Rose Bowl never loses its luster


There are few events on the American calendar that transcend time, that hold the same appeal today as they did decades ago. The Miss America pageant, once a cultural icon, has been relegated to cable backwater. The Soap Box Derby is dead, and heavyweight boxing might as well be.

The national appetite changes, yet the Rose Bowl thrives. The 100th Rose Bowl will be played Wednesday, New Year's Day, as it always has, give or take Sundays and the onset of World War II. The Pacific-12 Conference champion will play the Big Ten champion, as they have nearly annually since 1947.

As college football has evolved from a regional to a national sport, as it has adapted a championship format with an ultimate winner-take-all game, the Rose Bowl has retained its allure.

It is as evergreen as Christmas, as full of promise as Easter, as American as the Fourth of July. The Rose Bowl succeeds because it presents more than football. It has woven itself into the American fabric by selling what California always has sold: a better life, real (weather) or imagined (Hollywood).

The panoramic beauty of the Rose Bowl setting, nestled in the Arroyo Seco beneath the San Gabriel Mountains, has beckoned America west since Graham McNamee first described it to a national radio audience in the late 1920s.

After the war, as television transformed society, America could see the beauty for itself. In the early 1960s, RCA built an advertising campaign for its newly invented color televisions around the ability to see the Rose Parade in living color.

"It moved really from radio, silent films, films, color, black-and-white television, color television, 3-D television, high-def television," Tournament of Roses executive director Bill Flinn said. "We were the first live event to ever be televised in high def, the Rose Parade."

Californians of a certain age blamed the Rose Bowl for traffic jams and urban sprawl -- if an America frozen and shivering hadn't heard or seen of the beauty of California, the state wouldn't be so damn crowded.

Every few years, Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray would recycle a column suggesting new rules for the Rose Bowl to curb the influx of people. He suggested that no matter the weather, fans in the stands must wear ski masks, mittens and earmuffs. He might have been kidding.

Or maybe not. The Rose Bowl has been accused of arrogance. So have the New York Yankees. So has Apple. So has every institution that ever created its own category. All of postseason football -- the games, the traditions, the team reward -- emanated from the Rose Bowl. The other bowls held parades. They staged halftime shows. They promoted their communities. Yet the Rose Bowl remains a singular event. The nickname -- the "Granddaddy of Them All" -- establishes the bloodline, albeit with a softening touch of affection.

The Cotton Bowl is no longer played in the Cotton Bowl. The Orange Bowl abandoned its namesake stadium, which was torn down. The Rose Bowl stadium, 92 years old, has just received another face-lift, as any aging Hollywood star would.

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