In 1902, the New Year’s day tradition began with a football game pitting teams from the Western United States and those from the East. The first affair was so lopsided that the game took a bit of a break, resuming play in 1916.
Almost exactly 100 years ago in 1923 and with a newly built stadium, the game attained the Rose Bowl moniker and cemented what we now know as “bowl season.” Penn State christened the new stadium by playing the first “Rose Bowl” game against USC, one that didn’t lack for controversy, as the Nittany Lions couldn’t make it in time for the game, and USC coach Elmer Henderson accused Penn State coach Hugo Bezdek of intentionally trying to delay the game. Penn State would go on to lose that game, 14-3.
Now, 100 years later, we entre another era of college football. The Rose Bowl as we know it is about to end, and Penn State sits at the bookend of another story —the chance to be the last “Rose Bowl” champion while the Rose Bowl is still the Rose Bowl.
Penn State and Utah entered the game as two evenly matched teams, who both faced minimal losses in terms of opt-outs, and plenty of excitement from each locker room to be part of a tradition that spans a century. For the Utes, this is their second Rose Bowl ever, their first being just last season against Ohio State. For the Nittany Lions, their fifth Rose Bowl appearance came with the hopes of closing the careers of so many Lions who have been here through the highs and lows, none of which more visible than quarterback Sean Clifford, who has given everything he’s got to get Penn State to the highs it wants to reach.
You could tell from the start that this game meant something to both squads. The excitement and anticipation made for a highly entertaining contest, one where emotions ran high from start to finish. The desire to come out victorious was apparent from the start, as the teams traded blows early, as the Nittany Lions stroke first. Utah answered immediately, and, after Penn State’s second score —one that the Utes would also answer later, you could tell both teams’ players become more and more heated, getting to the point where the referees had to get involved.
As the emotion of the game continued to get to a fever pitch, Penn State decided they’d had enough. Nicholas Singleton recorded the third longest run in Rose Bowl history and had his “Penn State Rose Bowl moment” as he blew past Utah defenders for an 87-yard touchdown run.
But that wasn’t it. Shortly after, Sean Clifford had his own “Penn State Rose Bowl moment” as his 88-yard touchdown pass to KeAndre Lambert-Smith is the longest in the game’s history.
Another touchdown later, and the game would be well out of hand. The Nittany Lions would go on to win the last Rose Bowl as we know it, and the hopes of a fairy tale end to the careers of all the Lions who were here for the highs and lows, were finally realized.
In the next few days, the word “legacy” may gain quite the popularity when talking about this game, and for good reason. Clifford, the guy who showed all the promise in the world in his first season, who went through so much turmoil in the middle of his career, and put Penn State back on top in his final year with the program, had the game of his life. Having only dreamt of being on this stage as a child, he was finally able to seize the opportunity to leave it all on the field, realizing his dream of being a Rose Bowl champion.
Thanks for all you did for Penn State, Sean. We’re gonna miss you.