PASADENA, Calif. — The game considered to be the first Rose Bowl was staged in 1902 to help pay for the Tournament of Roses Parade. An unexpectedly big crowd of about 8,000 sat on temporary stands in a park and watched Stanford lose 49-0 to Michigan.
No. 5 Stanford has returned to Pasadena 112 years later, facing No. 4 Michigan State today in the 100th edition of college football's quintessential bowl game.
Far fewer fans will show up to Arroyo Seco on horses and buggies this time, and the game probably won't be called early because of a rout. The Spartans and Cardinal believe they'll put on a display of throwback football.
"There is a special quality to it," said David Yankey, Stanford's All-America left guard. "The Rose Bowl will still go on, but it's kind of an end of an era in some sense, and we're excited to be part of that."
Both the Rose Bowl game and the stadium have evolved since that initial outing was eventually followed by the institution of an annual New Year's Day game in 1916. The 100th game falls during the final season of the BCS, and the stadium also will host the last BCS title game Monday.
Both Stanford and Michigan State fell shy of contending for that title shot, but it's tough to find any disappointed players.
The Cardinal is in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game after winning the Pac-12, while the Spartans blew through their Big Ten schedule and won their final nine games to earn the school's first trip to Pasadena since 1988.
"I would say this is the biggest game in our program's history," Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond said. "Definitely the biggest game in our lives. For us to go down in history as potentially one of the best teams, it's definitely a challenge that we're all ready to take on."
Last year, the Cardinal ended a 40-year Rose Bowl victory drought by holding off Wisconsin in a defense-dominated game. Stanford expects much the same challenge from Michigan State, since both schools have run-first offenses and the patience to grind out wins the old-fashioned way.
Michigan State will play without suspended middle linebacker Max Bullough, who was the defensive signal-caller. Kyler Elsworth has mostly taken on the role, but the Spartans will miss their leader. "I've been next to Max for three years," linebacker Denicos Allen said. "For the last game of our season or career here, him not being there is a different experience."
Stanford calls on running back Tyler Gaffney, who returns after playing a season of Class A baseball in the Pirates organization. He carried 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in a win over then-second-ranked Oregon.
"I was looking at him in the huddle and I could see bruises starting to form on his neck," Yankey said. "I was like, 'Oh, he's had a good day but he's had a tough day.' He never complains."