Every January, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., hosts the oldest bowl game in the country. Built in 1922 by architect Myron Hunt, the stadium sits in a picturesque ravine in Pasadena, Calif., and is one of four U.S. college football stadiums designated as a National Historic Landmark. Earlier this year, a record 28.2 million fans tuned in to watch the University of Oregon and Florida State face off following the equally legendary Tournament of Roses Parade. On Friday, it's Stanford and the University of Iowa, and anticipation is building as the stadium and city get ready for their big day in the spotlight.
Coca-Cola has longtime ties to the Rose Bowl as both a sponsor and vendor. Two years ago, as the stadium was preparing to launch public tours for the first time in its history, workers spiffing up an original locker room found a vintage Coke bottle with a date-stamp of Dec. 25, 1923 – the same year the stadium hosted its first college football game. They also found stadium seats from the 1930s, vintage lockers, and promotional metal signs, including one from the 1947 Rose Bowl, advertising tickets for $5.50 each.
Here are some other curious facts about the venerable stadium:
1. The first Rose Bowl had nothing to do with football. In 1890, following a parade of flower-decorated horse and buggies, a Pasadena hunt club staged foot races, tugs of war, and jousts in an outdoor field a few blocks from the yet-to-be-built stadium. The first football game, called the Tournament East-West Football Game, took place in 1902 on the campus of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In 1920, the city began raising money to build a stadium to better handle the crowds. The Rose Bowl, initially shaped like a horseshoe with a seating capacity of 57,000, cost $272,198 to build and hosted its first game in 1923.
2. Pasadena native Jackie Robinson played football at the Rose Bowl as a running back and quarterback for Pasadena Junior College (now Pasadena City College), and later for the UCLA Bruins, but he never actually played in a New Year's Day game. His college-era photo hangs in the Bruins locker room alongside other UCLA greats. In 2014, UCLA retired Robinson's number 42 across all its athletics, and the Rose Bowl unveiled a permanent display of the number next to its eastern scoreboard.
3. The flawless playing field is made up of Bermuda rye grass grown especially for the Rose Bowl near Palm Springs, Calif., and treated with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to keep it green and lush. The entire field (79,156 square feet) is replaced an average of three times a season at a cost of $250,000 a pop, or $750,000 total. Led by turf superintendent Will Schnell, the effort requires an estimated 60 truckloads of sod and a team of nearly 100 gardeners, who piece it all together over several days of hard labor. Once the turf is laid out, Schnell checks the grass daily with a magnifying glass for signs of disease or other issues.
4. Besides college football, the Rose Bowl has hosted five Big Games, two Olympic events (cycling in 1932 and soccer in 1984), the FIFA World Cup, and the 2006 American Idol auditions. In 2009, a popular Irish rock band drew 97,014 fans to the stadium on its sold-out tour, breaking its own attendance record for the best-attended single concert performance at a U.S. venue by a single headliner.
5. The Rose Bowl is a popular exercise destination for Pasadena residents. The paved Rose Bowl Loop is 3.3 miles long and circles the entire stadium along with an adjacent golf course. Every Tuesday and Thursday, cyclists from all over Southern California meet for the Rose Bowl Ride, one of the longest-running continuous community bike rides in the country. To lessen wind resistance, the riders group themselves tightly together and take 10 laps around the stadium at about 25 miles per hour.
6. The Rose Bowl recently underwent a $181 million renovation, the largest in its history. It included the restoration of a historic scoreboard and the opening of a modern pavilion (named after UCLA coach Terry Donahue) with 54 luxury suites, 48 loge boxes, 1,200 club seats, press boxes and a new broadcast center.
7. It's not always sunny in Pasadena. According to the Tournament of Roses Association, it rained on the parade and game 10 times since its beginning: in 1896, 1899, 1906, 1910, 1916, 1922, 1934, 1937, and 1955. Then things didn't get soggy for another 41 years, in 2006.