To generations of Midwest college football fans, there is just something about the Rose Bowl.
“I grew up in the state of Ohio watching the Rose Bowl for many, many years,” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, whose first Rose Bowl will be his last as a college football coach. (He plans to retire afterward).
“It’s for the bucket list, and it will be a great honor to go coach in it,”
Not surprisingly, this is also true of fans on the West Coast.
Chris Petersen, who is getting set to coach Pac 12 champion Washington against Meyer’s Buckeyes in the 105th edition of the Rose Bowl, has fond memories of “The Granddaddy of Them All” growing up in California.
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But what about the current generation?
The 18-22-year-olds who populate the rosters of the Buckeyes and Huskies only know the College Football Playoff and its predecessor, the BCS.
Rather than Jan. 1 being jammed with bowl games big and small, ESPN’s “bowl season” filling December with games (mostly small) is the norm.
Not only does the Rose Bowl have far more competition in a postseason that has bloated to 40 games, 20 seasons have passed since reaching Pasadena ceased being every Big Ten and then-Pac 10 team’s ultimate goal, at least on an annual basis.
The Rose Bowl’s stature might have started eroding with the advent of the BCS in 1998, but it turns out the game is still a special destination for the current generation.
“Definitely — this is a game you dream about growing up as a kid,” said Parris Campbell, a senior Ohio State receiver from Akron. “Obviously, we'd like to send coach Meyer out the right way and send the seniors out the right way.”
Fellow receiver Terry McLaurin admitted he would have preferred to make the playoff (sending the Buckeyes to the Cotton Bowl or the Orange Bowl this year), but he sees the Rose Bowl as an opportunity to live out a childhood dream of a different sort.
“I remember watching some of those great teams, especially with (USC tailback) Reggie Bush and guys like that playing in these games,” the Indiana native said. “I'm watching it as a little kid like the Rose Bowl is ‘The Granddaddy of Them All.’ You've got the playoff now, but if you have that next best bowl to go to, I feel like this is the one. And to end my career out in Pasadena hopefully with a ‘W’, I can't ask for anything more.”
The Rose Bowl’s reputation, it turns out, is strong enough some players know it’s a big deal… without even knowing exactly why.
“This is my first time,” Robert Landers, a junior defensive tackle from Wayne High School, said.
“I didn’t really know too much about the Rose Bowl until recently. I did my homework on it because I kept hearing, ‘The Granddaddy of ‘em All, the Granddaddy of ‘em All,’ and I was like OK what does that mean?
“So I did a little bit of homework and I understand. It’s a blessing. Being a local guy, just playing for Ohio State is a blessing for me. It’s a dream come true. I appreciate every moment and every day that I get to put that scarlet and gray on that I get to suit up with these boys, whether it’s practicing against ‘em or playing with ‘em on Saturdays. I appreciate every moment of it and this game playing in this Rose Bowl is a blessing.”
OK, so two guys from Ohio and another from Indiana are in agreement, but what about players who grew up outside Big Ten country?
The answer is again yes, and in the case of at least one Buckeye that is actually because of the BCS rather than in spite of it.
“The Rose Bowl is ‘a thing’ where I am from,” confirmed J.K. Dobbins, a sophomore running back from La Grange, Texas. “I grew up a Texas Longhorns fan, and the Rose Bowl back in 2005, that was a big game.”
That’s probably an understatement as the game that followed the 2005 season turned out to be not just a national championship game pitting Texas and defending national champion USC but an instant classic punctuated by Vince Young’s game-winning last-minute touchdown scramble for the Longhorns.
“I remember watching that,” Dobbins said.
Of course, the current Buckeyes from California are excited about a trip out west, too.
“It’s unbelievable,” said true freshman receiver Chris Olave of Mission Hills. “I grew up watching on the West Coast, and the Rose Bowl, and being able to play in the Rose Bowl in my first year is awesome. So I can’t wait to get out there.”
He and Wyatt Davis, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Bellflower, both said they were having a hard time coming up with enough tickets to handle the requests coming their way.
“It means a lot, just to be able to play in front of all of my family and friends, and even my high school coaches,” Davis said. “So I’m looking pretty forward to going back and playing in it.”