When I go to bed at night, I dream about one thing and one thing only: roses.
When Jeff Tedford was the coach of the football team, he would joke that Cal fans wanted to see a Rose Bowl more than a national championship.
It’s not a joke. I absolutely would rather see the Bears in the century-old Rose Bowl than in the BCS National Championship, which has only existed since the 1990s.
For longtime Cal fans, getting to the Rose Bowl is like an itch that can’t be scratched. Cal hasn’t been to the game since 1959 and hasn’t won it since 1937.
But the time for Cal to make it to Pasadena is running out.
In 2014, college football will begin a four-team tournament known as the College Football Playoff to determine the national champion.
The casualty of this new system is the tradition and identity of the Rose Bowl. If Cal were to ever make it to Pasadena for New Year’s, it’s likely that the Rose Bowl would look very different from the one that Cal played in 1959.
Once that system begins in 2014, the Rose Bowl won’t even exist a third of the time. As one of the six bowls selected to rotate as part of the semifinals in the new playoff, the Rose Bowl will only feature the traditional matchup between the Pac-12 and the Big 10 twice every three years. In the year where it serves as the semifinal, the Rose Bowl will host two of the top four schools, regardless of conference.
Of course, it’ll still be called the Rose Bowl. It’ll still take place on January 1. And I’m sure that there will still be roses.
But will it really still be “the Granddaddy of Them All?”
What if two SEC teams are in the Rose Bowl fighting for a chance to be in the national championship? Will they even take place in the historic Rose Parade that predates the game itself? And even if they do, will they even care? Will they even appreciate where they are?
When Cal fans talk about Tedford’s best days, we don’t talk about when he almost led us to a No. 1 ranking (and presumably a shot at the National title) in 2007. We talk about all of those years when we almost made it to the Rose Bowl.
In 2012, when Stanford got its turn at the Rose Bowl, fans came down with “Rose Bowl fever,” where fans held rallies and viewing parties to celebrate the Cardinal’s place in the bowl. On January 1, an unprecedented number of Cardinal supporters showed up at the game in Pasadena.
When Oregon clinched the Pac-12 and a spot in the Rose Bowl in 2010, its first appearance since 1995, fans rushed the field, and the Duck mascot was seen crowd surfing with a bouquet of roses.
Would a school from any conference outside the Pac-12 or Big 10 do the same? Would anyone outside of those 24 teams show that kind of excitement?
When I was in high school, I dreamed about spending my New Year’s in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. I’d bet that kids in the Midwest, where the Big-10 schools are located, feel similar, seeing as by January they’re usually knee-deep in snow, and a trip to Pasadena would be like a vacation.
But kids in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida or in any other conference don’t dream about roses — they dream about championships.
The Rose Bowl should end with one team going home a winner — not preparing for another game. It’s college football’s oldest bowl and is one of the few to derive its legitimacy from tradition, not money.
The Rose Bowl shouldn’t be just a precursor to the National Championship — it should be the Rose Bowl, with all the tradition and history that it brings.
Contact Riley McAtee at [email protected]