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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

January 2, 2014 at 11:00 AM

Rose Bowl kid: Coming home to watch my alma mater lose in Pasadena

By Ed Guzman

Ed Guzman, who grew up in Southern California near the Rose Bowl stadium and attended Stanford, writes about going to “The Grandaddy of them all” to watch his alma mater play Michigan State on New Year’s Day in the 100th Rose Bowl game. Guzman is an assistant sports editor for The Seattle Times.

The scene of the 100th Rose Bowl game from my seat.  Photo courtesy of Ed Guzman

The scene of the 100th Rose Bowl game from my seat.
Photo courtesy of Ed Guzman

PASADENA, Calif. – I’ve loved the Rose Bowl game for as long as I can remember being a sports fan. The pomp and circumstance, the pageantry, the parade before it, all of it.

I’ve loved Stanford football for not nearly as long, but probably as fervently. And when two of my sports loves cross paths, it’s hard to pass up a chance to be on hand — especially when afforded a second chance of sorts (more on that in a moment)

I grew up less than 10 miles from the Rose Bowl stadium in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, and this time of year always felt magical. And you couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the fans and alums who would come out every year to revel in their teams. Whether it was teams that were regulars (USC, Michigan, Ohio State) or teams ending long droughts (Oregon in 1995, Northwestern in 1996, Purdue in 2001), it would be a joyous atmosphere everywhere you went and saw these people.

The first Rose Bowl I ever attended was in 1993, when the Huskies squared off against Michigan (I’ll pause here to let UW fans gnash their teeth over the memory of this one). It turned out to be Don James’ last game and Washington fell short, but my love affair with this event was sealed.

Two-plus years later, I enrolled at Stanford. At the time, the Cardinal had not played in a Rose Bowl since Richard Nixon was in office, when Stanford’s nickname was the Indians. The thought of the Cardinal playing in a bowl game I loved seemed beyond my wildest dreams.

And then it actually happened when Stanford edged out Washington for the 1999 Pac-10 title. I had graduated the previous June and sure, I was working as a cub reporter at my first newspaper job at the time, but I had to go.

Much like Michigan State’s fans this year, we were so giddy to be here. It had been 28 years, after all. We had no idea how often this would happen so we were determined to enjoy it. Yes, we ended up losing the game. But we finally got to see OUR team in the spotlight.

“See you in 2028?” we kept jokingly telling each other.

But it seemed to ring true, especially as Stanford football fell into disrepair. The 1-11 season in 2006 is still fresh enough in my mind that I know not to take the Cardinal’s current run for granted.

When Stanford returned to the Rose Bowl last season, I could not make it. I was working at The Washington Post at the time, and the cost of a cross-country trip was prohibitive. It was tough to not be there for Stanford’s first Rose Bowl win in 41 years. But it was a necessary decision, especially now that other priorities had taken hold in my life.

And yet, a year later, Stanford managed to make it back. There were plenty of twists and turns along the way (somehow losing to Utah, dominating Oregon for three-plus quarters, blowing it at USC, then slipping in when the Ducks couldn’t win at Arizona). Now that I was working on the West Coast, this felt like quite a second chance to be there for the 100th Rose Bowl.

Game day was as magical as I remember it. The joy and excitement was palpable. And the game was hard fought. It came down to a fourth-down play, and the Spartans seized the moment.

It was a disappointing end as a Stanford fan. But as I see Michigan State fans, players and coaches celebrate in front of me on the field, I realize that even in the current bowl system, the Rose Bowl still holds a special place after all these years.

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