After my trip to the Rose Bowl I finally understand why the Pac 10 and Big 10 have maintained their kung-fu death grip on the rights to play every year on New Years Day in Pasadena, and have been so hostile at the thought of an outsider like TCU crashing their party – it's that special. The pageantry and atmosphere was nothing short of electric, and watching the Rose Bowl on TV simply can't do it justice, trust me. If you are a TCU fan and you skipped this to stay in Fort Worth and watch on TV or perhaps you made plans to have a couples weekend in Broken Bow, Oklahoma (hypothetically, of course), then you should be ashamed of yourself and you will definitely regret it down the line. I was planning on being lazy and simply doing a "photo essay" to summarize the experience, but I have so many thoughts rattling around in my head that my lackluster and shaky-handed camera work wouldn't properly portray the moment enough to stand alone. So please follow along as I attempt to paint you a picture of my journey through my fog of jet lag, sleep deprivation, and mild alcohol poisoning.
There was no better juxtaposition to hopping on a plane in snow-covered Denver than landing in sunny California. As we made our approach, I looked intently out the window soaking in the Los Angeles geography while simultaneously attempting to ignore the young Asian-American boy next to me wearing a pilot suit, who was doing a full-scale reenactment of Pearl Harbor with his seeming endless supply of toy planes. While December 7th, 1941 raged on to my left, I couldn't help but be impressed by L.A.--the city is massive and absolutely breathtaking, with the San Gabriel Mountains and Pacific Ocean forming a natural boundary around the city. Now I completely understand why the city of angels is chock full of transplants from the East, and as much as I love Colorado, it definitely got me thinking. Geography aside, I officially knew we were in Cali when we turned on the radio in the rental car and "Keep Their Heads Ringin" by Dr. Dre came blasting through the speakers. There was just something poetic about driving out of LAX, gazing at palm trees, and listening to old school West-coast gangsta-rap. It summed up the moment perfectly.
1 vs. 100
Our first stop from the airport was for beer and burgers at "Sharks Cove," a sports bar in Manhattan Beach. It was there that we finally realized how truly outnumbered we were going to be all weekend as we were the only purple people in a sea of red. We decided to christen the trip by sending over a round of "purple hooters" to all of the Badgers bellied up to the bar, and much to our amazement, they barely acknowledged our existence until finally one kindly older Badger in a pristine red #28 jersey came over, chatted us up and reciprocated by buying us a round. He will go down in the books as one the only decent fans we came across the entire weekend, but more on that later. The moral of the story is that to say Wisconsin traveled well is like saying Amy Winehouse has a drug problem, because both statements completely underscore the reality of the situation. Wisconsin didn't just travel well to LA, they completely took over the entire city like the Russians in "Red Dawn," only they didn't parachute in, probably because those things have a limited weight capacity (I kid, I kid!!).
The Meat Locker
Instead of staying in a hotel I was lucky that a close family friend was generous enough (or naive enough) to open up his home in Manhattan Beach to myself and a handful of my TCU buddies—a decision he surely regrets today. We stayed in a guest room that was separated from the house like a guest house would be, that they had turned into a "man cave" of sorts and his family had dubbed the "bonus room." After a weekend of us defiling the "bonus room," it has now been renamed "the meat locker," due to the unbearable man-stench that now inhabits it's every pore. The place really needs an exorcism to get all the evil out of there, but as we don't know "an old priest and a young priest," we are currently leaning towards burning it to the ground and building it back up again. This won't be cheap so donations are welcomed via paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being a Coloradoan and going to college in Fort Worth, I have grown accustomed to a more laid-back environment, which is the main reason I've never had any interest in Los Angeles because of the preconceived notion that it is pretentious and uptight with wannabe celebs ruling the roost. However, the beach towns in LA really changed my outlook and were night and day from what I was expecting in la-la land. Manhattan Beach really reminded me of a Breckenridge-esque ski town type of vibe, which is more my speed.
Stay Classy, Wisconsin!
After learning about the Badger nation during my question and answer series with Adam Hoge of Bucky's 5thQuarter, I was pretty excited to tailgate with the Wisconsin fans and get after it. Even more so after I saw this quote by ESPN's Erin Andrews in the FWST:
"I think it could turn out to be the most exciting Rose Bowl in quite a while. It's two of the classiest fan bases to have out in Pasadena. I don't know if you've ever hung out with Badger fans before, but they're some of the best people in America."
I'm sorry Erin, but you don't know the first thing about Badger fans. They were truly awful to be around and are the worst fans I've ever come across in my life, and that's including the Aggies. When we arrived in Pasadena at 8am ready to tailgate in Lot 7, I was expecting to hear all the various traditional cheers that Wisconsin is so famous for, but instead of a chorus of "On Wisconsin" all we heard from our tailgating spot were choruses of "F*** TCU" and "A**hole, A**hole, A**hole" whenever someone in purple walked by their group on the way towards the stadium. Now, I personally don't have a problem with you saying this to my group of friends and I, because quite frankly we are a**holes, and we can take whatever you can dish out and are fully capable of finishing whatever you'd like to start. But when you are screaming obscenities at groups of families with young children, that is when it crosses the line. I'm not sure what Ms. Andrews defines as classy, but I would hope cursing at children isn't part of her definition.
I don't think this was an isolated incident, because just about every TCU fan I talked to had a similar experience to draw from, though I will say that the offenders seemed to be exclusively from the younger generation and that the older fans were mostly hospitable—though, for the most part, they just pretended we were invisible. I'm not sure what to attribute this to: small private school vs. large public party school, southern hospitality vs. Yankee arrogance, or Big 10 vs. non-AQ elitism. Right now I am thinking it is just the difference between the type of people that inhabit the north and the south because when we went to Clemson last season they were the nicest people on the planet. The few Wisconsin fans that actually did come over to chat proved to be the most uneducated fans I've ever come across and they had absolutely no doubt in their minds that the Badgers were going to stomp the Frogs and most were surprised that we were drinking.... heavily ("I thought you guys were a Christian school?").
"If cussing at little kids is cool, consider me Miles Davis." (via Zellaby)
The tailgating scene at the Rose Bowl is one of epic proportions. Everyone parks on a plush golf course, and you have complete free reign of the place with no actual authority figures to be seen. What a nice change of pace from being harassed by overzealous TABC officers and power hungry, golf-cart riding event staffers in Fort Worth. You truly haven't lived until you've played beer pong on a golf course at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. My only complaint is that having a tailgate party after a New Years Eve party is hard on the liver, especially if you were "calling up dinosaurs" at 5am like I was. It feels a bit like how people used to do their bachelor parties the night before the wedding. There's a reason it isn't done that way anymore, so if I was going to recommend a change I would say to push the start time 2-3 hours.
Does this man look like an a**hole to you? Wait, don't answer that...
The Rose Bowl is the complete opposite of Jerry World in every way, and that's a good thing. After all who wants to see a football game in a stadium that looks like it came straight out of "Flight of the Navigator?" While the Rose Bowl is barely functional based on modern standards with long lines everywhere you turn, it makes up for it with it's breathtaking old-school style, mountain backdrop, and the greenest grass you've ever seen in your life. There doesn't appear to be a bad seat in the house, although it wouldn't hurt to add another Jumbotron and some more bathrooms.
Stuff you didn't see on TV
There were more than a few memorable moments at the game that I was surprised didn't make it to air and am very pissed at myself that I didn't get a picture of any of them.
-Right when we arrived, the Jumbotron was panning the crowd and stopped on ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel who was wearing a TCU windbreaker. Of course the TCU crowd goes nuts until he reveals some Wisconsin garb underneath, then of course he removed it and "wash rinse repeat." Once he was getting down to taking off his last t-shirt, the Jumbotron feed cut off abruptly and it is unclear if that was the plan all along or if he had purple and red nipple tassles on underneath (my friend’s theory) and the Rose Bowl just chickened out.
- Sometime during the second half, the TCU cheerleading squad led a cheer with signs that read "Nikki will you marry me?" Who Nikki was or if she said yes was strangely never revealed, but I just hope she wasn't the poor girl who reportedly pee'd her pants waiting in line for the bathroom.
- As soon as TCU had the game iced and was setting up their victory formation, a Badger fan decided it would be a good idea to run across the field. It is unclear what his line of thinking was but it apparently was, "My team lost and this weekend is already down the crapper, so I might as well spend the night in jail." I was mildly disappointed that the guy didn't get tazed or tackled at midfield as most of the authorities seemed disinterested in chasing the poor schlub, with the exception of the security guard at the far end of the field, who sprinted 80 plus yards with the clear intention of cold-cocking the guy. Man, I wish I could have seen that.
Sitting Behind the ESPN College GameDay set
We were seated in the corner of the TCU endzone 4 rows back from the ESPN College GameDay set, which meant we couldn't see the halftime shows because of the retractable awning that was raised when filming. But watching the GameDay crew interact on and off the air was more than worth it after watching these guys religiously every Saturday for the past four months. A couple random thoughts:
-Desmond Howard is a straight up "G," he just gives off a confident larger-than-life swagger that I never really catch on the telecasts as I typically forget he is a Heisman winner when watching him on TV. For some reason, some ill-informed TCU fans decided to chant "Dez you suck!" before the game started to which Dez seemed puzzled by as he mouthed "But I picked TCU!" Fortunately our fans made up for it later by chanting something to the effect of "We love Dez!" after the game. Also, in case you are wondering, he wears jeans under his suit top.
-Chris Fowler had some sort of a mental breakdown during the halftime show where he slammed his fist down on the desk and just generally looked like he was going to pimp slap the entire off-air crew whenever the cameras weren't live. You couldn't hear what he was saying, but it definitely seemed like he was having a Bill O'Reilly "Do it live!!!" type of moment. Though I don't really care, because Fowler could run a school bus full of children off a cliff and I would still love him as he is the best talent on ESPN in my opinion and he is chummy with Patterson.
-When Herbstreit made his way onto the field. the chants of "Herbie's a hater" began, which Chris Fowler and Todd McShay seemed delighted by. When Herbstreit finally made his way to the stage he made the Wayne's World "we're not worthy" motion. which I thought was pretty darn classy of the guy.
Corso may or may not be having another stroke in this picture, this was probably his last GameDay at the Rose Bowl.
The TCU Crowd
I have never been a part of a better TCU crowd, we were loud and rowdy and I didn't hear anyone yell "sit down!" once. My hands still hurt from all the high-fives exchanged (though I missed a fair share of them thanks to two-parts inebriation and one-part uncoordination), my throat felt like it was bleeding internally from all the cheering, and I still don't have my voice back. We were outnumbered 2 to 1 by Badger fans, but I still thought we showed well and got as loud as you could've expected 30,000 TCU fans to get. Although when the Wisconsin fans really got loud it sounded like an atomic bomb was being dropped and it literally made my ears ring from all the way across the field.
I had a blast with the fans in our area, and everyone seemed very football-savvy and enthusiastic. I spent most of the TV timeouts (of which there were many) conversing with a female fan who clearly knew more about the team than I did and was probably a better fan than I was. And to make matters worse, she revealed to me after game that she was actually an Aggie. See, we have t-shirt fans too!
Plays of the Game from our view of the field
As I said earlier, we were in the corner of the TCU endzone which luckily is where all the big plays went down. Here are the most memorable plays from my vantage point:
1.) The circus show that was the 3-man downed punt inside the 5 yard line. This was just perplexing and awe-inspiring and it happened right in our line of sight. I knew special teams would play a major role, but it was Anson "The Texas Hammer" Kelton who made the difference instead of Jeremy Kerley like everyone thought it would be.
2.) The 40-yard bomb to Josh Boyce. There is nothing cooler to see live than a long pass play, and this one was no different. We could see Boyce beat his man and come streaking right for us and we were screaming "he's open" and then Dalton's perfectly thrown ball came in towards him and it was like poetry in motion.
3.) The Immaculate Deflection. This also happened right in front of us and tensions were running so high the entire crowd just exploded when Tank thumped that ball to the ground. Simply amazing.
View of the field from our seats.
My random thoughts on the game
- The way Fuentes and Anderson drew up the first TD to Bart Johnson by faking the bubble screen to Jeremy Kerley was nothing short of brilliant considering that all the Wisconsin defensive backfield talked about at media day was stopping Kerley.
- The Wisconsin offensive line was as advertised, and they threw our guys around like rag dolls all day.
- Defense played "bend but don't break," just like I predicted.
- Dalton came out hot like we need him to, and had the game of his life.
- JJ Watt is overrated. The guy is big with a nice bullrush but that's about it. Running the zone-read at him pretty much neutralized the guy, and I think he is going to struggle at the next level because he is so immobile laterally.
- If I was a Wisconsin fan I would be pretty upset with Bielema about the offensive game plan, the 2-pt conversion, and the use of two timeouts early in the 4th quarter.
- Tolzien is a tough kid. He took licks all day long, especially from Tank Carder, but he kept popping back up like it was nothing.
- This game was nothing short of amazing and was a total slobber-knocker from start to finish. So glad I was there.
- I couldn't imagine a better way for our seniors to go out, pumped they got to have this moment in time and were treated like kings all week in Pasadena.
- I thought the uni's were great and was thrilled that Del Conte wasn't just placating us with his "purpled up" comments. I also thought the rose in the mouth of the Frog was a nice touch.
(via LI Phil)
It's gotta be the shoes
We could tell early on that they players were slipping like crazy but I didn't attribute it to the new shoes until we got word from someone watching at home. I really appreciate all the love that Nike has given our program lately, but maybe being guinea-pigs for an experimental shoe design with retractable spikes wasn't the greatest idea for the biggest game of the Gary Patterson era. Never in a million years did I think we would travel without our original shoes as reported during the game and if that truly is the case someone's head in the athletic department needs to roll. That is inexcusable and truly could have cost us the game. It will be interesting to see what Oregon does in the BCS National Championship game, because they are slated to wear the same shoes thanks to their Uncle Phil.
You could hear a pin drop
As obnoxious as the Wisconsin fans were before the game, they were perfectly silent on our way back to the cars, which was surprisingly satisfying. I found it odd that none of their fans felt compelled to offer up a "good game," but knowing how upset they were about it and that they were going to be shoveling snow in Cheeseville the next day made it that much sweeter. On Sunday it rained almost all day, which surely added to their depression. And much to my surprise, we were no longer outnumbered by the red-coats as the majority of them had switched allegiances and had thrown on their Green Bay garb to forget about what happened the day before.
I couldn't have had a better weekend. Everyone we met from Los Angeles was very hospitable and welcoming. The city was downright gorgeous and was even smog-free for our visit thanks to all the recent rain. The Wisconsin fans sucked, but it's sweeter because we won and it was obviously all they had in their lives, besides the Packers I guess. Bottom line: the Rose Bowl should be on everyone’s "bucket list" as it is truly a remarkable event.