Stadium: Rose Bowl
Playing Surface: Grass
First Game: January 1, 1902
Playing Sites for the Rose Bowl Game: Tournament Park (1902, 1916-1922), Rose Bowl (1923-1941), Duke Stadium in Durham, NC (1942), Rose Bowl (1943-2020), AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX (2021).
The oldest and, arguably, most prestigious of the college football bowl games. The Rose Bowl, or Tournament of Roses, is referred to as "the Granddaddy of them all."
On January 1, 1902, purposed to help fund the cost of Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Parade, the Tournament East–West football game was first played between Michigan (east) and Stanford (west) before a crowd of 8,500. It was the nation’s first post-season college football game. Michigan, however, so dominated Stanford (49-0) that, by the third quarter, Stanford chose to quit the game. Because this first football game was so embarrassingly lopsided, Tournament of Roses officials decided to instead try a variety of other sporting events such as foot races and bicycle, horse, pony, donkey and ostrich races. They even staged a race between an elephant and camel. In 1904, they started holding Roman-style chariot races, inspired by the popularity of the novel Ben Hur at the time. The last chariot races were held in 1915 after which they were determined to be too dangerous. In 1916, football was reinstated at the Tournament of Roses (State College of Washington vs. Brown).
Tournament of Roses football games were initially played at Tournament Park in Pasadena. The size of spectator crowds, however, quickly outgrew the park’s capacity, prompting the Tournament of Roses to seek a larger, more permanent venue. In 1923, the first Tournament of Roses game was played in the newly-built Rose Bowl that had a capacity of 57,000 (now 90,888). The game has since been played at the Rose Bowl, except in 1942 (due to security concerns shortly after the country entered war with Japan, the event was temporarily moved to the East Coast) and in 2021 (due to a severe surge in COVID-19 cases in California and state public health restrictions against in-person spectators at sporting events, the event was temporarily moved to Texas). The game continues to be played on January 1, unless that day falls on a Sunday, in which case, it is played on Monday.
In 1946, the Big Ten Conference and Pac-12 Conference (then Pac-10) came to an agreement with the Tournament of Roses that the champion of each conference play in the Rose Bowl Game. It was the nation’s first intercollegiate postseason bowl agreement between two major conferences. The first game was played on January 1, 1947, between Illinois and UCLA.
The first live Spanish-language broadcast of the game took place in 1988.
*The Tournament of Roses officially maintains that radio coverage of the Rose Bowl game first occurred in 1926. However, L.A. radio historian Jim Hilliker counters that the first local radio coverage of the Rose Bowl game occurred in 1923 on station KHJ.
The record crowd for a Rose Bowl event was 106,869 at the 1973 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Ohio. USC won that game 42-17.
The crowd of 86,848 at the 2003 Rose Bowl Game between Washington State and Oklahoma was the lowest at the Rose Bowl stadium since 1944 (68,000 then watched USC trounce Washington 29-0). Attendence at the 2021 Rose Bowl Game between Alabama and Notre Dame was even lower at 18,373, but this was because the event, only for the second time ever*, was held outside Pasadena. It was held in Arlington, Texas, because California public health officials could not then grant an exemption for crowd events due the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
* The first Rose Bowl game held outside Pasadena was in Durham, North Carolina, in 1941, due to the outbreak of World War II.
In 1983, Rose Bowl stadium hosted that year's Army-Navy football game, making it the only venue west of the Mississippi River ever to host an Army–Navy Game.
Also see: The Rose Bowl Flea Market