Bowl time by the fireside 

Marvin Westwestwords

In times past, this was the week the traveling Tennessee thousands would gather in New Orleans or Orlando or Dallas for another bowl game. Party time. Paint the town. Go Vols!

In times present, this is a week to sit by the fireside, ponder again what went wrong, wonder how the heck did we get into that mess, try to spin an awful season and a new coach into a later recruiting strength and consider next year before it is next year.

As it is, there are no pressing concerns about the national playoffs or which players won’t play for fear of injury and reduced value in the NFL draft.

We could fret about 15 lost practices for needy Volunteers. They could fret about bowl gifts missed – free shopping sprees, Bluetooth headphones, Fossil watches and life-size Fathead decals in their favorite poses.

Instead of dwelling on disappointments, let’s talk about the beginning of bowls, first among the 40 or 50 currently in existence. Come along for a ride to Pasadena, to the original Tournament of Roses, to the granddaddy of all bowl games, leading to the Tennessee adventure of 1939.

Half a century before that, the ladies and gentlemen of the Valley Hunt Club, just to have something to do, paraded their horse-drawn buggies decorated with roses through the streets of Pasadena. Young men spent the afternoon competing in foot races and tugs-of-war. California girls, being much too fragile for combat, smiled, cheered and clapped their hands.

The club set had so much fun, they did it again the next Jan. 1. They added polo matches and a greased-pig chase.

A new president thought it would be smart to tie into the up-and-coming athletic pastime, college football, to promote their festival of roses. The first real investment, Michigan against Stanford, attracted 8,000 to a dusty field. Crowd control was a problem. Please remain behind the ropes.

The powerhouse Wolverines, who had outscored opponents 501-0 during the regular season, outscored Stanford 49-0. The curious departed early. The rout caused the Hunt Club to give up on football for the next 14 years. Leadership substituted chariot races. They raced ostriches. There was one race between an elephant and a camel. There may have been some betting.

Eventually, football returned. Interest escalated. The hosts built a fantastic horseshoe stadium that would seat 57,000. They spent a whopping $272,198. Excitement followed.

The 1923 kickoff was delayed because the Penn State squad got stuck in traffic.

Wrong-Way Roy Riegels, playing for Cal, ran the wrong way with a Georgia Tech fumble and earned that historic nickname.

The famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame rode through the Rose Bowl.

The 1932 Olympics used the stadium for cycling competition.

The 1939 Tennessee football team came calling. The Volunteers, undefeated in 23 games and unscored on in 15, crossed the country to play Southern Cal. It was the social event of the season.

UT sophomore Lindsey Nelson, famous broadcaster to be, caught a ride to California with a Sevierville brick mason driving out to visit his parents. Lindsey was assistant driver.

He found the stadium on his own, romped up and down the empty aisles and wondered how you could possibly see a game from the top row.

Clarence Brown, a UT alum and a director and producer for MGM, led the welcoming delegation. Lindsey knew several Volunteers and tagged along to a Tennessee Christmas party at the Brown home and told some wonderful stories about meeting Tom Mix and Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Better yet, he met Lana Turner. She mistook him for a skinny, little player, hugged him tight and gave her autograph with this little message: “Do it for me, Lindsey.”

Because of Brown, the Vols got to visit MGM studios, to the very set where Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr were filming “I Take This Woman.” They got to see Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald working on “New Moon.”

More big names were at the game – Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, Jack Benny, Robert Taylor.

Oh, you want to know about football? Southern Cal inflicted a 14-0 defeat. Tennessee tailback George Cafego had bad news, a knee injury. He said it was so bad, he couldn’t dance at the post-game party. George didn’t mention that he wasn’t much of a dancer when his knee was fine.

You could have enjoyed that Rose Bowl trip for $96.42. That’s how much a package deal cost for a round-trip train ticket from Knoxville to Los Angeles to Knoxville, two nights in a hotel, a $4.40 ticket to the game and a side trip to Tijuana, Mexico.

You tell me if this little story was better than another regurgitation of the miserable 2017 season. That’s what you would have gotten had it not been Christmas.

(Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is [email protected])


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