Photo Credit: fanbase.com
January 1, 2014 will mark the 100th playing of the Rose Bowl Game. It pits the Stanford Cardinal against the Michigan St. Spartans in a game that many didn’t predict entering this season, but a game where both teams match up against each other well. With a centennial celebration comes much reflecting and searching through history. I have been doing that and will continue to do that through game day. And part of this reflection and searching through history has to include a look through both the Cardinal’s and Spartans’ respective histories in the Rose Bowl Game.
Stanford’s Rose Bowl Game history started as an exercise in futility more than basking in the glory of college football‘s biggest bowl game.
The Cardinal (then known just as Stanford) were beaten up so badly in the first Rose Bowl Game by the Michigan Wolverines that the game didn’t take place again for nearly 15 years. The score may have read 49-0, but the pain had to be much worse; the game was stopped with eight minutes to play and the 49-point difference is still the largest in game history.
The second and third Rose Bowl Games were better for Stanford, but still failed to produce a win. Coming into the 1925 and 1927 games undefeated, the seasons ended in disappointment when Elmer Layden of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish scored three touchdowns in the 1925 game (won by the Fighting Irish 27-10) and then an undefeated Stanford battled the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide to a 7-7 tie in the 1927 game.
Stanford would finally taste victory in the Rose Bowl Game when they beat the Pittsburgh Panthers 7-6 in the 1928 game.
Stanford would appear in three straight Rose Bowl Games during the 1930′s. The first two of these appearances ended in defeat. The 29-13 loss to the Crimson Tide in the 1935 game was especially hard to swallow for the now Stanford Indians since it came in a battle of undefeated teams that was used to decide the public opinion national champion with the polls deciding a champion after the regular season back then. In the 1936 game, the Indians got to dish out the crushing of an opponent’s undefeated dreams rather than feel it when they ended the SMU Mustangs‘ undefeated season with a 7-0 win.
In the 1941 game, the Indians introduced the Nebraska Cornhuskers to their first Rose Bowl Game and first bowl game period. The Indians made the Cornhuskers’ postseason debut a negative one, scoring a touchdown in each of the first three quarters on their way to a 21-13 victory.
It would be just over a decade before the Indians made it back to the Rose Bowl Game. When they did, for the 1952 game, they had the privilege of being involved in the first nationally televised college football game ever. Unfortunately for them, the Illinois Fighting Illini gave the Indians a whipping to the tune of 40-7.
The wait would be much longer this time before the Indians played in Pasadena on New Year’s Day again. When they did make it back two decades later, they helped begin the Pac-12‘s most successful run in the Rose Bowl Game ever.
In the 1971 game, it was Jim Plunkett who lead the Indians to a conference title while becoming the school’s only Heisman Trophy winner. The Indians were underdogs to the second-ranked Ohio St. Buckeyes, a team with national championship aspirations. With the Indians down by four after three quarters, Plunkett lead two touchdown drives in the final quarter to give the Indians a ten-point win and one of the biggest upsets in Rose Bowl Game history.
The following season, the Indians were without Plunkett, but not much else changed; the Indians won another conference title, appeared in another Rose Bowl Game, and pulled off an upset against a heavily-favored opponent. After a safety put the Wolverines up by two with around three minutes left in the game, Don Bunce was able to guide the Indians down the field and into field-goal range. A 31-yard field-goal from Rod Garcia with 12 seconds left gave the Indians another major bowl upset.
After the climactic wins of the early 1970′s, it would be nearly 20 years before Stanford played in the Rose Bowl Game again; by that time their named had changed to the Cardinal. Head coach Tyrone Willingham helped rejuvenate the school’s football program and helped them to a conference title in the 1999 season.
Against Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne and the Wisconsin Badgers, the Stanford Cardinal silenced many of their critics by keeping the heavily-favored Badgers and their star running back in check for the first half. However, Dayne eventually did get going and finished with 200 rushing yards as the Badgers dominated the second half. If any consolation could be found for the Cardinal with this defeat, it’s that they only lost 17-9 instead of by the much larger margins that had been predicted by many before the game.
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