Was the Rose Bowl the first postseason bowl game?
FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The original Rose Bowl was the first postseason "bowl game."
As we reach the end of the year, we enter into the holiday season. We also enter into the season of College Football Bowl Games, over two dozen of them every year. The Rose Bowl is nicknamed "The Granddaddy of Them All," because it is the oldest of all the current bowls, taking place every year since 1916 and originating in the 1902 "Tournament East-West" football game in Pasadena, California as part of the Tournament of Roses (which also included the Rose Parade). When the stadium known as the Rose Bowl was introduced in 1923, the name of the game changed from "Tournament East-West" to "The Rose Bowl Game." The Rose Bowl became so famous that all other bowls take their names from it, even if they do not actually take place in bowl stadiums such as the Rose Bowl. So the Rose Bowl well deserves it reputation as the "Granddaddy of Them All," as it is clear that all other current bowls were based on the success of the Rose Bowl. However, was the 1902 "Tournament East-West" game actually the first postseason "bowl game,” as is often claimed?
Read on to find out!
The answer is a bit tricky, but ultimately I believe that the answer is no.
Thomas Bayne, a New Orleans native who had played football for Yale during the 1880s, brought intercollegiate football to New Orleans with a special game played on New Year's Day in 1890 at Sportsman's Park in New Orleans. Bayne brought together players from all over the East Coast to form two teams dubbed "Yale" and "Princeton" (then two of the most famous football programs in the country) who played against each other. The game was scoreless throughout most of the game before ending in a 6-0 "Yale" victory (the game ended following the point after the touchdown, as the only ball was kicked out of the stadium on the point after - touchdowns were worth five points back then). The same day that this "Yale"/"Princeton" game took place, the first Tournament of the Roses was held - a full twelve years before football was added to the program.
On New Year's Eve, 1892, Bayne was at it again, only this time aided by his brother, Hugh, in organizing a special game between players from Louisiana against players from Alabama. The success of this game led to Bayne organizing football as a sport at Tulane University. Soon, Louisiana State University picked up the sport, as well (Tulane and LSU had a celebrated match against each other in 1893 that, due to LSU's coach being indisposed, saw Bayne coach both sides!) and college football in Louisiana was well on its way to prominence.
Bayne's informal games were more like All-Star Games, though, so I could see an argument being made that they can be differentiated from the idea of a "bowl game." However, the same cannot be said for Adolph Stagg's University of Chicago team. In 1984, Stagg's Chicago Maroons played a New Year's Day game against Notre Dame (like Bayne's New Year's Games jump-started New Orleans college football, so, too, did these early matches jump-start Notre Dame's football legacy). Stagg then took his team to California later that year (in a sort of nationwide tour demonstrating how good the University of Chicago's football team was) to defeat Stamford in a game on Christmas Day and then the San Francisco Reliance Athletic Club on New Year's Day 1895.
While clearly none of these games were dubbed "bowl games," it seems fairly evident that the idea of playing postseason games on New Year's Day pre-dated the first New Year's Day Game in Pasadena by a number of years. Again, this does not take away from the importance of the Rose Bowl. Clearly, it took the idea and made it into a tradition with a capitol T. It deserves all the accolades it gets for establishing the popularity of postseason games. It just was not the first instance of these sort of games occurring.
The legend, therefore, is...
Thanks to Ronald Austin Smith and his excellent book, Play-by-play: radio, television, and big-time college sport for his valuable research in this field.
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Photo: UCLA punter Bob Waterfield has his punt blocked by Georgia's Willard Boyd during the 1943 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena. The ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety. Georgia won 9-0. Credit: Los Angeles Times.