Rose Bowl’s return to its rightful place offers loyal fans a level of normalcy
After a financially devastating year in which its marquee game was transplanted to Texas, the Rose Bowl stadium found itself Saturday deep in the red — and loving it.
With Ohio State playing Utah, making its first appearance in the Rose Bowl game, the storied venue was as red as the Pasadena skies were blue.
“When the game went away, it was so painful that I cried,” said Miguel Yepez, promoted to turf superintendent this season after nearly two decades as the top assistant. “Then I started watching the game today and it happened again. I started crying. It’s very emotional.”
He wasn’t alone, not even close. Even in this dystopian pandemic, the storied game felt to many like a step back toward normalcy.
CJ Stroud surpassed 500 yards passing, Jaxon Smith-Njigba had 347 receiving yards and Marvin Harrison Jr. had three TD catches for Ohio State, who came back from a 14-point halftime deficit.
“Playing in the Rose Bowl was the greatest sports moment of my life,” said Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, the game’s most valuable player in 1978 when he led the University of Washington to victory over Michigan.
“I’ve played in [NFL conference] championship games, I’ve played in playoff games. Just being able to play in this game, as a kid who grew up in Los Angeles, always watching USC, UCLA, a little dab of Stanford. That was my goal when I went to Washington, to be able to bring a team from the Pacific Northwest back here to play in this.
“Finally got a chance to play in the game, then to be able to win the game against a great Michigan team as a 17-point underdog, then be named MVP of the game? Couldn’t ask for a greater sports moment.”
Steve Smith, who grew up in L.A. and rose from relative obscurity to NFL stardom as an All-Pro receiver, relished seeing Utah, his alma mater, in its Rose Bowl debut even though the Utes came up short 48-45. The NFL Network analyst watched the first quarter from the sideline before moving up to a suite. Everywhere he turned, he was greeted by fans and old friends.
“Man, this is awesome,” Smith said as Utah took a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter, before Ohio State staged its dramatic comeback in the final 18 minutes. “For us, the University of Utah, we’re not there yet. But we’re getting there. To be able to come here and have our fans show up for our players is a great experience.
“When I was coming out 20-some years ago, it was said that I didn’t come out of a big school. To see what we’re considered now says something, both for athletics and an education.”
The Buckeyes have been to 15 Rose Bowls. Judging by the sweatshirts, jerseys, hats and noise, the crowd heavily favored the Utes.
Ohio State’s exciting comeback victory over Utah in a gutsy Rose Bowl thriller showed that college football players do indeed put the game first.
“This is definitely a home game,” Smith said.
Former Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt, now a college football and draft analyst for Fox, spent the day with his wife and their three young sons, soaking in “the quintessential college football game.”
“The fact that it’s back here is vital,” he said, referring to last year’s game being moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, amid COVID-19 concerns. “I think that it needs to play a vital role moving forward. It should be an anchor point to the expanded playoff moving forward.
“First of all, it’s the most beautiful stadium in the country, and it reveals itself to you once you come down through the neighborhood, and then all of a sudden it’s there. It’s almost like there’s a ray of light shining on it.
“I remember the first time I came here. We were playing UCLA in a nonleague game. I felt like that every single other time I’ve come here, whether it’s broadcasting a game or coming here as a fan.”
As fans of this storied event go, few can measure up to Reynolds Crutchfield, who has attended 78 consecutive Rose Bowl games, even last year’s displaced version.
“It was a real nice place, but it wasn’t the Rose Bowl,” said Crutchfield, 91, who was born in Pasadena and raised in Altadena but now lives in Santa Rosa.
“It’s not just the game, it’s the setting, it’s the San Gabriel Mountains. … The first Rose Bowl game I went to in 1945, my parents took me to the game with a friend, and in the second half I said, ‘I’m going to go to 50 of these in a row.’ I don’t know why I said that, but I did.”
Turns out Crutchfield underpromised and — like the Rose Bowl itself — overdelivered.
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