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Attending the Rose Bowl – Football Heaven in Pasadena

The Rose Bowl.  The Granddaddy of Them All. A storied football game in a storied stadium.  I started 2022 sitting in Rose Bowl stadium, cheering on my University of Utah Utes. Hopefully not a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the greatest football experience of my life so far. Let me share with you what attending the Rose Bowl is all about.

First, Some Football History

There was a time in my life when attending the Rose Bowl to support my own alma mater seemed impossible.  When I was a student at the University of Utah, our football team wasn’t very good, but I attended almost every home game. I spent 8 years at the U (undergraduate and a medical degree), and it wasn’t until my final year that the team qualified for a Bowl game – the 1992 Copper Bowl.  At the time, it was the University’s first Bowl game in almost 40 years! 

In the years that followed, the football program improved and continued to win, ultimately accepting an invitation into the PAC-12 conference – the conference whose champion plays annually in the Rose Bowl.  

But, a better conference meant tougher competition, and so a Rose Bowl berth wasn’t in our immediate cards.  Prominent teams like Oregon, USC, and Washington stood in our way year after year.  

Finally, this year, 10 years after joining the PAC-12 conference, Utah prevailed in the conference championship game against Oregon, securing its first berth to the most recognizable and historic of college football bowl games. And we would also be playing a storied opponent – Ohio State.

A shirt from the 2022 Rose Bowl game Utah vs Ohio State
The Shirt sitting in front of me at the Rose Bowl

Premeditated Tripping

Of course, we had to go!  Mrs. TT loves Utah football too.  But, in order to attend the Rose Bowl, I knew I would be fighting with lots of the State for transportation to, and lodging in, the LA area. The Rose Bowl Stadium seats around 90,000 fans. I started thinking about those numbers even before the Utes were in. I anticipated that plenty of Utah fans would be scrambling to make travel arrangements if we won that Championship.  

So, I did all my tripping during the week before the PAC-12 championship game – at a time when we could still only hope that we would be attending the Rose Bowl. I booked plane tickets using Delta SkyMiles – knowing that I could redeposit them if we lost the championship.  And I booked a refundable hotel room in North Hollywood – 15 minutes from the stadium.  (Pasadena hotels were already full even then – certainly due to the Tournament of Rose Parade)

This all worked out perfectly. Within minutes of Utah beating Oregon to secure the Rose Bowl berth, flights to the LA area quickly filled up, with plane tickets to all area airports escalating to $1500 or more.  

As we celebrated our conference championship following the end of that PAC-12 championship game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, I had no Pasadena tripping worries. Everything was already booked and we were very excited to be attending the Rose Bowl a month later. 

Utah wins the 2021  PAC-12 Championship football game
PAC-12 Champions in Las Vegas

Then Omicron….

Then Omicron showed up.  And Bowl games started to get cancelled because teams had too many sick players. And flights started to get cancelled because the airlines had too many sick workers.  I started watching our odds of actually attending the Rose Bowl shrink.  

Plus, I once again faced that recurrent 2020-21 travel consideration – is it even safe to go?  I took comfort in the fact that the Rose Bowl is outdoors and that proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test was required for entry.  I also took comfort in my Moderna booster.  Plus I took comfort in California’s requirement for vaccine checks at restaurants.  Not 100% comfort.  But enough comfort to go.  

It was a nerve-racking week leading up to the game.  Several thousand flights across the US were cancelled the day before ours. Then Utah was hit with a massive snowstorm the night before our flight, causing even more local flight cancellations.  I even received a text from Delta the day before, asking me if I wanted to reschedule.   But…our flight took off when it was supposed to!  And all the players on both teams stayed healthy!  And the Rose Bowl happened!!

Will Somebody Please Take Us to the Game?

The Rose Bowl Stadium is recognized as one of the most beautiful football stadiums in the US and it sits in a beautiful location up a small canyon.  However, this aesthetically pleasing location makes for both limited parking and difficult access with relatively few roads in and out of the immediate  area. 

A map of Pasadena

Car rental has been so expensive lately that I had decided to use Ride Share exclusively for this trip.  I figured this could also offer the advantage of avoiding parking hassles at the game.  We wanted to arrive at the Stadium early – we had an invitation to tailgate with some friends. But proper timing was critical. Pasadena hosts two huge events on New Year’s Day. As recommended on the Rose Bowl website, I timed our Pasadena arrival for the end of the Rose Parade at 11:30 am, opening my Uber App and confirming our ride shortly after 11. 

And then watched as the first driver accepted and then cancelled the ride.  Followed by a second driver doing the same.  And then a third, and a fourth.  Seemingly, no Uber driver in North Hollywood wanted anything to do with Pasadena on New Year’s Day.  

I did have a Plan B – I anticipated driver reluctance might be a problem.  We were staying within a few blocks of LA’s subway system, and though it would take an hour including a train change in downtown LA,  we could have made our way to Pasadena underground. 

But then the 5th driver confirmed our trip.  Turns out, he was new in LA and had forgotten about the Rose Bowl.  Great luck for us!  And it turned out that there was minimal traffic getting to Pasadena. So those other 4 drivers missed out on a great chance to enjoy our company.

Shuttle Shock

The Rose Bowl has a designated drop off area for Ride Shares in Old Town Pasadena. From there, a free shuttle would take us to the Stadium – helping us avoid the 1.8 mile walk.  As we exited the freeway, I was shocked to see a long line of fans already wrapping around several blocks, waiting for the shuttle.  It was 2.5 hours before the game.  I guess, like us, everyone wanted to get there early to soak in the atmosphere. 

Fans lining up for the shuttle from Pasadena while attending the Rose Bowl game

Gratefully, the wait was minimal. Kudos to the Rose Bowl organizers for the shuttle system efficiency. One bus after another would quickly line up and fill with fans.  There then seemed to be a designated shuttle-only route that took us circuitously through some nearby Pasadena neighborhoods, ultimately dropping us off at the stadium gates.  From the time our Uber driver dropped us off, we were at the stadium in less than 20 minutes.

Tailgating on a Golf Course

Tailgating before a game is a football tradition for many.  We don’t tailgate often, but we were invited to join some friends at a tailgating spot they had reserved. And this, after all, was The Rose Bowl!  We wanted the full experience! So after arriving at the stadium, we set off to find them.  

The tailgating setup at Rose Bowl stadium is unique.  A golf course borders the stadium to the North, and this golf course is used for tailgating and other large pregame festivities like Fan Fest (food, games, and entertainment). Tailgaters park their cars out on the fairways, where they can set up their food and drinks. 

Fan Fest is one of the pregame activities for fans who are attending the Rose Bowl Game
Fans lining up to enter Fan Fest

Turns out though, that when arriving at the Stadium by shuttle, it’s a bit of a walk up to the middle of the golf course.  Over 2 miles round trip, in fact.  But, I had a chance to fist-bump Swoop, Utah’s mascot, along the way.

Utah's mascot Scoop
Utah’s mascot is a Red-Tailed Hawk named Swoop

And once we arrived at our green-side destination, we were able to enjoy some pregame food and drink, while speculating plenty about the outcome of the game.

Utah fans Tailgating on the the nearby golf course at prior to the Rose Bowl

Cattle Call

It wasn’t long before we needed to make the trek back to the stadium. Once there, our vaccine cards and IDs were checked at one station, where we were branded as “safe”.  This was followed by another line for a security check including a metal detector.

A vaccination check or negative COVID test was required prior to attending the 2022 Rose Bowl

Both teams – Utah and Ohio State – wear red.  So once we finally entered the stadium complex, we were met by thousands of red-clad fans, shoulder to shoulder, all maneuvering through the outside concourse, trying to get inside the actual stadium, through long tunnels carved through the stadium walls.  It did feel a bit cattle-like. Not a place for the agoraphobic. But finally, we exited the tunnel and out into the actual Rose Bowl.

Utah fans packed in the outdoor concourse
Fans packed in at the tunnel entrances to Rose Bowl stadium
Exiting the tunnels at the Rose Bowl

GameTime

I’ve been to a lot of college football games.  I’ve been to several big bowl games. But nothing compares to the grandeur or excitement of attending the Rose Bowl. As a sports fan, just the history alone is inspiring. Rose Bowl Stadium was built in 1922, and is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. It’s certainly one of the most historic venues in all of sport. In addition to the annual Rose Bowl, it has hosted 5 Super Bowls, a World Cup Final, and Olympic events. To actually find myself sitting there, in a packed stadium, on a beautiful day, getting ready to root on my alma mater – Pretty Cool! Plus, given Utah’s driveable proximity to LA, the stands were Utah fan-dominant, which added to the excitement.

The University of Utah football team enters the field at the 2022 Rose Bowl
Utah Enters the Field to great Fanfare

Utah wasn’t the favorite in this game. Ohio State was ranked 6th in the country. Utah was ranked 11th. This was Ohio State’s 16th appearance in the Rose Bowl (with 8 wins). This was our first. Ohio State was favored by 4 points.

But…Utah came out and smoked them early. With Utah’s first early touchdown, there was true pandemonium in those predominantly Utah stands. With the second touchdown (14-0 lead), I’ve never seen such raucous excitement.

But football games are long, and Ohio State had the best offense in the country during the football season, and ultimately they started to score too. Halftime score 35-21 in favor of the Utes.

Halftime scoreboard at the 2022 Rose Bowl

A Tale of Two Halves

I didn’t take great comfort in our halftime lead. Scoring can happen quickly during a college football game. Teams often make important adjustments in the locker room. And momentum shifts are inevitable.

Ohio State started the second half as hot as we started the first. And as sun the disappeared behind the nearby hills, so did Utah’s momentum.

Smoke, sunset, and a blimp at Rose Bowl Stadium
Smoke lingers from third quarter fireworks, and yes, that’s the Goodyear Blimp

In the end, it was a very close game. The media called it an instant classic. Multiple Rose Bowl records were broken. The game lasted 4 hours due to all the scoring. Ohio State won on a last second field goal. Final score….Ohio State 48 – Utah 45. We were sad, but also satisfied that we gave the mighty Ohio State a tough game all the way to the end.

Celebration for Ohio State at the end of the 2022 Rose Bowl
Confetti drifts through the air at games end. And even more fireworks…and smoke!

90K Getting Out

So what happens when 90,000 people try to leave the Rose Bowl all at once? Time for the cattle call again.  We didn’t even try to leave our seats for 15 minutes. The aisles down to the concourse exits were massively clogged with the red-clad.   We sat and disappointedly watched the other team’s trophy presentation.  

Finally there was enough movement in the aisles to work our way down and out.  But, the lines for the shuttles were impossibly long.  It’s obviously easier to move people into the stadium over several hours, than move everyone out all at once.  

So we decided to walk the 1.8 miles back to Old Town Pasadena.  Along with hoards of others and a slow line of cars too.  

A pack of fans leaving the Rose Bowl

Once there, I was somewhat concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find an Uber for a while.   But no issues.  We had a ride within minutes (though the rate doubled compared to our morning ride due to “High Traffic”.)  Our driver had no problem or delay getting to the freeway either.  The game congestion was on the north side of the freeway – we had walked to the south side. 

From game’s-end to walking into a North Hollywood restaurant for dinner, it took 1.5 hours.  Overall I would say much better than expected.

Final Thoughts

Attending the Rose Bowl was everything I could have hoped for. Except for the final score, of course. A day spent in a historic location, in beautiful weather, watching a great football game. Hopefully this Rose Bowl will be Utah’s first of many. As ever-optimistic football fans, we are looking forward to a repeat visit next year! And a win the second time around!!

This was our first great trip of 2022. I’m excited to share our travels in the upcoming year. In the meantime, feel free to click here and take a look back with me to my Favorite Food and Travel of 2021

We also spent some extra time in the LA area, taking advantage of the great weather. Click here to read about our afternoon on the Warner Bros Studio Tour learning about how TV and movies are made. I was impressed with how much access to this working studio that we actually had.

6 Comments

  • Carolyn Jepson

    Super commentary, Steve. I really enjoyed your whole experience and felt Like I was right there with you. Very thrilling.

  • Peggy Zipperer

    Fantastic writing (as always) – I actually felt like I was right there! I love football games but without a college team to support (Univ of Portland doesn’t have one), I don’t have a deep devotion to any particular college team and kind of feel like I’m missing out every bowl season. Sorry for the Utes loss but what an incredible experience.

    • thethoroughtripper

      Thanks Peggy! Sometimes it’s easier to truly enjoy a sport without a strong team connection though. That’s how I am with the NFL. Much more relaxing to watch a game without the emotional attachment.

  • Elaine harris

    Hey Steve, my husband Dave &I also attended, so glad you & Mrs. TT did too! We attended the Alumni tailgate and drove out rather than flying, had no traffic or other problems (and we didn’t even catch “the Rosebowl-Rona” LOL! ). Can’t wait to do it all again next year, GO UTES!

    • thethoroughtripper

      Glad you two went! And yes, it could definitely happen again next year with all the returning players. Mrs. TT and I were speculating on that very subject this morning.

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