PASADENA—I thought, frankly, we all could have used a break between “greatest” Rose Bowls ever.
Come on, are you serious?
I thought last year’s 103rd Rose was once in a lifetime, what with USC edging Penn State, 52-49, on a last-second field goal.
That was the highest-scoring Rose Bowl…for a year.
The 104th edition, played for even bigger stakes as host of one of two national semifinals, topped it with a scoop of whipped cream.
Georgia defeated Oklahoma, 54-48, in double overtime—take that 2017!
Last year’s game had a prettier sunset, I will give it that. There was more rain, and chill in the air and more purple on the mountains.
This January gem was contested on a hazy Monday and ended on a 27-yard run by a runner named Sony (pronounced “sunny.”)
Here’s more weather coming at you: It’s going to be cloudy all winter in Norman, Ok.
What a game, what an atmosphere, what a scoring fest, what a nightmare for the stats crew. These are different Rose Bowl experiences for me, however, no longer under the gun of a newspaper deadline.
I can literally, now, smell the Roses. I couldn’t be on the field in 2006 when Vince Young scored his game-winning touchdown to win the national title for Texas.
For my money that USC-Texas remains the best Rose Bowl I have covered, because it was also thrill-a-minute and decided the national title.
I just couldn’t enjoy it in real time the way I enjoyed Monday’s game. I couldn’t stand at the end of that one to absorb the beauty of it. I wasn’t there to smell the grass or even witness that USC song girl awkwardly raising her pom-poms thinking the Trojans had won.
My 2006 stomach was churning upstairs in the press box as I frantically rewrote my USC “dynasty” story with an editor, and a clock, hanging over my shoulder.
That was me, then.
Me now was running all over the Rose Bowl field at the end of Monday’s game, snapping pictures on my outdated camera phone as Georgia players goofed all over the field. I stood at midfield and felt the breeze of momentous victory wash by, and over me, then ran to the end zone to take a photo of “Uga,” the school’s famous mascot.
THIS is what attending an important football game is supposed to feel like. I hated, no HATED, the story I wrote on Texas-USC a decade ago and, to this day, have never read it.
I got to inhale Monday’s epic and even get a little sentimental knowing it was the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Rose Bowl, Michigan vs. Washington State.
That one lives with me for one reason: it was the last Rose Bowl legendary sports columnist Jim Murray covered for the L.A. Times. And I got to sit next to him. He died the following Aug. 16, the same death date as Babe Ruth and Elvis.
Being Murray’s press box colleague for his final Rose Bowl was more than a fond memory. Jim needled me all afternoon when I told him, if Michigan won, I’d be taking a red-eye to Miami to cover the Orange Bowl between Nebraska and Tennessee.
This was a year before the BCS was formed to help alleviate, but not eliminate, the chance of “split” national titles.
If Michigan won, it would likely clinch the AP national title. The Wolverines were No.1 in both the writers’ and coaches’ polls, but we all knew the sentimental coaches couldn’t be trusted with their share after Nebraska coach Tom Osborne had announced his retirement before the game. We knew, if Nebraska won, there was a good chance the Cornhuskers would claim the coaches’ share of the title.
(Which is exactly what happened).
During that Rose Bowl, every time Michigan did something positive, the great Jim Murray would nudge me with his elbow and offer quips:
“Do they have movie on that flight?” he’d say. Or, “I hear their serving chicken.”
It was such a thrill—for me.
Murray would have hated and loved Monday’s Rose Bowl. He would have hated the fact it did not, classically, involve a Pac 12 or Big Ten team.
He would have hated the fact so little defense was played as the offenses dominated with 1,058 combined yards.
Murray would have, no doubt, dusted off some “Dust Bowl” jokes about Oklahoma getting lost on its way to the Cotton Bowl. He would have provided us a history lesson on Georgia’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 1943.
My guess is that Murray would have also focused on a key turning point at the end of the first half of Monday’s game. It involved a Georgia kicker named Rodrigo Blankenship, who looks more like a bookkeeper than a football player.
Blankenship wears thick, black sporting goggles and his head, stuffed in his helmet, looks like a puffer fish. Murray would have been all over this guy. On a field gushing with points, yards and world-class athletes, “four-eyes” Blankenship played a critical role.
He kicked a 55-yard field goal, a Rose Bowl record, on the last play of the first half. It came after Oklahoma had scored a touchdown with six seconds left.
After the touchdown, though, Oklahoma foolishly opted for a “squib” kick that traveled only 12 yards.
That allowed Georgia to throw a quick pass to set up Blankenship’s kick, which cut the Oklahoma lead to 31-17.
“They were able to steal three points on us,” Sooners’ coach Lincoln Riley lamented later.
It was a huge, second-half momentum swing. After an Oklahoma three-and-out, Georgia scored in 11 seconds, on Nick Chubb’s 50-yard run.
Oh, Jim Murray would have fun with that. He might have even let Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels off the Rose Bowl hook.
The end of Monday’s game left me floating in a sea of statistics but with a begrudged appreciation for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, the sometimes off-putting Heisman winner. Baker took defeat with uncommon grace.
He did not blame any of the loss on the illness that invaded his body this week.
“No, no, no,” Baker said. “I felt fine.”
Mayfield even lingered on the field to congratulate the victors before getting emotional in his post-game presser.
“Can’t believe it’s over,” he said with his hoarse voice. “It’s been a wild ride.”
It was, and you had to be there. No, you REALLY had to be there.
I’m glad, after all these years, I finally was.