Rose Bowl Memory From 1955
By Joe Guzzardi
As a kid growing up in post-World War II Los Angeles, the Rose Bowl was the year’s single most anticipated event. In sports, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn; the Lakers in Minneapolis; and the Rams had only recently relocated from Cleveland. The thought that professional ice hockey might one day be played in sunny Southern California was too preposterous to take seriously. In some circles, but not the under-16 age group, the Academy Awards were Los Angeles’ annual highlight. Kids would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to Oscar-winning films like “From Here to Eternity” or “Around the World in 80 Days.”
When my parents announced on Christmas Day that one of my gifts was tickets to attend the January 1, 1955, Rose Bowl game with my Dad, my excitement couldn’t be contained. That year, the Rose Bowl matchup pitted the No. 1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes against the #17 University of Southern California Trojans. While few gave the Trojans a chance, bowl games were always the perfect setting for major college upsets.
Fans of the then-Pac 8 eagerly anticipated watching the Big-10 conference representatives, considered more powerful than their West Coast rivals. The undefeated 8-0 Buckeyes, led by Hall of Fame coach Woody Hayes and Heisman Trophy winning running back Howard “Hopalong” Cassidy, faced the 6-3 Trojans who finished a dismal sixth in the Pac-8. Under the Rose Bowl era’s early rules, Pac-8 winner UCLA couldn’t represent the conference in back-to-back years.
Ask anyone who’s lived in Los Angeles to predict January 1 weather, and their replies will be the same. No matter how foul the weather is on the days leading up to the Rose Bowl or how awful during the following days, by kickoff, skies will be sunny, and the temperature warm. But for the first time in more than three decades, January 1, 1955, was not only rainy, but a torrent. No sooner had my father’s eyes opened on Rose Bowl morning than, as sheets of rain fell outside, he tried to beg off. Dad pleaded with Mom to intercede on his behalf. No dice, Mom said, the Rose Bowl is your son’s Christmas present, and he’s looked forward to the game for a week.
Off to Pasadena my father and I set; he somber, and me excited. With 90,000 fans sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, umbrellas were useless. The temperature was no day at the beach, either; it hovered in the mid-50s. As rain dripped down our cheeks, we sat through the entire lopsided game that, from the beginning, Ohio State dominated, 20-7. Here’s how the Cleveland Plain Dealer described the game: “Through mud, slime, murk and driving rain, Ohio State’s dauntless Buckeyes today reached the all-time zenith of the University’s football history. Ploughing through muck in the fog and semi-darkness, the Buckeyes vanquished Southern California, 20 to 7, in the worst weather conditions of Rose Bowl history.”
As bad as the day had been for my father, it was about to worsen. Finally drying off post-game in the family Ford, Dad turned the ignition key, and we heard the awful grinding sound that dead batteries emit. Driving from our house to Pasadena with his headlights on, Dad forgot to turn them off once we parked. Realizing that we would be stranded for at least a couple of hours, my father let out a string of profanities that turned the parking lot blue. Stadium security summoned AAA, and, eventually, redemption in tow truck form worked its way through the tens of thousands of vehicles trying to exit. Our long drive home was in stony silence. Years passed before my family could laugh about Rose Bowl 1955.
I left Los Angeles long ago, and on return visits I saw Rose Bowl games under Chamber of Commerce skies. But nothing will ever replace in my memory that rain-drenched January 1. As I look back on New Year’s Day more than 65 years ago, I realize that I’ve developed a deeper affection for my loving father who resisted going to the rain soaked-Rose Bowl, but in the end, took me anyway. As he did in 1955, and continued to do until the day he died, Dad always kept the promises he made to me.
Joe Guzzardi is a Society for American Baseball Research and Internet Baseball Writers Association member. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.