Five Most Memorable Rose Bowl Games of Recent Memory



Earning the right to play in the Rose Bowl is a dream for every football loving kid in both Pac-12 and Big Ten country. “The Granddaddy of them all,” this game between the Wisconsin Badgers and Oregon Ducks will be the 98th edition. By far the oldest of all college football bowl games, the centennial year will also see Pasadena hosting the national title game in 2014.

I have a very close friend who’s originally from Pasadena, California and lives here in Chicago today. And I’ve explained to her that earning “your way to Pasadena” is the pinnacle for Big Ten football fans. Pasadena exists in this framework as an Eden, a refuge from winter where it’s supposedly 74 and sunny everyday, and watching the sun set against the mountain behind the Rose Bowl Stadium is supposedly worth the price of admission by itself.

It’s home to her, a place; but to Big Ten folk it’s a Utopian state of mind.

Yes, if there’s any romance at all left in the business of college sports it’s concentrated in the one bowl game where your experience is literally promised a rose garden. I’m certain that Pac 12 kids don’t appreciate this game as much as the Upper Midwestern snowbirds who travel much farther to reach Rose Bowl Drive and Arroyo Boulevard; because it’s played in Los Angeles county, home to two conference teams. One of them, UCLA, has been playing all their home games at the Rose Bowl Stadium since 1982.

That said, here are five recent Rose Bowls that Upper Midwesterners will never forget, for various reasons:


2007 USC 32, Michigan 18

Historically, the Rose Bowl has matched the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-10. However, Michigan entered as the league runner-up. The Big Ten champions, Ohio State, were ranked #1 and instead participated in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game (where they got waxed badly by LSU). The Wolverines entered their last regular season game 11-0 versus the also undefeated Buckeyes in the game of the century, #1 vs. #2. UM fell in Columbus 42–39 and there were calls to have a rematch (like we have this year) in the national title game.

Well, USC promptly showed us why Michigan didn’t belong in that rematch, and LSU did the same in regards to OSU a few days later. USC leads all schools in Rose Bowl appearances and wins (24-8 all time). Michigan is second in both categories with an 8-12 mark.


1984 UCLA 45, Illinois 9

You see that lopsided score and wonder what happened? UCLA Entered the game 6-4-1 and unranked while Illinois was 10-1 and #4 in the nation. It was the first time that an unranked team defeated a top five team in a bowl game!

So now you’re REALLY wondering how did this upset happen?

Well there’s a very infamous urban legend surrounding this game. It’s never been verified, but it’s a story retold many times within the college football world. I’ll tell you what I heard offline/off the record.

This game also has a ton of personal relevance to me, as it’s my first sports memory. It was the first sporting event I can ever remember watching on television.


1988 Michigan State 20, USC 17

Spartans vs. Trojans- it doesn’t get any more fitting than that. Classical Civilization class wouldn’t have it any other way. The Spartans broke a school record for wins last year, and can tie that record this year yet have no Rose Bowls or BCS bowls to show for it. Sad.

But at least they have this game, where Percy Snow bested Rodney Peete.

1997 Ohio State 20, Arizona State 17

The Sun Devils entered undefeated, ranked #2 in the nation, and had hopes of capturing the school’s first national championship in football. (This was the penultimate year before the BCS took hold) ASU was led by Jake Plummer and Pat Tillman. One of the most dramatic finishes in RB history, OSU won 20–17 when game MVP, QB Joe Germaine led a last-minute touchdown drive. One of the game’s most exciting finishes.

michigan wolverines

1998 Michigan 21, Washington State 16

This capped off a perfect season for Michigan and gave the storied program it’s most recent national title.

The game’s ending is controversial. On WSU’s final drive, the Cougars got a first down at midfield even though Washington State WR Nian Taylor possibly interfered with Michigan CB (and Heisman winner) Charles Woodson on a 3rd down pass play.

On the very next play, Washington State completed a hook-and-ladder inbounds, temporarily stopping the clock (for a first down) with two seconds remaining. When the first down markers were reset the clock was started back up. WSU immediately hiked and then spiked the football. The officials ruled that time had expired.

This was the final year that the Rose Bowl was not part of the Bowl Championship Series and the game was not branded with corporate sponsorship. Both the BCS and the era of all bowls having corporate names began the next season.

This day was also arguably a huge turning point in the life of a young Wash St. signal caller named Ryan Leaf. He declared for the NFL Draft the very next day and became the #2 overall pick by the San Diego Chargers. It’s well documented how his NFL career flamed out and the issues he’s had in his professional and personal life since. And since we all remember what a hero he was to the college game, so before the loss you could say this is when everything peaked like the San Gabriel Mountains for him.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; and he’s a member of the Football Writers Association of America, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.


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