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Tradition No Longer Matters at Rose Bowl

PASADENA, Calif. - Hey, Gramps. Or maybe you would prefer Granddaddy, because that's the way you're always referred to in Rose Bowl literature, as "the Granddaddy of Them All."

Love you - I'd have to, or I wouldn't have dropped by 57 straight times, planning to make it 58 Friday - but you're becoming virtually unrecognizable.

Once, you mattered. Once, you were young and vibrant and special. Once, you had tradition. Of course, once there were only four college bowl games on New Year's Day.

Now it seems like there are 40. Or 400. Now you're just another one of those postseason games played everywhere - Yankee Stadium? - and at every moment.

I'm looking at the front page of Thursday's USA Today. There's a headline, "14 bowls in 3 days.'' You're one of them. At least they gave you one of three undefeated teams still standing at this time, Texas Christian.

Nothing against the Horned Frogs. They're from Fort Worth, where the town slogan is "Where the West Begins.'' But how did a team from Texas get into the Rose Bowl? Oh, yeah, they're not the first.

The University of Texas made it. And last season the Longhorns played in the Rose Bowl as they competed in the BCS Championship Game, if not the Rose Bowl game.

Our historic concepts of geography have become useless, what with Louisiana Tech in the Western Athletic Conference and the Class-AAA New Orleans Zephyrs in the Pacific Coast League. Does this mean Fort Worth's motto is fraudulent, and the West really begins someplace around Shreveport?

The Rose Bowl is for schools like USC, when they don't get caught cheating, or Stanford. Or, particularly this season, Oregon, which won the Pac-10, the conference that automatically used to provide one of the representatives.

But Oregon has been shipped to the BCS Championship Game, which fortunately is scheduled sometime before the Super Bowl and spring training, and Stanford is headed to the Orange Bowl.

Wisconsin, TCU's opponent, offers a bit of nostalgia, a team from the Big Ten. Starting in 1946, that conference contracted to send its champion to the Rose Bowl to face the winner of the Pacific Coast Conference, which eventually became the Pac-10.

Michigan against Washington. UCLA against Ohio State. Midwest against Far West. So tidy and understandable.

Oklahoma or Nebraska always went to the Orange Bowl, Texas or Arkansas to the Cotton Bowl. There was no such thing as the Fiesta Bowl - sorry, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. There was a sensibility. A comfort. The comfort has turned into confusion. And disappointment.

Indeed, Granddad, you might have a fantastic game. But so what? Wisconsin is supposed to be facing the Trojans, like that 1963 game when USC led 42-14 in the fourth quarter, and Badgers quarterback Ron Vander Kelen threw for 401 yards and Wisconsin barely lost 42-37.

Nearly 50 years later, that's still the benchmark Rose Bowl, although Texas' 41-38 win over USC in 2006 is right up there, even if in actuality it doubled as a BCS Championship Game, as well as a Rose Bowl game.

They keep taking away our memories, our history. They keep trying to fix what isn't broken. Do you think the world is a better place because there's no Pac-10 team in the Rose Bowl?

To make the situation worse, for the TCU-Wisconsin game there's even the possibility of "drizzles,'' the euphemism employed in Southern California to avoid the word "rain.'' It never rains on the Rose Bowl. Well, almost never.

There was a deluge in 1934, another in 1955 and then some mist in the fourth quarter in 1996, when Keyshawn Johnson led USC over Northwestern, 41-32. Pac-10 vs. Big Ten, a real Rose Bowl, Northwestern qualifying for the first time since 1949.

Otherwise, the weather has been beautiful, if not to the late, great columnist Jim Murray. Jesting, he whined every New Year's Day that the snowbound population in places like Iowa and Ohio would watch the Rose Bowl and decide then and there to move to California, creating even worse traffic jams.

No one can do much about the weather. Or the way everything has been arranged through the BCS series about the opponents in the Rose Bowl.

"I am seriously irritated by this thing,'' former Stanford linebacker Chuck Evans told the Los Angeles Times. "Tradition goes out the window again, like it has most other things.

Evans understands, even if as the rest of us he doesn't understand why the Rose Bowl in effect was diminished from what it used to be with the Pac-10 and Big Ten.

Those in charge of the Rose Bowl explain the game had to accept TCU over Stanford because of a clause that it would take the non-BCS automatic qualifier (the Horned Frogs) the first year of the new four-year BCS contract that it lost an anchor school (Oregon) to the BCS title game.

Like others of his age, Granddaddy no longer gets any respect.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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