Big time sports need money and spectators. Technology is important, bringing spectators to the game or the game to the spectators. Historically, governments and the rich used sports to show status and entertain the masses. The Roman poet Juvenal wrote satirical poems for the educated elite. His “Wrong Desire is the Source of Suffering” (Satire X), lamented the deterioration of Roman civil society about 150 years after the end of the Roman Republic. Juvenal wrote: “The People have abdicated our duties … and care now about just two things: bread and circuses” (Satire 10.77-81). Food and entertainment were the only things that mattered to Romans of his time, he ranted. Entertainment included many spectacles, gladiatorial contests, and chariot races.

Eight centuries later, the Roman empire was gone and literacy declined in the West. In Baghdad, seat of the great Abbasid caliphate stretching from the Atlantic to India, the rich enjoyed horse racing and polo (polo began in Persia) in luxurious settings along the Tigris River, while lower classes raced camels, dogs and pigeons. Horse racing was welcome in the colonies that became the Southern United States, but frowned on in the puritanical northern colonies.

Baseball and football began in the Northeast; rules and organization came with the invention of the telegraph and the improvement of railroads. Baseball rules recognizable by modern fans existed by 1850. Western Union began business in 1851. Baseball began as a professional or semi-pro sport. Baseball’s National League opened in 1876. Its westernmost team was in St. Louis. Spectators and teams traveled by rail. American football began as an elite college sport. Rutgers and Princeton played the first college football game in 1869, a rugby-soccer hybrid with 25 players on a side, very different from today’s game.  The Sporting News began publication in 1886; the first All-America team (all of whom played for Harvard, Yale or Princeton) was published in 1889. The first postseason football game was the Tournament East-West football game,  in Pasadena, between Michigan and Stanford, in 1902.  Teams now had three downs to gain five yards, but the forward pass was illegal. How did this happen and why wasn’t that first post season game played on the East Coast?

In the winter of 1890, Pasadena’s Valley Hunt Club sought to promote their new “Mediterranean of the West” and increase real estate prices. They invited people from the North and East to a mid-winter holiday with games and races in sunny California. The flower-covered horse-drawn carriages, foot races, polo matches and a game of tug-of-war attracted a crowd of 2,000. Professor Charles Holder of the VHC suggested the name “Tournament of Roses.”

Marching bands and motorized floats soon followed. By 1895, the event was too large for the Valley Hunt Club; the Tournament of Roses Association was formed. By the 11th annual festival (1900), the site was re-named Tournament Park, an open area directly adjacent to Caltech (It wasn’t called Cal Tech until 1920). New activities included ostrich races, bronco busting and a race between a camel and an elephant. Reviewing stands were built along the parade route and Eastern newspapers began to send reporters starting in 1898. The Tournament of Roses added football in 1902– the first post-season college football game ever. Stanford played the powerhouse University of Michigan team. They were crushed 49-0 and gave up 8 minutes early. The lopsided score and a stampede for seats in cramped Tournament Park suggested a need for change. This was Roman style chariot races, borrowed from the popular Broadway play, Ben-Hur, which opened on Broadway in 1899 and ran for 21 consecutive years. This famous play included a spectacular live chariot race with real horses and chariots.

1911 chariot race at Tournament Park. Photograph courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Special Collections.

a. Why was the first postseason game played in Pasadena rather than Florida, much closer to the Eastern birthplace of football?  Pasadena was bigger, more accessible, and there was a precedent for teams traveling to California. The 1900 census showed Pasadena 9,117 vs. Miami 1,681 and the city of Los Angeles topped 100,000. The city of Miami wasn’t incorporated until 1896. Industrialist Henry Flagler built up the Florida Atlantic Coast with The Florida East Coast Railway and hotels in St. Augustine and Palm Beach in the 1890s, but this was beach tourism. Key West was the largest and wealthiest city in Florida in 1890, when Pasadena held its first winter festival. Los Angeles and San Francisco between them had over 400,000 people in 1900, whereas Jacksonville, the largest Florida city, had only 28,429.

The legendary undefeated 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team played 6 games in San Francisco and Sacramento in September and October 1869, only a few months after the famous Golden Spike connected the two coasts. No railroad reached LA until 1876. Cincinnati traveled to Memphis and New Orleans in 1870, but never to Florida. Flagler’s railroad reached Biscayne Bay in 1896, Key West only in 1912.

The Pasadena and Pacific Railway, ancestor of the famous red cars, was created in 1895 and took passengers from Pasadena to Santa Monica. That’s another story, however. Football fell out of favor in California as part of the East Coast revulsion against football injuries and commercialism in 1905-1906. The largest colleges, Stanford, UC Berkeley (the only UC campus at the time) and then USC eliminated football, replacing it with  rugby from 1906-1917. Some high schools switched from football to rugby. However, interest in rugby, like that in chariot racing, faded. I hope to cover California’s rugby years in another segment.

Football returned to Pasadena in 1916; the crowds soon outgrew the stands in Tournament Park. A larger venue was needed. The Tournament of Roses paid for the new stadium. The first game was in December 1922, and the first New Year’s football game was in 1923. Both the game and the stadium were soon called “The Rose Bowl.” The stadium was called a “bowl” because of its similarity to the Yale Bowl, built in 1914.

Football was a more national sport by 1915, with Eastern teams occasionally playing on the West Coast and vice versa.  Several Eastern teams declined invitations to the 1916 game. Powerful Syracuse had played 3 games at Montana, Oregon State, and Occidental in November and early December.  Yes, Syracuse played Occidental and won 35-0. This was the fourth and last game of the season for Occidental, who joined four other small colleges to form the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) in 1915. Nebraska and the University of Michigan also declined invitations to visit Pasadena. Brown was a fourth choice, but most authorities believed that East Coast teams played a better brand of football than the reduced number of Western universities still playing football. Favored Brown lost to Washington State 14-0 in a rainy 1916 Rose Bowl game; newspapers all over the country carried reports of the game. The forward pass was now legal but incomplete passes carried a 15-yard penalty.

Running back Fritz Pollard of Brown was the first African-American to play in the Rose Bowl, but not the first African American named to Walter Camp’s All-America team. He later played for the Akron Pros in the American Professional Football Association, which became the NFL in 1922. Akron had an undefeated season in 1920. Pollard went on to coach several teams and was elected to the Pro football hall of fame in 2005. We’ll review that 1920 schedule against teams like the Wheeling Stogies and the Dayton Triangles in topic 3, evolution of the NFL.  Famed African-American singer and political activist Paul Robeson was an All-American football player (tackle and end) at Rutgers and played against Pollard in college, they played together for the 1921 Akron Pros. Pollard and Robeson moved and played together in 1922 for the Milwaukee Badgers, a new team. Robeson lost interest in football, Pollard did not.

Aerial view of 1926 Rose Bowl game, looking North. Photograph courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Special Collections.

This aerial view of the 1930 Rose Bowl game shows the new bowl shape, the Goodyear Blimp , the water channel in a semi-natural state (no concrete), many cars, but none on the golf course. Photograph courtesy of University of Southern California, on behalf of the USC Special Collections.

The forward pass was legalized in 1906 as part of reforms to reduce injuries. It wasn’t used often in the 20s- many teams used the single wing offense created by Glenn “Pop” Warner, coach of the very successful Carlisle Indian school in Carlisle, PA. Carlisle perfected the use of the forward pass before other schools and coached the legendary Jim Thorpe, who helped them upset Harvard in 1911. Ivy League and Middle Western teams dominated football in that era; pro football got little respect. This began to change in the late 1920s when college stars like Red Grange (from Illinois) and Bronco Nagurski (Minnesota) joined the pros and brought media attention.

Southern football teams became more visible as Alabama won the 1926 and Georgia Tech the 1929 Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl was one route to prove national stature. The famous Notre-Dame USC rivalry began in 1926. The largest crowd ever to attend a college game was in 1927 at Chicago’s Soldier Field, when over 123,000 fans saw Notre Dame beat USC 7-6.

Miami launched a New Year’s Day Palm Festival in 1933, including a game between the University of Miami and Manhattan College. The game was renamed the Orange Bowl and the festival the Orange Bowl Festival in 1935 following the Rose Bowl’s example.  An Orange Bowl Parade was started in 1940 but no longer exists. The Sugar Bowl began in New Orleans in 1935. Two more bowl games began in Texas: El Paso’s Sun Bowl in 1936 and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in 1937. There were many defunct bowl games, some of which were played only once, such as the Cereal and Dust Bowls. The Bacardi Bowl in Havana, Cuba was played irregularly starting in 1907.

Few Californians know about the one shot Los Angeles Christmas Bowl played at the Coliseum in 1924. USC defeated the University of Missouri 20-7. The Trojans were coached by Elmer Henderson, the winningest coach in USC’s history, with a record of 45-7 (.865). Some authorities call it the Los Angeles Christmas Festival rather than Christmas Bowl. It was a Rose Bowl competitor, and attracted 47,000 fans. The 1925 Rose Bowl one week later drew 53,000 fans and featured two of the most famous coaches of all time: Knute Rockne and Pop Warner, now at Stanford. Notre Dame won 27-10.  There is talk of reviving the Christmas Bowl- you can Google LA Christmas Bowl.

The Pacific Coast Conference was formed in 1915 by UC Berkeley, Oregon, Washington and Oregon State University. USC joined in 1922 and UCLA in 1929. UCLA started small, playing in the SCIAC with teams like Occidental, Redlands and Cal Tech from 1920-28.  USC was suspended in 1924 for allegedly paying players, see Stanford, USC & 1924 football scandal. The scandal was related to Coach Henderson’s dismissal after the 1924 season.

The NFL voted to exclude black players in the early 1930s; they had no African-Americans from 1934-46. Fritz Pollard coached the Harlem Brown Bombers, named after Joe Louis. Many people know that Jackie Robinson played college football; few know that he was part of the famous all black 1939 UCLA backfield: Robinson, Ray Bartlett, Kenny Washington and Woody Strode.

Washington was the best footballer, UCLA’s first All-American and led the country in total offense. Washington, Strode and Robinson played in the Pacific Coast Football league, Robinson was drafted after the 1941 season. Washington couldn’t get into major league pro football until 1946 when the Cleveland Rams of the AAFC moved to Los Angeles and signed both Strode and Washington. The Cleveland Browns signed two outstanding black players that same year, Marion Motley and Bill Willis. Washington suffered major injuries; he was less successful as a pro than would have been predicted from his great college days. Marion Motley, however, was a super star who led his league in rushing and was famous also for his blocking ability. Cleveland coach Paul Brown later said that Jim Brown was a better runner, but Motley a better all around player.

There was little money in the early bowl games. University of Oregon students sold the school store to raise money to send their team to the 1917 Rose Bowl. We’ll see in topic 2b how television, luxury boxes and big money drove the postwar sports world into an arms race that continues to this day.