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As The Rose Bowl Celebrates 100 Years, Caltech Looks Back At Its Connections to “America’s Stadium”

The first eight Rose Bowl games, then called Tournament East-West football games, were held on what is now Caltech's campus.

Published on Friday, August 12, 2022 | 10:55 am

About 1,200 gathered to mark the 100th birthday of the Rose Bowl with “The Party of the Century” Saturday on the stadium’s legendary playing field. This week, Caltech looked back at its connections to the championship football games it hosted before the stadium was built and Caltech’s connections to the Rose Bowl’s early history.

In 2022, the storied Rose Bowl stadium celebrates the centennial of its 1922 opening. Before the stadium hosted its inaugural New Year’s Day match in 1923, the annual competitions were called Tournament East-West football games and took place alongside the first buildings on Caltech’s campus.

In the photograph above, you can see the nascent research university behind the crowd amassed for the 1921 game. (The California Golden Bears ended the Ohio State University Buckeyes’ winning streak.)

Today, Caltech maintains a portion of the historic fields as Tournament Park to commemorate its connection to the early games. Once the Rose Bowl stadium opened, the connection stayed lively: varsity and intramural Beaver games have taken place there along with two legendary Caltech pranks.

The First Game

Credit: Photograph by Walter Schneider held in the Earl Henry Rathburn collection, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan (BL001129, UM Football Team Riding on Carriage in 1902 Rose Parade.

The University of Michigan football team, at ease in their Rose Parade carriage here, relentlessly pummeled Stanford later on New Year’s Day 1902. Thousands more people than organizers expected came to Tournament Park for that first Tournament East-West football game; most fans had to stand on the sidelines to watch. The game, which ended with a final score of 49-0, precipitated a 16-year pause in the games.

Early Rose Bowl Games and Caltech Football History

Credit: In this cropped 1910 photograph taken from the roof of Throop Hall, the first building on Caltech’s current campus, a streetcar travels along California Boulevard north of the historic stadium. Caltech Archives collection

Up until 1923, the annual New Year’s Day games, sponsored by the Tournament of Roses, kicked off on what are now the Caltech athletic fields. Caltech (then Throop University) had launched a football program in 1893, two years after its founding. The university co-founded the NCAA Division III Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1915, played against USC multiple times, and celebrated an undefeated season in 1944, when Navy recruits trained at Caltech.

Caltech on the Rose Bowl Field

Caltech football teams played and practiced often at the Rose Bowl stadium after its 1923 opening, even after Caltech football became a non-conference club sport in 1968. Caltech alumni cherish memories of playing on the Rose Bowl turf. Though the football program ended in 1993, a quarter of Caltech undergraduates compete in other NCAA III sports.

Caltech Pranks at the Rose Bowl

Credit: Washington students inadvertently cheer for Caltech in this 1961 Rose Bowl photo by Bruce Whitehead. Caltech Archives collection

In the first Caltech Rose Bowl prank, in 1961, students annotated and replaced the instruction sheets for cards that 2,232 University of Washington students and fans flipped overhead to form words and pictures. One card flip showed a beaver instead of a husky and another read “CALTECH.” Later, students rigged the scoreboard for the 1984 Rose Bowl Game to show Caltech and MIT instead of UCLA and Illinois.

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