College football is story-driven. Pageantry sells. Marching bands fall into formation to the beat of tradition. Fight songs provide the soundtrack. The sport’s newest narrative is the playoff. A season’s script relies heavily on perilous stakes and program arcs.
The blockbuster opens on New Year’s Eve despite the obvious pitfalls. This year’s film was a clunker. Alabama easily dispatched Washington in the first act. Clemson slew Ohio State with gratuitous gore in the second. Viewership was up while the quality stayed static. Audiences left unsatisfied.
As a new year began, an old story provided fresh delight. The Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of Them All, delivered a masterpiece. And much like a tale passed down generation to generation, it did so in the face of decreased reverence.
USC and Penn State battled in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains. As the shadows grew longer, the Nittany Lions unleashed a torrent of touchdowns to momentarily stun the Trojans. Undeterred and against long odds, the hometown side picked up their swords and fought on into the night, escaping with a dramatic 52-49 victory.
This Rose Bowl does not exist in 2016’s College Football Playoff canon. Detractors can rightly argue its outcome had no bearing on the ultimate resolution of the season. This Rose Bowl was also the best football game of the year. It broke through the noise and the other three dozen bowls to stand alone. It reached that hard to reach place and touched a nerve.
We knew we were watching something special. The long running time didn’t bother anyone. It was a heart-wrenching experience for both fanbases and pure joy for neutral parties.
The game log was flawless on the first draft. No script doctor was needed. Two traditional powers. Two programs at different stages or a renaissance. Copious, NFL-ready talent. Big plays exploding as if directed by Michael Bay on an unlimited budget. All taking place on one of the most visually stunning sets in all of sports.
In less than a week, Alabama and Clemson will play for a national championship. They have nominal chance to provide comparably compelling entertainment.
For now, we’ll steer clear of the relitigating the tired All Bowl Games Matter case and focus on the positive. This version of the Rose Bowl deserves better than to be bootstrapped into hot-take theater. Instead, let’s pause to appreciate the moment and marvel at the new tricks ol’ Granddaddy learned in an unforgettable Pasadena plot.