Much has been made of the Ivy League's long-standing ban on post-season play over the years, but the League has been to the Rose Bowl. In fact, four different Ivy football programs have been to Pasadena on New Years Day.
The Tournament of Roses began as a celebration of the New Year in Pasadena back in 1890 as a way to showcase the beautiful weather of Southern California.
In addition to its famous parade, the early celebrations included foot races and tugs-of-war (which was an Olympic sport at the turn of the century). But as the event outgrew the Valley Hunt Club of Pasadena, it began experimenting with a variety of unusual attractions -- things like ostrich races, bronco-busting and a race pitting a camel against an elephant (which was surprisingly won by the elephant).
In 1902, organizers staged a football game between the East and West, but it was not a success as the Michigan Wolverines pounded Stanford, 49-0. Most believe that it could have been much worse, both in score and injury.
The idea of the football game was abandoned. For the next decade the focus event turned to Roman-style chariot races, but those too became a problem. Amid rumors of corruption -- in the form of fixed chariot races -- and high-profile, gruesome accidents, the organizers decided to give football another look. Maybe the West had caught up.
The Rose Bowl was reborn -- in the middle of an uncommon rain storm -- on Jan. 1, 1916, as the Brown Bears faced Washington State. The Cougars stopped freshman halfback Fritz Pollard, the first African-American to play in the Bowl, en route to a 14-0 victory. Brown guard Wallace Wade thought his team failed to focus on the game.
"We were overconfident and took the game as a lark, even attending the Rose Parade first," he said. Not only would Wade later coach in five Rose Bowls; the only game played outside of Pasadena took place in the stadium named for him as his Duke Blue Devils lost to Oregon State in Durham, N.C., in 1942.
The next year -- Jan. 1, 1917 -- the Penn Quakers played Oregon in the Rose Bowl and the West Coast team again won 14-0. This time writers were more willing to concede that football on the left coast had caught up with the Eastern powers as Penn -- with future football legend Bert Bell at quarterback -- had been installed as a prohibitive favorite. It was the last time that the Red and Blue would play a Bowl game... and the last time an Ivy League team would lose one.
Harvard's Rose Bowl moment in 1920 almost didn't happen. The Crimson administration had agreed to play in early December with the following proviso -- "If the Railroad Administration should hereafter establish any regulation or make any request that such trip should not be made, in view of the fuel shortage, the trip would be cancelled."
Days later it was. But there was a significant outcry from the Harvard alumni and days later the Crimson returned to practice to prepare to meet Oregon. The long trip West included stops in Chicago, Omaha, Wyoming and San Francisco before finishing in Los Angeles. While 35,000 fans watched Harvard beat the Ducks, 7-6, the New York Times also pointed out that there was an enthusiastic gathering at the Harvard Club in Manhattan, where the game was reproduced on a graphic gridiron, a visual display of the game's progress with play-by-play. Freddie Church's 15-yard scoring run, the lone touchdown of the game, was met with cheer on both coasts.
The Ivy League's final New Years Day game came as it had began 18 years before -- on a rain-soaked morass in Pasadena, Calif. The weather was particularly bad as 1934 was rung in. More than 30 people died as the storm soaked Los Angeles and Pasadena for 30 straight hours. There were more than a few thoughts of cancelling the game because of the miserable field conditions, but Columbia and Stanford went at it anyway.
Columbia Coach Lou Little was trying to make up for his first visit to the Rose Bowl, when he was a player on the losing Penn side in 1917, but Stanford was a clear favorite. The Lions had been selected to face the Cardinal despite a 20-0 loss to Princeton in the season's third game. As it turned out, Columbia was chosen because of that loss. The team's ability to rebound from that defeat with five straight convincing victories impressed the selectors.
The game was no classic as the Lions mustered fewer than 100 yards and just six first downs, but Stanford coughed up eight fumbles in the slick conditions and Columbia took advantage in the 7-0 victory. Halfback Al Barabas scored the game's only touchdown and Coach Little was thrilled with the win, saying, "If there's a happier man in this world, he must be in Heaven."
— Brett Hoover