Something special about Big Ten and Rose Bowl
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Up until 1975, there was the Rose Bowl and nothing else for Big Ten teams.
The conference champion -- or, in the case of one infamous tie, the team selected as its representative -- was the only fortunate squad that did not pack up its equipment in late November and try to hibernate through a long, cold winter in the Midwest.
"When I got (to the Rose Bowl) my senior year, I was very thankful," former Buckeyes and NFL offensive lineman Jim Lachey said of his trip in 1984. "I was glad I got a chance to go to the Rose Bowl because there were some guys who didn't get that opportunity who played before me."
From 1901, when Michigan beat Stanford 49-0, to 1974, when Southern California edged Ohio State 18-17, no Big Ten team played in any bowl game other than the Rose. A lot of very good teams who had come up short by a yard or a point had to stay home and listen on the radio or watch on television while another team went to the land of movie stars, palm trees and Disneyland.
A case in point is the 1973 Michigan team which went 10-0-1, outscored opponents 330-68 and was in the top five in the rankings all year -- but tied Ohio State 10-10 in the regular-season finale. In a 6-4 vote by the Big Ten's athletic directors a day later, the rival Buckeyes and coach Woody Hayes received the conference's lone bowl bid and went to Pasadena.
Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, an Ohio native and former Hayes lieutenant at Ohio State, never got over the slight.
"It was the greatest disappointment of my career. Everybody, including Woody Hayes, congratulated me after the game and said, 'Oh, you'll do a great job in the Rose Bowl' and all that," a still angry Schembechler said four days before he died in 2006. "It was strictly a political thing. The whole thing upset me to no end. I think that team, that 1973 team, is the reason that (the Big Ten is) playing in other bowls today."
The Big Ten voted to change its rules in 1975. More than three decades later, any team finishing .500 or better is eligible to go to a bowl. With that, and the arrival of the Bowl Championship Series, the Rose may have lost some of its luster. But make no mistake, it's still a prime destination for Big Ten teams.
Lachey's Rose Bowl was also the only time that current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel ever made it to the Granddaddy of all Bowl Games. Tressel was an assistant under Earle Bruce in 1984, coaching the running backs and quarterbacks.
To return to Pasadena is a step back in time for Tressel.
"It's something that if you coach in the Big Ten or the Pac-10, it's certainly in front of you every day," he said this week during preparations for his Buckeyes' New Year's Day game against Oregon. "It's a goal that you want to be a part of the Rose Bowl.
"Would there be something missing if you never got to go? I guess so."
Tressel's father was a Hall of Fame head coach at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Lee Tressel's life revolved around coaching.
After a season had ended and their dad was around the house more, the three Tressel sons relished the time spent with their dad. One of their favorite days of the year was New Year's Day, because they knew their father would want to watch the Rose Bowl and the rest of the college football lineup. It was a special day.
"Oh, gosh, yeah," Jim Tressel said. "January 1st in our house, two black-and-white TVs set up side by side, and that old 30-pot coffee maker, that little silver thing. My dad never got off the couch, man. We were taking him coffee and switching stations. I mean, that was -- shoot, you were living on January 1st."
These days the primary goal of all major college programs is to get to the BCS national championship game. After that, just about any bowl game in a warm climate will do.
But the Rose Bowl still holds a special cachet in Big Ten country.
"If you talk to our student-athletes, they are absolutely ecstatic about going to the Rose Bowl," Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee said earlier this week. "This is one of the great things about the Big Ten -- our tradition is winning the Big Ten and going to the Rose Bowl."