FOX Sports Contributor
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – I paint the rose in the field of the Rose Bowl.
For some reason the maintenance team deems me worthy enough to hold the brush, dip it in vermillion paint and fill in the stencil they already sketched on the legendary field. I feel like one of the playing cards in Alice in Wonderland when they paint the white roses red. Such a magical event should only take place behind the mirror.
But that’s not it. It’s taking place in real life, as part of our Ultimate College Football Road Trip, and I’m just a mortal, come to pay tribute to the beating heart of college football.
This is the Rose Bowl. There is no greater sight in sports than the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, when the sun sets behind the San Gabriel Mountains and paints the landscape in shades of pink and purple. Players enter the field in one of those old Microsoft screensavers.
I first saw it in person on Thursday night, two days before UCLA and USC meet on the field (8 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports App). Saturday’s game will be UCLA’s Senior Day and it will be time for this year’s senior class to take on USC in front of fans because of the pandemic.
Standing in the beauty of the Rose Bowl feels as significant as its history. This is one of the oldest stadiums in America. It was built at such a rate between February and October 1922 that it won engineering awards. The stadium, which was built on the city’s former rubbish dump, celebrated its centenary this year. In the on-site museum, I saw a 1914 wagon wheel and license plates that the contractors dug up at the groundbreaking (by the way, I was a full-grown adult when I found out they had 1914 license plates). .
The stadium takes its name from the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. It was an event first organized in 1890 by the Valley Hunt Club (which, as far as I can tell, was just a club for people who wanted to do outdoor stuff). According to legend, club member Charles F. Holder said: “In New York, people are buried in the snow while here our flowers bloom and our oranges bear – let’s have a festival to tell the world about our paradise.”
As someone who lives in New York City, I feel attacked. But it’s a hard point to argue with.
This venue has become an integral part of the American and international sporting landscape since its inception. Aside from its vaunted place in college football, it has hosted five Super Bowls, the 1984 Men’s Soccer Gold Medal Olympics, and the Men’s and Women’s World Cup.
And not just any Women’s World Cup, but the 1999 final between the USA women’s national team and China. I remember it vividly. When I was 10 years old, I watched on TV sitting in one of my best friend’s living room with our entire youth soccer team. The game had come down to penalties and we all bit our nails and watched through our fingers as Brandi Chastain stared at China’s goalkeeper. Chastain did the kick, ripped her shirt off and we all went insane.
Brandi Chastain’s iconic World Cup moment
Twenty years after her iconic World Cup moment, Brandi Chastain relived her incredible moment, from what went through her mind as she stepped on the spot to her legendary reaction.
Standing on the sacred ground where my first experience of sports euphoria actually took place was bucket list stuff. Because I grew up with this team, I never thought that women’s sports were less than men’s sports, even when the world I lived in tried to condition me to it. Brandi’s moment of glory in her sports bra stuck in my mind. It showed me what strength, raw emotion, and a total disregard for obscure societal expectations looked like. It felt fitting that it was held at the Rose Bowl, a name so elegant and traditionally feminine for a place so tough and enduring.
But I wanted to come here for other reasons. The setting takes my breath away every year on TV when I watch the Rose Bowl. Not to quote myself, but here’s what I once wrote about watching Georgia and Oklahoma play in 2018:
“I’m stress-eating at this point. I sweat. I laugh. I tweet. I’m doing a short circuit. I’m obsessed with the Rose Bowl. I want to move to the Rose Bowl. i am a rose I’m made of bowls. My hands are soccer balls. I’m laughing uncontrollably again now as we go into overtime for the first time in Rose Bowl history.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm celebrates after the Bulldogs defeated Oklahoma in a semifinal game of the 2018 College Football Playoffs at the Rose Bowl January 1, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
I’m happy to report that it’s just as majestic in person. The Rose Bowl is the kind of place you think only exists in your imagination until you actually go there. Nestled in a valley surrounded by palm trees and the quaint neighborhoods of Pasadena. It’s quiet here when the stadium is empty. Most of the time, empty stadiums echo the specter of crowds and helmet crashes.
But the Rose Bowl feels like a portly elderly aunt in a silk robe welcoming you into her home with a cup of tea. “Why did it take you so long?” The place seems to ask. The best I could do was say I’ll try to come back.
Because despite its calm, there’s a kind of exhilaration in this stadium – Brandi tore her shirt off here for a reason. And now, after seeing it for myself, I fully understand how this place provides the perfect stage — painted roses and all — for the greatest moments in the sports world.
Charlotte Wilder is a general columnist for FOX Sports. She’s honored to represent the perennially neglected Boston area in the sports media, loves speaking to sports fans about her feelings, and loves eating a hot dog at a ballpark or nachos at a stadium. Follow her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.
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