PASADENA, Calif. – Well, I never thought I would be watching a football game in this iconic venue.
But here we are and I can tell you as I sit in the Rose Bowl press box with the playing field below me at kind of a slant from our high perch, around the 10-yard line near the Georgia logo painted in the South end zone, that this stadium is even more beautiful, more picturesque than I even imagined it was.
There, right behind the northeast corner of the stadium are the somewhat towering San Gabriel Mountains, a perfect complement to what makes this setting unlike any other in college football.
The East and West stands, running from goal line to goal line, glisten in the sunshine in a sparkling light red color with the end zone seats all in gray with the exception of a bank of seats in the southeast corner that is also adorned with the sparkling red design.
But as you may have seen in pictures going back to the last time the Georgia Bulldogs graced this field – 75 years ago to the day in the Jan. 1, 1943 Rose Bowl game against UCLA – this stadium has the same perfect bowl design it’s always had. There are no separate upper decks hanging over the field a la Sanford Stadium or Jordan-Hare Stadium, just a sidewalk-like passage dividing the lower and upper seating.
But yes, the Georgia Bulldogs – pinch yourselves, please – are now in the famous Rose Bowl, just a few hours away from battling the Oklahoma Sooners in the College Football Playoff semifinals, with a berth in the national championship game in Atlanta next Monday squarely on the line.
And making the four-team playoffs for the first time is Georgia’s only ticket to Pasadena due to the fact for all these past decades, this “Granddaddy of All Bowl Games” had the tie-in with the champions of the Pac-10 and Big Ten conferences. How many times have you watched only Southern Cal and UCLA go against Ohio State, Michigan and the like on this field? More times than you can remember, I’d say.
As the 12-1 Southeastern Conference champion Bulldogs of Kirby Smart attempt to stymie the high-flying offense of Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and the also 12-1 Sooners, I can almost picture in my mind’s eye those Bulldogs of long ago donned in silver helmets, red jerseys and silver britches right down on the field below lining up against the UCLA Bruins in the 1943 game here. Indeed, you can almost feel the ghosts of Frank Sinkwich, Charley Trippi (though the iconic Trippi is still very much alive) and Lamar “Racehorse” Davis ripping off big runs under the guidance of their head coach, Wally Butts, as the powerful 1942 Bulldo, of course,oo lost only to Auburn en route to the consensus national championship – blanked the Bruins by a 9-0 tally.
Now, these 75 years later, it’s guys like Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Jake Fromm, Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy who will be going full throttle to run the school’s Rose Bowl record to 2-0 and thereby set the stage for the Super Bowl of college football next week at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
While this is the first time in the Rose Bowl for the 2017 Bulldogs – although All-America linebacker Smith noted this week he visited this facility when being recruited by UCLA – Georgia’s head coach has also been on the sideline in this stadium. In the 2010 BCS national championship game Smart of course served as Alabama defensive coordinator as Nick Saban’s team toppled Texas 37-21 on the Rose Bowl turf. So the Bulldogs’ head man at least has that familiarity to impart to his players concerning a game in this stadium.
As has been long discussed ever since Georgia won the SEC title on Dec. 2 and Oklahoma walked away with the Big 12 crown the same day, this game today is without question a case of the irresistible force (the Sooner offense) going against the immovable object (the tenacious UGA defense). So something’s got to give when the ball is kicked off just after 5 p.m. Georgia time, 2 o’clock out here.
What I’m thinking is that it’s going to be the Bulldog offense, not defense, that holds the key to a Georgia victory. And the UGA offensive unit will unlock that door to the CFP national championship game by running that football and running it some more against an Oklahoma defense that has struggled somewhat against powerful ground attacks this season.
Here, in this absolutely gorgeous venue in perfect southern California weather, the controversial Sooner quarterback Mayfield gets his yardage and ample points too but the Georgia Bulldogs get more points due to their thundering running game and just enough pinpoint pass completions by freshman QB Fromm.
Make it 35-28 Bulldogs and the coveted spot in the national championship game for the University of Georgia!
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