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This Paint Job Not Exactly a By-the-Numbers Concept

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While visiting revelers are painting the town, Pasadena’s Phil Ishizu has been painting the field.

Call him the Rose Bowl Rembrandt.

For the 30th consecutive year, Ishizu is overseeing the painting of the stadium’s playing surface--from the rose logo at midfield, to the colorful end zones, to the 12-foot-wide restraining stripes that keep on-field photographers at a safe distance.

Ishizu, who owns a nursery in San Gabriel, has worked closely over the years with Pasadena architect Don Murphy, the person responsible for creating the field graphics and making sure the end result is impeccably precise. The designs must be approved by the participating schools, the Pacific 10 and Big Ten conferences, the game officials and the NCAA.

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For Monday’s game, one end zone features “WASHINGTON” in light yellow letters on a purple background, and the other reads “PURDUE” in black letters on a background of the same light yellow.

“Our job is to transpose the graphics from paper to field,” Ishizu said.

That’s not as simple as it sounds. Before the 1972 game between Stanford and Michigan, Ishizu and his crew adorned the north end zone with “STANFORD” in huge red letters. Then, Ishizu took another look and realized the letters were supposed to be white.

“It was late in the evening when we discovered the problem,” he said. “We decided to pack it in, go home and decide what to do in the morning.”

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But they caught a heavenly break when it rained overnight and turned their misguided handiwork into a blood-red, soupy mess.

“It looked like someone had slaughtered a herd of cattle in the end zone,” Ishizu said. “We just took a hose, washed it down the drain and started over.”

For the 1976 game, Murphy and Ishizu incorporated a midfield emblem to honor the U.S. bicentennial. They had planned to paint an American flag on the field, then reconsidered at the thought of players trampling it all afternoon. Instead, they opted for a shield that featured stars and stripes.

“We still got nasty letters about that,” Ishizu said.

Considering the trial-and-error beginnings of field painting, it’s a wonder things have gone so smoothly. According to Ishizu, the process of adding a touch of color to the field began with the 1965 Rose Bowl, when Oregon State requested a gold goal line.

Looking for a way to color the grass without killing it, designers experimented with a batch of water-based gold paint from a local hardware store. The formula worked even better than the conventional chalk lines.

Just like that, a tradition was born.


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