playing in front of grandstands erected on the former Town Lot, now renamed Tournament Park, and the mighty University of Wisconsin Badgers crushed Stanford 49-0. The demoralized Stanford team cried uncle and abandoned the game with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The dashing of West Coast pride meant that football would not return until 1916. But in retrospect officials count the 1902 game as the first of what would become known as the Rose Bowl games. In the interim spectacular Ben Hur style chariot races became the main attractions of the Tournament.
In 1905 Pasadena High School student Hallie Woods was elected by her classmates to become the first Rose Queen. She sewed her own dress and helped hand decorate her own float. Traditionally the Queen and the Princesses of her Court were selected from among the daughters of leading citizens. For many year high school and college students residing anywhere within the boundaries of Pasadena Community College District have been eligible to compete for the coveted spots. The Queen and her court receive generous scholarships, $10,000 clothing allowances, and are busy for months attending over 1000 events annually in addition to riding in the parade and showing off their patented parade wave.
It was something of a culture shock to long time Pasadenans when by the ‘70’s Black, Latino, and Asians began to make appearances. In recent years young men, not officially barred, have entered the competition for the Royal Court, but so far none has been elected. It is probably only a matter of time until that barrier also falls.
Football finally returned in 1916 when The State College of Washington (now Washington State University) beat Brown University before about 8,000 fans. The games became annual, always featuring top eastern teams against the west, except for 1918 and ’19 when armed forces teams played. Games pitted members of the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC)—but not always the conference champions—against an Eastern rival. By 1923 they had outgrown Tournament Park.
A new, modern, horseshoe shaped stadium that could seat 35,000 was built near the Caltech campus in time for the ’23 game. Modeled after the modern Yale Bowl, the stadium and the game were now dubbed the Rose Bowl. It was the first and biggest of all post season collegiate games and later imitators all identified themselves as Bowl games regardless of the shape of the stadium.
In the so called Golden Age of Sports and with the introduction of Newsreel coverage, national interest in the game grew year by year, and so did attendance. Eventually the south end of the field was enclosed for more seating creating a true bowl. About 95,000 could find places on backless wooden benches, replaced in the 1969 with aluminum and upgraded to modern stadium seating with backs in the ‘80’s. For many years it was the largest stadium in the country. It still has the 8th largest capacity and is the largest stadium used for an annual bowl game.
All Rose Bowl games have been played in Pasadena except for one. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the whole West Coast was thrown into a panic expecting a Japanese attack at any time. The game on January 1, 1942 was moved to Duke Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.
In 1947 the PCC and the Midwestern based Big Nine inked an exclusive deal for the champions of each league to play the Rose Bowl game. That agreement was continued, with a brief interruption when the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU) played the now Big 10 champs from 1960-63, when the PAC-8 (latter the PAC-10) took over representing the west.
That continued until the introduction of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) disrupted traditional rivalries. It also caused, on two occasions, the Rose Bowl game to be played later than New Year’s Day, which left a sour taste in the mouths of traditionalists.
This year the Rose Bowl will return to a now PAC-12 team, Stanford, facing off against Big 10 champs Michigan State. Then in 2015 the Rose Bowl will become one of four semi-final games of the new College Football Playoff every three years, replacing the BCS.
Millions will tune in today for both the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl. Both have been intimately connected to broadcasting since the first local radio broadcast of the game in 1926. The first transcontinental radio broadcast of a sporting event followed in 1927, the first local telecast of a college football game in 1948, the first national telecast of a college football game in 1952 and the first coast-to-coast color telecast of a collegiate football game in 1962.
The parade was a natural for television. It was first aired locally in 1947 and in 1954 was the first event telecast in NBC experimental NTSC color television format nationwide. ABC now broadcasts the parade and ESPN has exclusive rights to the game. Starting in 2013 the parade broke new ground when it was also made available on Xbox Live.
As for me, if I am not out shoveling snow, I will enjoy the pageantry of the Rose Parade this morning. I will take a pass on the game.