California, Here I Come: The Rose Bowl Is Calling

Rose Bowl Stadium

When the wintry winds start blowing
And the snow is starting to fall
Then my eyes turn westward knowing
That’s the place that I love best of all

Friends, I’m not here to make your choices for you. You can do what you please. It is, as the saying goes, a free country.

But I am here to say that there is a chance – a pretty good chance in my own personal experience – that your best life involves watching Ohio State play in the Rose Bowl once before you die.

This is an easy thing to push off as something you’ll do “next time.” But history has shown that “next time” could be a while away.

The Buckeyes went to Pasadena for New Year’s Day 1985. They were back in 1997, and then in 2010, and now 2019.

This has been the single greatest stretch of Ohio State football in the history of the program, and yet this will only be the third time in a quarter-century that they have been fortunate enough to end their season in their signature bowl destination.

It’s a bizarre streak that lasted long enough that I wrote about it last year, when OSU narrowly missed out on the Rose and had to settle for the Cotton.

Nothing in this life is guaranteed. Not next year, not next decade, and not that a string of spectacular Buckeye teams will get to wrap up their seasons in one of the greatest venues in all of American sport.

California, I’ve been blue
Since I’ve been away from you.
I can’t wait till I get going
Even now I’m starting in a call

You probably don’t recognize those words in italics. It’s all the stuff that people don’t sing while they’re saying, “nah nah nah, nah nah nah, nahnahnahnah” and waiting for the two lines of “California, here I come” that they actually know to come back around so they can start singing for real again.

California, here I come
Right back where I started from

The song was written by Al Jolson in 1924, and it sappy and hokey and definitely a relic of a distant past.

For OSU fans of a certain age, hearing the Ohio State Marching Band play its rendition meant that the Buckeyes had just completed a successful season.

That was a tune that only came out late in The Game, with the Buckeyes comfortably ahead of Michigan, with the Big Ten title and their Rose Bowl berth secured.

TBDBITL did not play “California, Here I Come” on Saturday night in Indianapolis. At that point, the Buckeyes knew only that they could have been headed to the Rose Bowl. Or the Cotton Bowl. Or the Orange Bowl.

By the time it was official on Sunday, everyone had packed up and gone home.

But they’ll have a chance to play it in Pasadena.

Where bowers are flowers bloom in the spring
Each morning at dawning
Birdies sing and everything
A sun kissed miss said “Don’t be late!”
That’s why I can hardly wait

Trying to explain a New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl to someone who hasn’t been there is a great way to sound like Jolson – a little sappy and a little hokey.

It’s just… different.

I’ve been on several bowl trips considered among the best in the nation.

The Fiesta Bowl is nice. The Cotton Bowl is nice.

The Rose Bowl is the Rose Bowl.

If you grew up somewhere that it gets cold and gray for seemingly six straight months in the winter, you knew what you were going to see when you turned your TV set on at 5pm on New Year’s Day.

The grass was impossibly green. The end zones painted brightly. The sun was shining. Two of the best college football teams in the country were playing.

If you’re in your 30s or older, you’re probably hearing Keith Jackson’s voice inside your head right now.

Then, late in the third quarter, the sunset hits the San Gabriel Mountains behind the stadium and everything turns an impossibly pretty combination of colors.

I attended the 1997 Rose Bowl as a freshman at Ohio State. Weather-wise, it was a clunker: one of the few overcast New Year’s Days in Tournament of Roses history.

Game-wise it was a classic. Jake Plummer, Joe Germaine, David Boston, and a frantic final five minutes that denied Arizona State a national championship.

Somewhere, there is a photo of 18-year-old me standing in front of the iconic Rose Bowl sign a few days before that game wearing Tevas and jean shorts because of all the people there, I was the most 1996.

I spent a good amount of time trying to find that photo today, but came up empty. If I do stumble upon it, my solemn pledge to you is that I will post it before this year’s game.

And if not, I can take another one this year, because the Rose Bowl never changes. The sign is the same, the grass is just as green, and the sunset is just as spectacular. It’s the Rose Bowl.

That photo – wherever it is – is old enough to legally drink. But the Buckeyes have only been back to the Rose Bowl once since then.

Later this month, you have an opportunity that doesn’t come around nearly as often as you’d think.

In the words of Ferris Bueller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”

Open up, open up, open up that Golden Gate! 
California, here I come!

6 Responses

  1. For Christmas ’96 I gave each of my 2 children (23 and 21) a rose. After a minute of “whaa?” they got it. This was my only trip and it was all you would expect. I had forgotten the sky was gray not blue because of the great parade and even greater game. The night before at a definitely OSU hotel, my son and nephew led a script OHIO in the hotel bar.
    After the game we had more to celebrate as the next night the Buckeyes 73 – ttun 71. A great 3 days spent in Pasadena.

  2. Woe Nelly! (Not many hear will understand)

  3. Thanks, Tom. If you’ve never experienced the Rose Bowl in person with all the trimmings you can just shut up and admit you’ve not experienced peak Buckeye fandom. It’s more than just a game. Next question. Ohio State has a special place in Rose Bowl lore. For more years than not it was THE biggest game of the season, even bigger than the Michigan game and a bigger challenge. I believe OSU still needs a few wins in the Rose Bowl. It’s the only bowl game that matters beyond the corporate sense. The Rose Bowl is magical when the Buckeyes come to town. From the parade to the setting in the Arroyo Seco there’s no more perfect venue for a New Year’s Day bowl. Forget those Arlington and Glendale corporate hellholes. The Rose Bowl is in an enchanting canyon in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. A meeting with the PAC-12 champions (not Oregon) will be fun.

  4. What an interesting year;
    1. If someone would of told us before the season began that OSU would beat TCU, PSU, MSU, MI and win the B1G by the average of 15 pts, we would be ecstatic and expecting to be in the CFB playoff. It was our games against IN, MN, PUR, NE and MD that cost us.

    Before the MI game, win or lose, we would of most probably have been playing in the ROSE BOWL, we just took the high and pleasant road of getting there, notable embarrassing TSUN, then winning the B1G back to back.

  5. I was at the ’97 Rose Bowl, too. It is probably the only time in my lifetime I’ll have the opportunity to attend a Rose Bowl. I couldn’t believe that the ONE time I was able to go, the weather was as putrid as back home. In fact, IIRC, it was actually warmer in Columbus than in Pasadena on one of the days we were there.

    In the end, it was still the Rose Bowl, and I’ll always have fond memories for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was the way the Buckeyes came back and ripped out the hearts of ASU.

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