Rose Bowl will still be a highlight of college football bowl season

Rose Bowl will still be a highlight of college football bowl season
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota passes during a win over Colorado on Nov. 22. Oregon will play Florida State in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. (Steve Dykes / Associated Press)

Rumors of the death of the Rose Bowl game are, once again, greatly exaggerated. The old girl hasn't lost a step.

That's true, even though college football will play for the big title elsewhere to end this season. And probably elsewhere for seasons to come.


Jerry Jones' Taj Mahal in Arlington, Texas, site of this year's championship, has newer paint and fancier restrooms and a scoreboard bigger than Cincinnati. But it trails the Rose Bowl by about 100 years in the accumulation of stories and legacies. Same with next year's Taj Mahal, or whatever they call that shiny fortress in Glendale, Ariz.

Tampa Bay and dazzling new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara are also on the "Who Gets Next" list for the big game.

So, unless the Rose Bowl decides to re-prioritize itself and join the bidding war that secures the big game — an unlikely scenario — Southern California will have to make do with more of the same great stuff we are used to.

Under the new 12-year contract, when the Rose Bowl isn't in the national title semifinal rotation, as it is this year, it has to make do with an ordinary old Rose Bowl. That guarantees a Pac-12-Big 10 matchup, just like the good old days.

Pity us.

This year is a prime example. Can there be a more interesting, compelling matchup than Oregon-Florida State? Will this be a great football game, or a great morality play? Or both?

On Jan. 1, the sun will shine, the San Gabriel Mountains will glisten and sounds from marching bands along Colorado Boulevard will keep humming in the minds of thousands, as they head for the Arroyo Seco and The Game.

Has there ever been a better hors d'oeuvre for a football game than the Rose Parade?

Along about 2 p.m., as always, there will be quarterback stars Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. That is this year's Heisman Trophy winner against last year's, Oregon's Mariota against Florida State's Winston.

The main story line here, fair or not, is of good versus evil. That adds a touch of spice to a game seldom needing it.

Mariota's self-effacing, it's all-about-the-team leadership has been well documented. A word frequently used to describe him is "humble."

That word is seldom used for Winston. His behavior troubles have been well documented and remain highly controversial. Interestingly, they have been such a distraction to him that he hasn't lost a game he has started at Florida State in two years.

And so the table is set for another Granddaddy of Them All, which is as much a description of the game's usual quality as it is a catchphrase.

The Rose Bowl always seems to do just fine. There's a reason. Tradition.

At the Rose Bowl, stuff happens, stuff that gets retold over generations, that grows in drama over beers and years. Much of college football's treasured lore still echoes in the cracks and plaster of the aged-like-fine-wine Pasadena Palace.

Let's sample what has preceded Mariota and Winston.

The Rose Bowl is where:

— California's Roy Riegels, in 1929, picked up a fumble and ran toward his own end zone against Georgia Tech. A teammate tackled him on the one-yard line, but his mistake led to a safety and an 8-7 Tech win. He died in 1993 without ever shaking the nickname "Wrong Way."

— Ohio State's crusty Woody Hayes, in 1973, shoved a camera into the face of Times photographer Art Rogers before the game, injuring Rogers and prompting Hayes to stalk out of the postgame news conference when asked about it.

— An unheralded USC substitute quarterback named Doyle Nave, in 1939, came off the bench to throw four straight completions, the final one a touchdown pass, to Al Krueger, to beat heavily favored Duke, 7-3. Krueger's nickname was "Antelope."

— A left-for-dead University of Wisconsin team, in 1963 — entering ranked No. 2 and facing No. 1 USC — came roaring back from a 42-14 deficit in the fourth quarter behind quarterback Ron Vander Kelen and receiver Pat Richter to fall just shy, 42-37. In Wisconsin, it's still not a loss. It's the day the Badgers just ran out of time.

— The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, in 1925, left hoof prints on Stanford, 27-0.

— Ten years later, Stanford lost again, this time to an Alabama team that had, as a pass-catcher, a fast and scrawny player named Don Hutson.

— A 170-pound UCLA defensive back Bob Stiles, in 1966, made a tackle on the goal line on a Michigan State two-point try, colliding all out with 220-pound Spartan fullback Bob Apisa. The hit preserved a 14-12 Bruins victory and knocked Stiles out.

— Fullback Fred "Curly" Morrison, still hale and hearty and living in Temecula at age 88, pounded the Cal defense in 1950 to help Ohio State to a 17-14 win. Morrison was the game's most valuable player and is in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

— Pat Haden, the current USC athletic director, threw a 38-yard scoring pass to J.K. McKay, the current USC senior associate athletic director for football, to beat Ohio State in 1975. It was 18-17, with Haden's two-point passing conversion. Haden says his pass to McKay was pinpoint and impossible not to catch. McKay says it wobbled, was underthrown and caught only because of superior athletic ability.

— Northwestern — yes, Northwestern — played and narrowly lost in 1996 to USC and Keyshawn Johnson.

— With the national title at stake in 2006 and USC leading with 6:42 left, 38-26, Vince Young led Texas back and won the game with a scoring run on fourth and five from the eight-yard line with 19 seconds left. Young, a quarterback, rushed for 200 yards, still a quarterback record.

This New Year's Day, Mariota and Winston will be serving the main course. Wear your bibs.