A couple of years ago, in July (the 24th, or as you know it, National Tequila Day), Jose Cuervo replaced three water fountains with tequila in downtown LA, letting anyone over the age of 21 quench their thirst.

Back in 2002, Sony Ericsson sent out a group of actors-as-tourists in NYC to ask passersby to take their picture—with the new SE T68i, naturally.

How engaging.

A century before, in 1902, a group of East-coast, flower-loving ex-pats strategized the granddaddy of all ambient marketing experiments, changing the National/Personal/Professional/College/Media/Etc./Etc. landscape of America forever.

How enlightened.

Travel back in time, late last-last century to California. Swimming pools. (Old) Movie stars. In the 1870s, East-coasters on the hunt for better weather settled in the picturesque community that would become Pasadena, enjoying the climate and housing boom, as well as the luxury both afforded. Incorporated quickly, they established a winter celebration to flaunt those comfortable climes in front of every individual to the right of the national map. “In New York, people are buried in snow,” said Professor Charles Holder, who organized the festival. “Here our flowers are blooming.” And they were off to the races, literally. Ostrich races, a sprint between a camel and an elephant, bicycling battles, marching bands, and of course, plenty of rolling, flowery floats and gayety. Come one, come all.

New Year’s Day, 1890, saw nearly 5,000 visitors view the first “Rose Parade.” Five years later, the event grew to epic proportions, and overwhelming requests, resulting in the organizers forming a Tournament of Roses Association to handle the chaos. The Association quickly saw one thing lacking in their plan—green. Not plants, money. So, in 1902, they launched a fundraising football game on January 1st, the “Tournament East-West Game.”

How yikes.

The Stanford team from the West was annihilated by Michigan, 49-0. In fact, Stanford stopped playing in the third quarter. Rewind, read again. They quit the game in the second half (to be fair, rumor is the Stanford team included students whose parents bribed the school for entry on bogus sports scholarships). This fiasco resulted in a postponement of the game for a baker’s dozen of years, replacing it with the most logical alternative: Live chariot races.

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But the country’s interests shifted a touch in the next lucky 13 years. College football changed rules, and minds, making the game more player-protected and offensive-minded—producing wild excitement. Also, stadiums became prestige points. So, as the game became popular and crowds blossomed, it was determined a new stadium should be built to support a Rose Parade football event. A venue similar to the new horseshoe-shaped Yale Bowl would be strategically placed in an ideal geographical location: The Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena, beneath the San Gabriel Mountains, only a few miles from Tournament Park.

Oh, and WWI ended, too. That created more college students, and more, let’s say, optimism.

Due to the budding interest in football, the tournament game was renewed in 1916, and the west coast entertainment industry was on board. Two of their biggest stars, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., sat on the Harvard bench during the 1920 game.

But the trump card came with the new stadium—dubbed The Rose Bowl by newspaper reporter Harlan “Dusty” Hall—when it hosted its first post-season football game on January 1, 1923.

The first Rose Bowl game in the Rose Bowl:

In 1923, the matchup between Southern California and Penn State had its own set of problems—much like the first tournament game in 1902. But while that initial contest ended early, this game started more than an hour late as the Penn State squad was stuck in traffic. The west team should have stalled a bit longer, as the Trojans lost to the Nittany Lions by a score of 14-3.

The event could not have been more beautifully timed. While interest in the sport was exploding, the Rose Bowl’s breath-taking setting, inter-sectional rivalry and state-of-the-art facility put this game yards, if not miles ahead of any competition. In 1927 alone, 30 million ticket-holders showed up for college games, spending more than $50 million.

The Rose Bowl kept the horseshoe look for another few years until the popularity of the game forced the Tournament of Roses’ to think bigger and rounder. A $100,000+ expansion enclosed the southern end of the structure—making it a real honest-to-goodness bowl!

Today, there are few yearly occurrences that rise above the noise. That create lasting memories. And over 100 years later, “The Granddaddy of Them All,” The Rose Bowl, remains a rush and a thrill, as the game that spawned seemingly hundreds of bowl match-ups. The Rose Bowl has shaped eras, from radio to television, then eventually leading the Rose Parade to be the first event televised in high-definition. It is an integral part of the American framework, not just sending billions of dollars in advertising around the globe annually, but essentially displaying California as the Rose Association sold it a century before: warm weather, beautiful mountains, floral miracles. A better way.

It had all seemed like a dream come true to me—the thrill of being invited.

Paul “Bear” BryantFrom his 1974 autobiography, remembering his 1935 Rose Bowl appearance
Bruce Wilson

Author Bruce Wilson

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