How the Rose Bowl became 'The Granddaddy of Them All'

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Editor's note: This article is a part of a series reviewing Utah and U.S. history for's Historic section.

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is appearing in its first Rose Bowl Saturday, and going into it in grand fashion.

On Tuesday, the team unveiled their game-day uniforms, which includes a new helmet featuring a rose intertwined into their interlocking U logo.

And why not go all in? The Rose Bowl hits differently than most other bowl games, even when it's out of the rotation of the College Football Playoff festivities.

For starters, the Utes are set to become just the 42nd school to play in it since it debuted in 1902 and became an annual tradition in 1916. The list of current FBS programs who have played in the game is a bit smaller considering some of the programs either don't exist anymore or have dropped down to lower levels within the NCAA system.

Remove last season's game held in Arlington, Texas, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and over 90,000 people have attended the bowl game every year since the 1950s. So how did the Rose Bowl become such a big deal?

The birth of postseason football

Yes, college football dates back over 150 years, but the first game that fits the description of a bowl game wasn't played until Jan. 1, 1902. After more than a decade of hosting the Tournament of Roses Parade, the City of Pasadena, California, wanted to make their New Year's celebration bigger and better.

Billed as the "Tournament East-West Football Game," it's now considered the first-ever postseason football game. In comparison to other sports, it also predates the World Series.

The matchup pitted the top two teams of each side of the country: The University of Michigan and Stanford University. This was years before television or radio, but the idea captured the attention of Americans.

Digital newspaper archives show that it was interesting enough that Utah newspapers ran wire stories about the upcoming game. An article that ended up in a Dec. 31, 1901 edition of the Salt Lake Tribune lamented that it may end up "too hot for football" to be played. Still, it noted the extreme level of interest.

"There is every indication that the contest will draw one of the largest crowds ever gathered together in southern California for a like event," the article noted. "The sale of seats has been unusually large and the town is filling up with lovers of the game from all quarters."

Reports from the time state about 7,000 people showed up to Tournament Park in Pasadena for the game. For what it's worth, the Tournament of Roses Association says it was more like 8,500. Either way, it was the largest crowd in the region's history at the time.

An article published in the Jan. 2, 1902, edition of Ogden Daily Standard noted that the day was "perfect," even though it was warm. The fans also "presented all the animation and much more color than the average football crowd."

But there's a reason the second Rose Bowl wouldn't happen for almost another 15 years. The first game was awful — hysterically awful. Michigan trounced Stanford 49-0.

"The score is quite in proportion to the general superiority of the Eastern men at the game of football. … Michigan's superior knowledge of the game showed in every play," a reporter noted in that Ogden Daily Standard article. "At kicking, general teamwork, running, tackling and bucking the line, the Michigan men excelled."

The Tournament of Roses Association decided to scrap the game after one attempt. It was replaced with Roman-style chariot races inspired by the book Ben-Hur, according to the organization's history.

The second time's the charm

The organization wouldn't attempt another football game again until 1916. Washington State defeated Brown 14-0 in that one.

However, fans were hooked by then as a result of how the game had drastically changed in 14 years — thank you, Teddy Roosevelt. This time it became a permanent fixture.

"The introduction of the game as an annual event came as college football was winning a heightened measure of national popularity and developing more modern techniques, including the forward pass," historians wrote in a document for the National Register of Historic Places.

Attendance at games soared into the tens of thousands, prompting the need for a new stadium. Myron Hunt designed the Rose Bowl in 1921 and the new facility was completed in late 1922, just in time for the 1923 contest.

It only continued to rise with popularity with the new stadium. Over 50,000 people came to see USC defeat Penn State 14-3 in the first game at the new stadium.

Since it was now at the Rose Bowl, the game would go on to be referred to at the Rose Bowl Game, played every year since — aside from a break tied to World War II. Almost all the games have been played at the Rose Bowl, too. The game was moved to North Carolina in 1942 as a result of wartime restrictions on the West Coast and to Texas last season due to COVID-19.

What's now the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences struck a deal with the Tournament of Roses in 1946 to have their conference champions play in the game. That deal remains in place to this day in years that the Rose Bowl isn't tied in with the College Football Playoff.

"The Granddaddy of Them All"

By 1927, the games were finally broadcast live via radio. The first televised game happened in 1952. The first coast-to-coast TV broadcast in color came 10 years after that.

The broadcast world brought the Rose Bowl its famous nickname. The late, great broadcaster Keith Jackson is credited with coining the term, "The Granddaddy of Them All." A statue of him now stands outside of the structure.

There's truth to that name, though.

The Rose Bowl's influence caught on elsewhere over time. The Orange and Sugar bowls, in Miami and New Orleans, would arrive in 1935 with the same type of concept. Today there are dozens of them in college football and the NFL combined.

Every one of these games pays homage to the Rose Bowl. Multiple sources point to the universal football term "bowl game" as some sort of reference to the Rose Bowl.

And Utah now gets to add its name to that lasting legacy.

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for


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