Rose Bowl Memories
My friend Dave and his wife Ann are spending the night here in St. Louis with us. I was with Dave and Ann at the Rose Bowl on New Years Day in 2008. There's a 2008 Rose Bowl reunion this weekend. So it only makes sense that I would write about everything I remember from the 2008 Rose Bowl.
For starters, by far the most amazing thing is the number of Illini shirts you see around Los Angeles. I traveled to the Rose Bowl with Dave, Ann, and our friend Brian, and we all stayed at a hotel near LAX. We get there on maybe the 30th, we check into our hotel, we head out to explore Manhattan Beach, I step out of the elevator, and in the lobby of this LAX hotel alone there are 10 Illini shirts. I wasn't wearing orange (I have no idea why not), so I asked everyone to wait for me, went back upstairs, changed into Illini orange, and came back downstairs. In the lobby, seemingly 15 Illini shirts. On the shuttle to Manhattan Beach, three more Illini shirts. Walking around Manhattan Beach, orange and blue everywhere. A Rose Bowl trip is one big "I-L-L" fest.
And this is just at one of 50 hotels around LAX (which is 30 miles from Pasadena). Everywhere you turned there were Illini colors. Restaurant we went to that night, Illini shirts. A random Denny's in another part of town - "I-L-L!". There are two moments in my life where I felt Illini Nation descend - St. Louis in April of 2005 and the Rose Bowl on New Years Day in 2008. (Remember, I missed the 2001 Sugar Bowl for a girl.)
The day of the game itself, we had tickets for the parade (of course). Cheered when the Marching Illini went by (of course). Marveled at that much effort for a parade. And then made the decision to walk from downtown Pasadena to the Rose Bowl.
If you've never been there, it's not exactly close. Our Rose Parade seats were near Pasadena City College, which is 4.5 miles from the stadium. So that was a WALK walk. For you Chicago people, that's basically walking from Water Tower Place to Wrigley Field. Traffic in Pasadena when the parade is over is mass hysteria, so honestly, walking to the stadium was faster than taking a cab. But that walk takes maybe an hour and a half.
When we got to the stadium, it was time to tailgate. Another friend's parents had driven their RV out, so that was a great time. And again, orange and blue EVERYWHERE. It seemed like the Illini fans wanted to tailgate and the USC fans just drove from home at gametime. I can't emphasize this enough: orange and blue as far as the eye could see. We had invaded and found no one defending the castle.
Then came the game. Entering the stadium was... interesting. If you've been there, you know what I'm about to say. You walk around until you get to your tunnel, and that tunnel is A) seemingly three feet wide, B) seemingly 250 feet long, C) the stuff of any claustrophobic person's nightmares. With the speed that the crowd files in, you're in the tunnel for.. eight minutes?
But the view is worth the wait. You finally emerge and can't stop looking at the word "Illinois" in the endzone. And, as you know from watching on TV, it's just one big giant bowl. Row 1 is down by the field, row 77 is up at the top, and that's it. Every section is like that, circling the entire field, 90,000 seats, the end.
We were in the north endzone, so the Jacob Willis fumble happened right in front of us. Yes, I have to talk about the game. A few things:
- I go back and forth between "that was the closest non-close game ever" and "we couldn't stop them from running the ball so the game was bound to end up a blowout in the fourth quarter". Haven't ever really settled on one thing. I think both are true. If Willis doesn't fumble as we're about to score, it's 21-17 with 22 minutes left and anyone's ballgame. On the flipside, USC scored on their next four possessions (and mostly shut down our offense) so even if we had cut it to 21-17 it would have probably been 49-17 before we could blink.
- I've never seen a team get luckier than USC that day. Again, they put up 633 yards and we destined to destroy us. But they had about five one-in-fifty luck plays. The ball that bounced to Joe McKnight. The ball that Kevin Mitchell popped directly in the air with a big hit... only to be caught in stride by a USC player who ran for a first down. Even the PI call on Miami Thomas (man, that one still makes me mad). So much complete and total luck. (And 633 total yards.)
- Our lack of a run game was the difference, really. We had 144 yards rushing, but 79 of the 144 came on the one long run by Rashard Mendenhall at the beginning of the second half. The rest of the game for Rashard and Juice: 65 yards on 36 carries. Yes, that's 1.8 yards per carry. Yes, you're going to lose that game almost every time.
- Time it takes to get sick of the USC fight song: halfway through the second time you hear it. Number of times they play it: 633.
I'll be honest, the journey back to the hotel after the game was one of the longest trips of my life. When you're in the Rose Bowl, if you lose the Rose Bowl, honestly, it's fine (because you were in the Rose Bowl). I don't think I've ever been depressed about the loss at all. It was a "just happy to be here" moment, if anything.
But when you get up at 5:30 to make sure you make the parade on time, and then you walk 4.5 miles to the stadium, and then you tailgate for hours and hours, and then you sit through a 3.5 hour game, and then you make the long walk to the train to the bus to the hotel 30 miles away, by the time you get back to your bed you're absolutely exhausted. Worth it, but exhausted.
Dave and Ann took the redeye home after the game, so I'm not sure why I'm complaining about being tired. They had all that I mentioned above AND an overnight flight. But yeah, I think I slept until 11:00 the next day.
But... I couldn't get out of LA without doing one moronic thing. Brian and I are flying home the next day, me to St. Louis, him to Minneapolis, and when I set up my flight I was choosing between two redeyes - one that left at 12:10 am and one that left at 11:55 pm. I chose the one that left at 11:55 pm. And when I went to check in for my flight, I realized that I had been looking at one flight that left at 12:10 am on January 3rd and another flight the left at 11:55 pm... on January 3rd. "Sir, your flight isn't for 24 hours."
Brian is already on his way back to Minneapolis, and all of the other flights were overbooked. so I have to call my boss, tell him I'm missing work on the 3rd, and find a hotel at 12:30 in the morning. I found one, spent the day on the beach in Manhattan Beach again the next day, spent a couple hours at some microbrewery that evening watching the Illinois/Ohio State basketball game on ESPN (we got destroyed), and then finally caught my 11:55 pm flight.
Man, great trip. Great memories. I honestly still don't care that we lost. OK, I care a little - my dream is to see us win a game there in my lifetime, and I missed out on that dream - but years later that trip still holds some amazing memories.
"Illinois" written across the Rose Bowl endzone? Pinch me.