Representatives from the Tournament of Roses visited Happy Valley on Monday to offer fans Rose Bowl lore and a photo opportunity with the Leishman Trophy.
The final of four stops for the bowl’s trophy was Lettermans Sports Grill, where Penn State fans could enter a free raffle for official Rose Bowl gear or a pair of tickets to the game.
R. Scott Jenkins, Rose Bowl management committee chairman, said Penn State fans are among the most enthusiastic in the country.
“The Rose Bowl committee is thrilled to have Penn State in the game this year,” Jenkins said. “The fan base will bring a great deal of excitement to the atmosphere and the team is one of the hottest in the country.”
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Jenkins is a Southern California native and has volunteered to help with the Rose Bowl for 35 years. He said the matchup between Penn State and USC carries history for the game and the stadium.
“The new stadium was completed in 1922 for about $272,000,” Jenkins said. “And the very first game played in the Rose Bowl stadium was Penn State versus USC.”
The 1923 Rose Bowl was Penn State’s first-ever bowl appearance. The Nittany Lions lost to the Trojans 14-2. Since then, the Lions have played in “The Granddaddy of Them All” two times: 1995 vs. Oregon and 2009 vs. USC.
Kim Reigle, Penn State Class of ’89, stopped into Lettermans to have her picture taken with the trophy. When Reigle walked through the door, she was handed a raffle ticket by the Rose Bowl representatives, but she didn’t think she had a chance to win. As Jenkins called the first number, Reigle looked down to see the winning ticket in her hand.
“I couldn’t even believe it,” Reigle said. “This is just amazing and such a shock.”
As the evening progressed, Penn State fans funneled in and out of the bar to pose with the trophy. The occasional “We are … Penn State” chant boomed through the room in reaction to a replay on big-screen televisions of Penn State’s upset victory over Ohio State on Oct. 22. The win positioned the Nittany Lions for a spot in the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl game.
The game is typically played on Jan. 1, after the Tournament of Roses Parade, but this year the 103rd Rose Bowl game will be played on Jan. 2 because of the tournament’s “never on a Sunday” tradition.
Jenkins said there are a few theories why the Tournament of Roses events are not held on a Sunday, but the committee likes to think “if we don’t rain on God’s parade, he won’t rain on ours.”
When the tournament was established in 1893, organizers didn’t want the parade to frighten the horses hitched outside of churches, which could have disrupted worship services, according to Jenkins.
Penn State’s only win in the game was Jan. 2, 1995, when the Nittany Lions defeated Oregon 38-20 to cap off their last undefeated season.
“The history of these two universities is a big part of what makes the game so special,” Jenkins said. “This year, the excitement level is very high and the ticket demand is huge. I attribute that to Penn State.”
The game kicks off at 5 p.m. on ESPN.