10 questions surrounding the 105th Rose Bowl

Dan Raley

The Rose Bowl is a special place, offering a high-profile football game played in the shadows of the picturesque San Gabriel Mountains, usually under brilliant California sunshine and in front of the largest college crowd assembled anywhere in the postseason. Even the thundering military jet flyover moments before kickoff never fails to send a shiver up everyone’s spine.

The Rose Bowl was created in 1902 and used as a blueprint to establish the Orange and Sugar bowls in Miami and New Orleans in 1935. This Pasadena extravaganza once catered to 106,000-plus fans until a couple of rounds of remodeling reduced seating capacity to a more compact 92,000-plus—still roughly 20,000 more than the nearest holiday season football gathering.

It’s the only way a bowl game should be presented, unlike a majority of December contests now played before largely empty seats and lacking any drama. Who among the few Washington football fans in attendance for the 1987 Independence Bowl will ever forget the meager 20,000 turnout, if that, on a miserable rainy night in Shreveport, La., prompting late Huskies linebacker Jay Roberts to remark candidly, “We’re in a shitty bowl.”

No, the Rose Bowl delivers on all counts, and it’s even better when you win it. This one has Urban Meyer’s retirement party attached to it. This one has Chris Petersen trying to spoil it. As we embrace the 105th Rose Bowl game—which marks Washington’s first appearance in 18 years and Ohio State’s first in nine seasons—here are 10 questions surrounding this epic New Year’s Day football game:

  1. What in the name of Woody Hayes is a Buckeye?

For those thinking it’s a pirate with a patch or a nearsighted deer, wrong and wrong. It’s a small dark brown nut that falls from the official state tree of Ohio, a buckeye tree. For all the times I’ve watched the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry game, I’d never noticed until now that the silly looking mascot in red clothes wears the goofy head of a nut. That’s nuts.

  1. What is the Little Red Hen?

It’s a legendary Seattle tavern near Woodland Park that likely cost the Huskies a Rose Bowl trip. Two weeks after running all over Ohio State on the road in 1966, Donnie Moore was caught drinking beer in this place and banished from the team, derailing any Pasadena hopes that season. He was imbibing with other UW players. He was the only one wearing his letterman’s jacket. He was the lone player punished, likely made an example by coach Jim Owens for the others to see. Not sure if the current Huskies, in referencing a memorable observation from a recent Supreme Court nominee, even drink or like beer. Oh yeah, besides hosting live bands and karaoke throughout the week, the Little Red Hen will be throwing its own Rose Bowl party on Tuesday afternoon. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. If he can make it, Donnie Moore is invited.

  1. Will the Grinch steal Christmas?

Actually it was Ohio State that stole Alex Grinch, pulling the Ohio native away from Mike Leach’s staff at Washington State a year ago and making him co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. While Grinch did well to revamp the Cougars defense over three seasons, the Buckeyes under his first-year purview have been uncharacteristically porous on that side of the ball, giving up 25.7 points per game, including a whopping 51 to Maryland, 39 to Michigan and 31 to Nebraska and Oregon State.

  1. Will this be underclassmen Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy’s last games as Huskies?

Yep and yep. These guys have so much talent there’s no reason to delay their careers as NFL defensive backs, especially for Murphy, who offers coveted lockdown capabilities at cornerback, a pro football luxury. They’re both second-team AP All-America selections who would be first-teamers next season if they returned. The UW should feel lucky these two didn’t consider sitting out the Rose Bowl to protect their health and pro investment, a growing trend throughout college football. They’re gamers.

  1. Why do they call him Urban?

Big-city guy? Lives in a row house? Prefers cement over rural acreage? No, Meyer is devoutly Roman Catholic and his parents, apparently borrowing from a biblical playbook, christened him Urban, after one of 70 apostles who in turn became a bishop and finally a saint. Amen.

  1. Who wins between Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the UW secondary?

The vaunted Huskies in pass coverage looked vulnerable in the season opener against Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, who has announced his intentions to turn pro early. Haskins, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore from Maryland, is a much better NFL prospect than Stidham. He’s thrown for 4,580 yards and 47 touchdowns with just eight interceptions this season. If the Huskies can’t slow him down, game over. Rapp and Murphy give them a fighting chance. Haskins should be NFL-bound after the Rose Bowl along with those UW defenders. A question just as pressing is who’s smarter: Haskins or Huskies linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven—they’re both highly decorated scholar-athletes. Haskins is a journalism major, BBK has a degree coming in film studies. Maybe they can hold a debate.

  1. Isn’t Michael Jordan a legendary shooting guard? Quarterback? Boxer? Football center?

The name describes all of the above: the greatest NBA player ever, the guy who played the fictional QB1 for East Dillon High in the Friday Night Lights TV show and the same character who turns up in the Creed movies as Rocky’s understudy—plus Ohio State’s Michael Jordan. The latter is a 6-7, 312-pound junior center from Canton, Mich., who has been named to a few All-America teams, started his first two years at left guard and became the first Buckeyes freshman to start up front since Orlando Pace. He’s likely headed to the NFL after this game, too. One reason is he’s found it tough ordering pizza in Columbus while using his real name for home delivery, getting hung up on by disbelievers scoffing at the validity of his name.

  1. What’s the Don James-Ohio State connection?

The Buckeyes seriously wanted to hire Washington’s accomplished coach, an Ohio native, in 1987 after firing Earle Bruce, who was the replacement for an out-of-control Woody Hayes, who punched opposing Clemson player Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl and got fired for it. The pursuit of the UW coach might have started after a Bruce-coached Ohio State team came to Seattle in 1986 and got pummeled 40-7 in a nationally televised game, suffering all kinds of special-team breakdowns, with the success of these offerings a James specialty. James had taken the Huskies to three Rose Bowls to that point, soon to be six. He previously was the coach at Kent State in Ohio. James, whose brother Tommy played for Ohio State’s 1942 national championship team, was the Miami Hurricanes quarterback in 1952 and ’53. He was content to stay and coach in Seattle rather than be the home-state hero returning.

  1. What will Petersen have in his bowl-game bag of tricks for Ohio State?

The Huskies coach likes to downplay his previous reputation as a trickster, one gleaned from his first season as coach at Boise State after his team executed three unconventional calls to perfection against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl: A circus pitch on a reception, a halfback pass and a Statue of Liberty handoff. All of it was needed to beat the heavily favored Sooners 43-42 in overtime. Petersen wants you to think he’s moved on from his unpredictable ways with the more established UW program, but that’s why they call them trick plays isn’t it—you never know when they’re coming. The coach knows he’ll need one or more surprise plays to beat the Buckeyes. How about a double-reverse TD pass to Jake Browning from wideout Andre Baccellia?

  1. Who wins?

The Buckeyes are favored by a bunch, but the Huskies always seem to account well for themselves in Pasadena. Washington has won four of its last five trips to the Rose Bowl, and was in position to sweep all of those games. The Huskies, however, haven’t fared well as of late against the college game’s legacy schools—Alabama, Penn State and Auburn, for instance—which is one of the reasons Browning gets severely criticized. He’s the triggerman and the game manager. The UW badly needs a next-level win. It’s time. The Buckeyes might be a little flat knowing that the super intense Meyer won’t be back after this one. Either way, look for a close game. Here’s a bold pick: UW 28, Ohio State 24.