Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A History of the "First Rose Bowl" - 1890, 1902, 1916 or 1923?

Michigan defeated Stanford 49-0 in the Tournament of Roses football game in 1902, which is widely considered the first Rose Bowl.

One of the longest-running events in the current American pop-culture calendar is the Tournament of Roses with its iconic parade and annual football game known as the Rose Bowl.  The first Tournament of Roses took place in 1890, but when was the first “Rose Bowl” game played?  The answer is not as easy as one might think.

By one measure, the first Rose Bowl was the 1902 game in which the University of Michigan defeated Stanford by the score of 49-0.  It was the first college game and the first East-West intersectional game held at the Tournament of Roses, but it was a one-off, not part of a continuous series of games now known as the Rose Bowl.  And it was not referred to as the “Rose Bowl” at the time.

By another measure, the first Rose Bowl was the 1916 game in which the University of Washington defeated Brown University 14-0.  That game was the first in the unbroken series of Tournament of Roses football games now known as the Rose Bowl.  For the first seven years of the series, it was known as the “East-versus-West” or “East-West” game.  In the 1930s, syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson noted that the 1902 Michigan-Stanford contest was not “counted in modern Rose Bowl records,” suggesting that at the time, at least, the general understanding was that the “first” Rose Bowl was technically the Washington-Brown game of 1916, the first game of the annual series.

By a yet another measure, the “first” Rose Bowl might reasonably be considered the first Tournament of Roses East-West Game played in a stadium called the Rose Bowl.  The Rose Bowl stadium was not completed until October 1922, and the first Tournament game played there was the 1923 match-up between the University of Southern California and Penn State, which USC won by the score of 14-3. 

But even that game was not contemporaneously known as the “Rose Bowl.”  Early examples of the expression “Rose Bowl game” were not strictly limited to the Tournament of Roses football game.  Other games not related to the Tournament of Roses were occasionally played in the Rose Bowl during the football season, and those games were frequently referred to as “the Rose Bowl game,” the expression being merely descriptive of a game to be played in the Rose Bowl stadium.  But within two or three years of playing in the stadium, the expression came to be used as the name of the Tournament of Roses game itself. 

Although nearly all of the so-called Rose Bowl games (before and after the stadium was built) involved colleges or university teams, two early games involved teams not associated with any college or university.  Two Tournament of Roses football games played during World War I featured military teams other than the Military Academies.  In 1918, the Marines of Mare Island defeated the Army soldiers of Camp Lewis19-7, and in 1919, the Navy sailors of Great Lakes Naval Station downed the Marines of Mare Island 17-0.  Presumably all of those players had some training and experience in high school or college, but were not representing those schools in the game.  The designation of “first” Rose Bowl should therefore not be limited merely to games between colleges or universities.

So when was the “first” Rose Bowl played?  If the game did not have to be contemporaneously referred to as the “Rose Bowl” (like the 1902, 1916 and 1923 games), did not have to be played in a stadium called the “Rose Bowl” (like the 1902 and 1916 games), did not have to feature two college teams (like the 1918 and 1919 games), and did not have to be one of the continuous series of games started in 1916 (like the 1902 game), then there is one more candidate that may lay claim to the honor of having been the first-ever “Rose Bowl” game – the 1890 contest between the Pasadena Football Club and the Wilson School that capped off the events of the first Tournament of Roses on January 1, 1890.

But does that game qualify as a “Rose Bowl”? You be the judge.

The First Tournament of Roses

Two weeks prior to the first Tournament of Roses held January 1, 1890, a local newspaper predicted:

[C]hances are that the events of January 1st next will prove so popular that a New Year’s Day tournament will become a settled feature in the list of the town’s annual occurrences.  Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1889, page 7.

Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1889, page 7. 

Those words were prophetic.  Pasadena, California has hosted the Tournament of Roses on January 1st every year since 1890.[i] 

Then as now, the Tournament of Roses capped off the day with a football game, arguably the first “Rose Bowl.”  The teams were not successful college teams invited to showcase their talents, but recently organized local squads of interested locals, although some of them with significant (for the time) training and experience, playing against and even beating teams like Cal Berkeley and USC.

A game of football between the first eleven and a picked team of Pasadena boys ended the sports of the day. . . . The foot-ball team played a fine game, and are proportionately lame today.

Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1890, page 7.

The “first eleven” were adult members of the newly-formed Pasadena Football Club.  The “picked team of Pasadena boys” was composed of students at the Wilson School, a local high school.  Pasadena won the inaugural Tournament of Roses football game by a score of 12-0.

The game was new in Pasadena at the time; both teams were less than two months old.

Early Football History

The game of American football itself was also relatively new at the time.  Princeton and Rutgers played the first game of intercollegiate “football” in 1869, but under rules that more closely resemble what Americans call soccer today. 

The American game developed among a small cadre of Eastern universities, chiefly Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn, during the following decades.  They adopted Rugby rules in the mid-1870s, making it more like modern American football, but it wasn’t until the early 1880s that they instituted the two rules that changed Rugby into the distinctly American game.

In 1880, they eliminated the Rugby scrum in favor of the scrimmage rule, under which the team in possession of the ball keeps the ball on successive downs, initiating play from the line of scrimmage by snapping the ball.  An unintended consequence of the new rule was that a team in possession of the ball could keep possession indefinitely if they did not lose possession.  In the famous “Block Game” of 1871, Yale and Princeton played to a scoreless tie, each team holding the ball for an entire half without change of possession.[ii]  Princeton claimed the “championship” based on their last win over Yale in 1878; Yale claimed the “championship” based on playing a better game against Harvard that year.  Yale’s argument prevailed in the short-term, but football historians are still divided on the question, like the Monday Morning Quarterbacks who annually question the four teams who qualify for the Football Bowl Subdivision Championship Playoff.

In 1882, they adopted a down-and-distance rule to give the offense an incentive to move the ball.  The new rule required that a team gain at least five yards in three plays to retain possession of the ball.  The rule is still in place today in modified form today, now requiring the offense to move ten yards in four plays or lose the ball.

Early California Football

The year 1882 is also the year American football came to California.  In the first known game played in California, on December 2, 1882, a team called the Phoenix defeated the University of California by the score of 2 tries to 1 goal, under an archaic scoring system.  The popularity of the game flourished, with four or five teams competing with one another for Bay Area-football supremacy over the next few years. 

The death of a Berkeley law student named Michael E. Woodward put a temporary damper on enthusiasm for the game in the spring of 1886.  Woodward was a local boy, a graduate of Oakland High School (1880), who studied for two years at Toland Medical College (now the University of California San Francisco), followed by two years at Yale University, before entering Hastings School of Law School at Berkeley in 1885.  He would likely have been exposed to football in some fashion at Yale, although he does not appear to have been a member of their varsity team.

Woodward died from injuries sustained while stopping a sure touchdown in what was described as a “practice game” between informal, “picked” teams.

Woolsey, ’86, by a beautiful run had nothing between him and a “touch-down,” so close was he to the “goal line,” unless the “full-back”[iii] by sheer force, could stop him.  Woodward made an excellent “tackle” and stopped his man, but in doing so he was struck on the top of the head as he bent over by Woolsey’s knee.  Both fell, and both were found disabled.  Woolsey’s leg was merely strained so that he was unable to play more.  Poor Woodward, however, was found to be paralyzed from the stomach down.

Oakland Tribune, March 12, 1886, page 2.

He died a few days later.

Decatur Herald (Decatur, Illinois), March 21, 1886, page 1.

The popularity of the game picked up steam again in the fall, with the formation of several new teams and a new league, the Amateur Football League of California, with the Wide-Awakes of Oakland, Alerts of Brooklyn, Unions of San Francisco, and the Orients of Berkeley competing for a championship.[iv]  Two members of the Orients would later play in the first Tournament of Roses football game in 1890.  

Organized American football reached Southern California on April 28, 1888, when the Alliance Football Club of Los Angeles, “composed in great measure of pupils of the High School,”[v] beat a team from Long Beach by the score of 26-6 in a game played in Santa Monica.[vi]  The University of Southern California played its first game a few weeks later, a tie-game against the Alliance Club played at the corner of Hope and 9th Streets in Los Angeles.[vii]  USC downed the Alliance 18-0 in a rematch at the same location on June 9.[viii] 

Football in Pasadena

Football came to Pasadena on March 18, 1889.  The University of Southern California defeated the Alliance Club by the score of 14-4, in a game played at Sportsman’s Park.[ix]  At the time, Pasadena did not have its own club.  A local writer complained that, “Pasadena is the only city in the United States which is destitute of a means of enjoyment for young men. . . .  No ball club, no organized cycling club of considerable number, no foot-ball club . . . . It is time some attention was paid to these things and an effort made to organize a local athletic club, where innocent sport could be indulged in.”[x]

Things changed in November. 

Clarence Barnes is getting up a football team – a good idea.  Mr. Barnes and City Clerk Cambell should talk it over.

The Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1889, page 7. 

At their first intra-squad scrimmage a few weeks later, “Capt. Conger, with his team of 11 good men and true, won a score 16, while Capt. Mosher, with his team of 15, contented themselves with a big cipher.”[xi]

Not to be outdone, the schoolboys of the Wilson School, a Pasadena high school, organized their own team in early December.

The Wilson Grammar-school cadets have determined to exterminate each other, and to that end have organized a foot-ball team.

The Los Angeles Times, December 6, 1889, page 7.

"Men of Muscle," The Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1889, page 7.

The Wilson schoolboys were presumably new to the game, but the Pasadena Football Club had several members with experience in organized football programs.

Mr. Mosher and H. W. Conger formerly played on a strong team at Berkley, where the State University is located. . . . Homer Young, the team’s captain, was a former member of the Andover (Mass.), eleven, and E. C. Conger has had considerable practice in the game while connected with the Phillips Academy team in Massachusetts.  Mr. Clarence Barnes also played for a time with a strong eastern eleven.

Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1890, page 7.

It is unclear where Clarence A. Barnes studied or played football, but he was born in Rhode Island and arrived in Pasadena from Boston, Massachusetts at about the age of 21 in 1888, so he clearly had the opportunity to have experienced the game in or near the hotbed of Eastern football. 

As for E. C. Conger and Homer Young, Andover and the Phillips Academy were both feeder schools to the Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton where the American game was born and flourished, so they likely had good training and experience.

A large part of the material for the college [football] teams come from the eastern preparatory schools.  Phillips-Andover and Phillips-Exeter furnish the greatest number of men and the best.  Exeter supplies Harvard, and Andover, Yale.

Vermont Watchman and State Journal (Montpelier, Vermont), December 5, 1888, page 4.

But it’s not clear how much experience they had.  Homer Young (Pasadena’s team captain), for example, left Sioux Falls, South Dakota for Andover in the fall of 1888,[xii] so he may have had no more than one year of training.  Others, however, had more significant experience.

Ed Mosher and H. W. Conger played together as linemen on a football team in Berkeley, California in 1887, but not for the University of California.  In 1887, they played for a local club team called the “Orients.”[xiii]  Ed Mosher later played a role in establishing the oil and gas industry in Santa Barbara.    Less than one year after the first “Rose Bowl” game in 1890, he and his brothers struck natural gas while drilling for artesian water at Ortega Point, six miles from Santa Barbara.  They offered the gas for sale to residents “at $10 per year per house.”[xiv]

The following season, Harold Ward Conger played without Mosher on another amateur team in Berkeley called the “Posens.”  Initially called the “Volunteers,” they were rechristened the Posens when an actor named M. B. Curtis, stage name “Samuel of Posen,” sponsored the team and bought them new uniforms after seeing their first game.  A few years later, “Samuel of Posen” was famously acquitted of murdering a policeman in downtown San Francisco after a night of heavy drinking. 

The Posens played in a three-team California Football League with the University of California Berkeley and a club team called the “Wasps,” from San Francisco.  At the end of the season, the Posens claimed the much-disputed “undisputed championship” of California; the disputes arising from the game-clock, scheduling, and fake news.

Depending on whose version of events accepts, the Posens may be the only team in history to have beaten the University of California football three times (in four tries) in one season.  The results of two of those games were disputed; the official California Golden Bears Football Record Book for 2019 lists only two of those games, a win and a loss.  Fans of the Posens would disagree. 

The Posens (playing as the Volunteers) defeated the University in their first meeting on February 25, 1888 by a score of 10-6.  The Posens broke a 6-6 tie late in the game with a touchdown, which were then worth four points.  At the time, the game was played with a continuously running clock, without time stoppages.  The Posens scored a touchdown near the end of the game to take the lead, but the clock continued ticking down and time expired before the Posens could kick their goal-after-touchdown.  A good kick would added two more points, leaving the score 10-6 instead of 12-6.  The outcome of this game was not in dispute because the Posens held the lead before time expired.  But the continuously running clock would play a role in the disputed championship later that season.

The University evened the series at one game apiece, besting the Posens by the score of 14-0 in their second meeting on March 17 in front of a “large crowd of merchants, students, dudes, reporters, and other laborers that lined the ropes.”[xv] 

The Posens took the third game, dethroning the University as Champions of California for the first time in five years – or did they?


For five years the University team has held the championship in football in this State.  But now its glory has departed, and the club is a shattered relic of departed worth.  The Posens met this heretofore almost impregnable football phalanx and made an unfixable dent in it.  Actor Curtis now has the pleasure of knowing that his club holds the championship of the State.

Oakland Tribune, April 9, 1888, page 7.

With the clock counting down at the end of the second half, the Posens had a one-score lead, either 5-0 or 6-0 (accounts differ). 

Then just about ten seconds before time was called the Universitys scored a forced touch down, but time did not permit a try.  The Varsity boys are sore over their defeat.

Oakland Tribune, April 9, 1888, page 7.

Touchdowns were then worth four points, which could be converted to six points with a successful goal-after-touchdown kick.  Reports of the game differ as to what the final result would have been.  The San Francisco Examiner reported the final game score as 6-4, which would have meant a possible tie if the University had converted the goal-after-touchdown.  But the Oakland Tribune reported the Posen’s only score of the game a field goal, “the best long distance kick ever made in Oakland,” which would have counted five points under the scoring conventions of the time, in which case the University could have won the game with a two-point conversion.

The League sustained the University’s formal protest, and a rematch was scheduled for May 19 – or was it?  On May 19, the Oakland Tribune reported that the University had scheduled the game without consulting the Posens who would refuse to play until a mutually acceptable date could be arranged.  But nevertheless, on the following Monday the same paper carried a report of the rematch, complete with the score and team rosters, and declaring the Posens the “undisputed champions” of California.


The University team and the Posens played off the contested football game Saturday.  The Posens claimed the championship of the league, but when the protested game was decided against them they were tied with the University team.  By the game Saturday all disputes are settled – or should be.  After some hard playing the Posens came out victors by a score of 10-6.  They are now the undisputed champions of this State.

Oakland Tribune, May 21, 1888, page 6.

The results of that game would have settled matters – but only if the game had actually been played.  In a letter to the sports editor of the Tribune, a University player named F. A. Allardt claimed it was all a lie.

The University Football team has been the victim of many misrepresentations in the newspapers of Oakland and San Francisco.  The latest injustice is an article which appeared in The Tribune and several other papers.  This was the report of a supposed game of football between the Posens and the Universities, on Saturday, May 19th.  The Posens are reported victors, and declared champions of the State.  The game was not played, and the Posens are not champions.  From all that can be learned the Posens will forefeit the deciding game, and the Universities will be champions.

Oakland Tribune, May 23, 1888, page 5.

The difficulty in determining the champion in a three-team league makes the difficulties a century later in determining the “National Champion” of the NCAA’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision look like rocket science in comparison. 

The players in the first Tournament of Roses game also had more recent experience in the weeks leading up to the first Tournament.  On Thanksgiving Day 1889, barely two weeks after their first practice, the Pasadena Football Club played a game against the University of Southern California, losing 26-0 at Sportsman Park in Pasadena.  The team paid its humiliation forward, beating up on the high school boys of the Wilson School 42-0 on December 21.  The teams played again on December 28th, a warm-up for the Tournament of Roses with no score reported.

Despite the lopsided loss to USC on Thanksgiving Day after just two weeks of practice, the Pasadena Football Club proved that they were not just pushovers one month to the day after the first Tournament of Roses.  On February 1, 1890, Pasadena exacted a measure of revenge, handing USC its first loss ever.

The Pasadena foot-ball team was given a big send-off Saturday evening upon their return from Los Angeles, where they defeated the University team in a well-played game by the score of 8 points to 2. . . .

Those who witnessed the game say the playing of the Pasadena men was strong throughout, and at times a brilliant play would be made that surprised even their most enthusiastic admirers. . . .

Pasadena enjoys the distinction of being the first team to administer a defeat to the Los Angeles eleven.

The Los Angeles Times, February 3, 1890, page 7. 

Participants in the first Tournament of Roses game were schooled in the football hotbeds of the East Coast and had experience playing in the cradle of California football in the Bay Area.  They had legitimate football training and experience playing with and against top-flight competition, including teams like Berkeley and USC, both schools that would later compete in numerous Rose Bowls.  At the time, with American football in its relative infancy, some Pasadena players had as much training and experience as anyone anywhere.  It is therefore not unreasonable to consider the football game of the first Tournament of Roses worthy of the designation “first-ever Rose Bowl.”

On New Year’s Day 1890, at the close of the first-ever Tournament of Roses, the Pasadena Football Club defeated the Wilson School by the score of 12-0 in what is arguably the “first Rose Bowl.”  It may have been first, but it did not immediately spawn the series that would ultimately bear the name “Rose Bowl.”  It was nearly a decade before the next football game would be scheduled at the Tournament of Roses, and more than a decade until the next game would take place.

New Year’s Football

But it wasn’t the last New Year’s Day football game played during the 1890s.  Beginning with the first Tournament of Roses game between Pasadena and Wilson High School, Football games were played every New Year’s Day of the 1890s up and down the West Coast,. 

On January 1, 1891, the Oakland Football Club held an intra-squad exhibition of Rugby football in Alameda, the A team beating the B team by one goal.  A team from Los Angeles was scheduled to play the Olympics of San Francisco on January 1, 1892.  The game was postponed due to rain until January 3, when the Olympics downed Los Angeles 18-0 (or 22-0, accounts differ).  That same year, Portland defeated Tacoma 24-0, in a game played in Tacoma on New Year’s Day.

The University of Southern California defeated a “picked” team from Santa Monica, 48-4 in Santa Monica on January 2, 1893 (the Tournament of Roses took place the same day, a Monday, because New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday).  Stanford travelled to Portland, Oregon for a New Year’s Day game in 1894, defeating a team called the Multnomahs by the score of 16-0. 

A couple days before New Year’s Day 1895, Stanford played in what may have been the first East-West intersectional game played in played in Southern California, a forerunner of the Michigan-Stanford game at the Tournament of Roses in 1902 and the Tournament’s annual East-West games (later named the “Rose Bowl”) first held in 1916. The large crowds proved the concept and may have inspired the Tournament of Roses’ later attempts to introduce such games on a more regular basis.

On December 29, 1894, Stanford defeated the University of Chicago by the score of 12-0 before a crowd of 2,500 in a game played in Los Angeles. 

Chicago and Stanford Players, The Los Angeles Herald, December 30, 1894, page 7.
Chicago might be forgiven the loss.  They were then in the middle of a grueling four-game western tour.  They had defeated Stanford handily four days earlier, 24-0 at the Haight Street Grounds in San Francisco.  They would lose again, 6-0 against the Reliance Athletic Club in San Francisco on January 1st, and would defeat the Salt Lake City YMCA 52-0 on January 4th.

When Chicago returned to San Francisco for its game against the Reliance, Stanford remained in Los Angeles for its own New Year’s Day game, beating up on the Los Angeles Athletic Club football team 26-0. 

The San Francisco Examiner, January 2, 1895, page 5.
The Tournament of Roses scheduled its next football game for January 2 1899 (New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday that year).  The game was mentioned in the pre-Tournament schedule, but it does not appear to have been a contest between major colleges, as the names of the teams were not announced. 

There will be bicycle races and a football game in the afternoon.

The Los Angeles Times, January 1, 1899, page 15.

The game was never played, a victim of a rare Tournament of Roses rainout.


LOS ANGELES, Cal., Jan. 2. – A drizzling rain began falling here at an early hour this morning, and has continued throughout the day.  The precipitation is light but continuous, and the indications are for a generous downpour.  The unpropitious weather has spoiled the preparations for the tournament of Roses at Pasadena, and the programme of festivities at that place has been postponed.

Oakland Tribune, January 2, 1899, page 4.

The parade was held that day, but it started late and was cut short again when the rains returned at 4:30 pm, which was already too late to start a football game at a time without a lighted stadium.[xvi]

“A Pretty Effect with Germaniums and Smilax Seen Through the Rain.”  

Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1899, page 10.

The rainout in Pasadena did not affect other games scheduled in California the same day.  Berkeley and the University of Southern California both played that day, but separately. The University of Southern California played a disputed game in Santa Barbara, either winning by a score of 5-0 (as USC claimed) or finishing in a tie (if you believe Santa Barbara).  Berkeley dismissed Visalia that day by a less controversial score of 23-0.

Three years later, the Tournament of Roses finally got around to hosting its second football game, its first since 1890.  This time it would feature two major college teams in an East-West intersectional game, the same format later adopted for its annual series of games beginning in 1916.  Many consider the 1902 game to be the “first” Rose Bowl.

The First Rose Bowl?

In November 1901, the Directors of the Tournament of Roses proposed a plan to create a permanent home for the Tournament.  As part of the plan, they hoped to erect a permanent grandstand for a football game, receipts from which would help generate enough money to make the Tournament of Roses Association fund “self-supporting.” 

[President James R. H. Wagener said this evening] “We will have $5000 in hand by January 1.  This will be in addition to the amounts collected from the street grand stands and the grand stand at the football game.  We expect to raise enough money in this manner to secure this permanent sportsman’s park, the receipts from which from year to year will perpetuate the Tournament of Roses Association fund and make it self-supporting.”

The Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1901, page 15.

This plan to make the Tournament “self-supporting,” in part through proceeds from a football game, may mark the beginning of the annual “Rose Bowl” football game concept, so perhaps it is reasonable to consider the 1902 game to be the first “Rose Bowl.”  But even though it marked the beginning of the concept, the plan would not come to fruition for fifteen more years.  They were plagued by scheduling difficulties and perhaps a desire to avoid the one-sided defeat suffered by the western representative in the inaugural game.  The football games also became less necessary for continued financial success when they found a surprisingly profitable replacement to fill the grandstands – chariot races.

As of mid-November of that year, they were “assured of Berkeley being here,” and expected them to “play either the Carlisle Indians or the University of Michigan team.”  In the end, however, Berkeley declined, opening the door for Stanford, and Michigan accepted the invitation.

On January 1, 1902, the University of Michigan clobbered Stanford, 49-0, in the first-ever East-West college football game at the Tournament of Roses. 

"Michigan 49 - Stanford 0," San Francisco Call, January 2, 1902, page 5.

"Stanford Gets the Ball on the One-Yard Line," Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1902, Section 2, page 4.
"A Michigan Buck Through Tackle," Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1902, Section 2, page 4.
"There was also a football game in which Michigan was observed to score frequently" - Los Angeles Herald, January 2, 1902, page 4.

“Hail to the Victors.”  The Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1902, Section 2, page 3.

Despite the financial success of the game, fourteen years passed before the Tournament hosted another football game.  The delay wasn’t entirely to avoid the embarrassment of another blowout by an Eastern school.  Tournament organizers tried to arrange games nearly every year in the interim, but without success.  They invited Wisconsin to play Berkeley or Utah State at the 1903 Tournament, but the game never materialized.

The management of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association has scheduled a game between the elevens of the Wisconsin and Utah State universities for New Year’s Day, but the contest promises little, so far as any genuine struggle for gridiron honors is concerned.

The Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1902, page 11.
A Michigan-Berkeley game nearly materialized for the 1906 Tournament of Roses, although technically the game would have been played before New Years, on December 30, so as not to interfere with the profitable the chariot races.

Pasadena, Nov. 2.  If present plans do not miscarry the famous football eleven of the University of Michigan will play the eleven from Berkeley in Pasadena at the time of the coming Tournament of Roses. . . .  The game will be played on Saturday, December 30, at Tournament park.  It is deemed impossible to have the great gridiron contest and the chariot races upon the same day.

Los Angeles Herald, November 3, 1905, page 14.

Despite Michigan’s agreement to play, Berkeley declined – as did Stanford.

Los Angeles Herald, November 17, 1905, page 6.

Although it was not the only reason for the delay in reinstituting football, the 49-0 blowout was still on some people’s minds.  In late-1909, in preparation for the 1910 Tournament, Michigan expressed a willingness to return, but this time to play against another Eastern powerhouse like Princeton or Harvard, or failing that, possibly an all-star team of current Berkeley and Stanford Rugby players (Berkeley and Stanford abandoned American football for Rugby in 1906), or a team of former California all-stars selected by a local Los Angeles football coach named Walter Hempel.

Los Angeles Times, November 3, 1909, page 22.
Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1909, page 7.

And the blowout was clearly on some Tournament organizers’ minds when they scheduled the first chariot races for the 1904 Tournament of Roses. 

By some it is advocated that an Eastern football team be brought out here to play in an exhibition game as the feature of the afternoon.  This would cost over $1000, and unless the game was a contest, backed up by rivalry, resultant from an even match, it would be a farce.  It is our hope that it may be found feasible to take the same amount of money which a football event would demand and devote it to a Roman chariot race. . . .

From start to finish the race will be run in strict conformity to the famous chariot race in Bun Hur, even to the dropping of balls as the circuit of the course is made.

Los Angeles Times, November 4, 1903, page 19. 

“A Chariot” at the Tournament of Roses, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1904, page 15.

The “winning heat” at the 1908 Tournament of Roses. Los Angeles Herald, January 2, 1908, page 2.

The chariot races were run almost exactly as shown in later film versions of “Ben Hur,” with nearly-deadly accidents, heroic rescues, and criticisms of animal and human cruelty.

 “The runaway chariot – vaquero seizing the frightened horses – Driver E. T. Off under the wheel.” Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1906, page 14.

Just as his fingers closed in a death grip of the runaway’s bit, the frightened chariot horse veered in a fierce leap from this new terror.  Wiggins’s horse was flung over against the team.

There was a sickening, confused crash.  The horses stumbled and plunged on again with a broken chariot tongue which presently rammed like a lance point into the soft ground of the track.

On this as a pivot, the wrecked chariot flung a prodigious somersault. 

The marks on the track show that it made a leap of thirty-six feet high through the air.  At the zenith of its flight, Off was hurled out.

The horses dragged the chariot for a little way, crippled and torn and skidding along on its side.  Then they tore free and ran away in good earnest, galloping furiously round the track with the broken shaft remnants dangling between them and making them wilder at every step.

As they dashed on, they left Off, a sorry, fallen Roman, in their track.  He was unconscious and very still.

They had hardly picked him up and got him off the track when the runaways came on round the track again, this time curbed and held down by three vaqueros.

Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1906, page 14.


There seems little question that an “issue” will be made over the continuance of the Roman chariot races at the park for the next Tournament of Roses. . . .

Those who will object to the chariot races seem to have more than one handle to hold up their argument.  The frenzied running of the fours, the bitterness inculcated by the intense rivalry, the whipping of the horses, the charge of fouling, and the almost miraculous escape from death of one of the drivers New Year’s Day, are all pointed out as reasons why there should be no more chariot races.

Those who object to the races aver that the Tournament of Roses is drifting away from its original scope of simply exhibiting beautiful flowers in the winter time.

Los Angeles Times, January 3, 1906, page 23.

Despite the danger, the chariot races drew large crowds and remained an iconic part of the Tournament of Roses for twelve years.

The Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1914, page 15.

East-West Game

The last chariot races were held in 1915.  But instead of reverting to simply exhibiting beautiful flowers, they replaced the animal violence of chariot races with the human violence of American college football.

This time however, instead of inviting one of the several undefeated Eastern juggernauts, they invited a respectable, if less-than-intimidating, three-loss team from Brown University to face the undefeated team from Washington State.

Members of the wonderful Washington State University football team who will meet the members of the equally powerful Brown University team of Rhode Island as one of the feature attractions at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses on New Year's Day.  The game will take the place of the time-honored chariot races.

The Pomona Daily Review (Pomona, California), December 27, 1915, page 8.

Washington State defeated Brown 14-0 in the inaugural, annual Tournament of Roses football game, the first in a continuous, unbroken line of annual games now called the Rose Bowl.  In the early days, it was generally referred to as the “East-versus-West” football game or simply, “East-West” game.  The game, or at least the stadium, would not be called the “Rose Bowl” until 1923, after completion of their new, bowl-shaped stadium. 

The Rose Bowl Stadium

The new stadium’s name resonated on several levels.  The word “Bowl” in the name was descriptive of the shape of the stadium, designed along the lines of Yale’s new stadium completed in 1914, the first bowl-shaped stadium in the country.  

 The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana), November 20, 1920, page 7.

The word “Rose” in the name echoed the name and theme of the Tournament of Roses.  The full name “Rose Bowl” imitated the name of Yale’s new stadium, the “Yale Bowl.”    

 The Los Angeles Times, December 30, 1923, part VI, page 1.

And finally, the full name “Rose Bowl” was itself the name of a type of vase commonly used to display cut roses – a “rose bowl.”

 The Inter-Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), February 9, 1896, page 36.
The Vancouver Daily World, June 10, 1897, page 12.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 13, 1922, page 10.
Stockton Daily Evening Record (Stockton, California), December 28, 1922, page 15.

 In 1923, the 10-1-0 University of Southern California beat a 6-4-1 Penn State team by a score of 14-3 in the first East-West Game of the Tournament of Roses to be played in a stadium called the “Rose Bowl.”  It may look as though the organizers were again trying to tilt the field in favor of the West Coast representative, but to be fair, they invited the 7-1 Nebraska Cornhuskers fresh off a season-ending win over Notre Dame, handing Notre Dame just their second loss in four season.

Early examples of appear to refer merely to the stadium the game was played in.  The transition to referring to the game itself as the “Rose Bowl” occurred naturally over the next few years.

Monrovia Daily News, December 15, 1922, page 18.

Showing McKee of the Navy, making first touchdown in international clash against University of Washington out on the Pacific coast in the Pasadena rose bowl.

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania), January 10, 1924, page 8.

The tickets for the Rose Bowl game are less expensive than at any previous time in the history of the Tournament East-West games . . . .

San Pedro News-Pilot (San Pedro, California), December 21, 1923, page 1.

It is believed certain that Notre Dame will be the team to play here on the Rose Bowl game, as Knute Rockne’s squad was tendered the opportunity several weeks ago at which time the invitation was accepted.

The Bulletin (Pomona, California), November 27, 1924, page 3.

Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California), January 2, 1925, section 3, page 1.


In determining which game was the first “Rose Bowl,” one might name the 1923 game between USC and Penn State because it was the first game actually played in the Rose Bowl, or the 1916 game between Washington and Brown, because it was the first in the continuous annual series of East-West showcase games, or the 1902 game between Stanford and Michigan, because it was the first collegiate game played during the Tournament of Roses with the specific intent of making money for the Tournament of Roses.

But if the concept of the first-ever “Rose Bowl” is not linked to the stadium, the name, or intent, it makes as much sense as any other to designate the first football game played during the Tournament of Roses as the first “Rose Bowl.” In which case, the the game played between Pasadena and the Wilson School during the first Tournament of Roses in 1890 would be the first “Rose Bowl.”

[i] The Tournament is held the day after New Year’s Day when January 1st falls on a Sunday.
[iii] I believe the “full back” on defense was what we would call the safety today.  At the time, players played both ways, and the “full back” (the running back the furthest from the line, as distinguished from the “quarter” and “half” backs) on offense would also be the furthest back defensive player on defense.
[iv] San Francisco Chronicle, October 12, 1886, page 3.
[v] Los Angeles Herald, March 16, 1888, page 5.
[vi] Los Angeles Herald, April 20, 1888, page 3.
[vii] Los Angeles Herald, May 24, 1888, page 2 (game scheduled for that afternoon); Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1888, page 2 (rematch scheduled; previous game ended in a draw).
[viii] Los Angeles Herald, June 10, 1888, page 2 (University of Southern California wins, 18-0).  Interestingly, both of these games took place nearly six months before the first official game results listed in the University of Southern California Football Media Guide, a 16-0 win over the Alliance on November 14, 1888.
[ix] Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1889, page 6.
[x] Los Angeles Times, May 25, 1889, page 6.
[xi] Los Angeles Times, November 19, 1889, page 7.
[xii] Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota), September 6, 1888, page 3 (“Homer Young, formerly of this city, will also attend Andover this year.”).
[xiii] Oakland Tribune, January 24, 1887, page 3.
[xiv] Los Angeles Express, August 22, 1890, page 4.
[xv] The Oakland Tribune, March 19, 1888, page 6.
[xvi] Night sports were not unheard of at the time, although rare.  Early experiments with night baseball were tried as early as 1880, and even in Los Angeles as early as 1892.  See my earlier post, George Van Derbeck and the Early History of Night Baseball.