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The front facade of the Rose Bowl, home to UCLA’s football team since 1982 and where I have attended Bruin games since 1988. Photo courtesy of gojoebruin.com

 

SPENDING A DAY AMONG MY FELLOW MEMBERS OF BRUIN NATION AT THE PLACE WHERE UCLA FOOTBALL HAS CALLED HOME FOR NEARLY 35 YEARS

 

Much as is the case with Pauley Pavilion, UCLA’s basketball/volleyball/gymnastics palace, I have a long history with the football stadium widely considered the best in America – the Rose Bowl, located in the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena.

Being a UCLA alumnus, a former member of the UCLA Bruin Marching Band, and a current member of the UCLA Alumni Band, I reckon I have been to that historic stadium – a building which has held not only the most prestigious of January 1st bowl games for over 100 years, but everything from Super Bowls to World Cup Soccer Finals to concerts featuring A-listers like Beyoncé, U2 and the Rolling Stones – roughly 140 times, dating back to September 3, 1988, when as a new Bruin realizing my dream I went to my first game at that bowl; I even remember the outcome, the Bruins pulverizing San Diego State 59-6.

And that includes the last January 1st “Grandaddy Of Them All” classic that the Bruins were involved in, a battle vs Wisconsin where I camped out on Colorado Blvd. the night before, freezing in 30-something degree cold in order to see the Rose Parade the next morning, which even though UCLA lost the game was well worth it as everyone should see the Tournament of Roses Parade in person at least once in their lifetime; it even smelled good!

So like Pauley, I wasn’t exactly a newbie to the Rose Bowl experience as I journeyed to Pasadena for the Bruins’ recent showdown against Stanford.

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The UCLA Spirit Squad doing a number with the Alumni Band before a game; I’m sure I’m playing my saxophone behind these ladies. Photo courtesy of beatsc.com

 

The first thing I must mention is the tailgating, which is comparable to schools like Ole Miss with their Grove and Tennessee with their Vol Navy because of the setting as a golf course lies north of the Rose Bowl while a large park lies south of there; due to that, there’s plenty of room to eat and hobnob with fellow Bruins.

And as is the case with many other schools, at roughly three hours before kickoff UCLA’s players walk through the tailgaters and other fans on Lot H, the park south of the bowl, on their way to the gates to prepare for battle as they have done for the past twenty years, high-fiving the members of Bruin Nation while the Alumni Band – me included – plays the fight song “Sons of Westwood”.

It serves its purpose well, to fire up the UCLA faithful.

Also like pretty much every other major sports team, college and pro, the Bruins sport a fan fest on Lot H which opens about four hours before the game, where folks can get free swag from different booths, eat, buy Bruin gear and things like that.

I’m only able to take a little bit of time to partake in that fun due to my involvement in perhaps the biggest pre-game tradition UCLA has: the concert that the Alumni Band gives three hours before kickoff at a big tent located just south of the bowl.

Playing the tenor saxophone with several dozen of my fellow Bruins, the Alumni Band’s concerts are quite enjoyable as we play everything from 70s funk to current hits – Katy Perry’s “Hot And Cold” is a staple in our repertoire – to 60s classic rock to marches like John Phillip Souza’s “Stars And Stripes Forever”.

 

 

The UCLA Alumni Band performing “Sons of Westwood” in front of the Rose Bowl and sounding very good; I’m among them playing my sax!

 

The big highlight in these concerts is about halfway through, when the UCLA Spirit Squad – cheerleaders, Dance Team, yell leaders, and the Joe and Josephine Bruin mascots – perform with the Alumni Band on several songs, one of them, a big-band tune called “Tuxedo Junction”, where you are actually invited to dance with a spirit squad member if you wish.

After the pregame concert, I always head on over to the Rose Bowl’s Court of Champions to play another 30-minute concert with the Alumni Band, which is likewise a big hit with the fans entering the stadium as the music always sounds great due to the acoustics.

By the time that gig is done, it’s about 15 to 20 minutes before kickoff, which is when I enter the Rose Bowl through the same tunnel that the Bruins enter.

I have entered that bowl through the southeast tunnel ever since my days in the Bruin Marching Band, and the sight of anywhere from 60,000 to 90,000 people as I emerge from that tunnel has never gotten old.

On this particular occasion, the big grudge match against a 7th-ranked Stanford Cardinal team that has beaten our Bruins every year since 2008, I sit in the same area that I have always sat in since I joined the Alumni Band 25 years before: section 2, within the first few rows of seats, which like every one of the 92,542 others is a good seat, nothing to block your views of the giant video screen above the north end zone of the throwback scoreboard above the south end zone.

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Nate Iese (#11) getting some yardage against Stanford’s defense. Photo courtesy of fansided.com

 

Though I rarely leave my seat to eat due to the lack of affordable healthy options that the Rose Bowl offers in their concessions, basics like hot dogs and hamburgers dominating the menu with dishes like chicken and rice bowls going for $10 and up (which I refuse to pay!), having been at that venue enough times I can say that with the recent renovations, the necessities are perfectly adequate as the bathrooms and water fountains are clean and functional, and the ushers do a fine job as well.

As do the spirit squad members and the yell leaders who lead cheers in front of our section.

In other words, there is nothing to complain about regarding the experience you will get at the Rose Bowl save for perhaps one thing…

The hot weather that’s common in September and early October in Pasadena, especially around that Bowl, which is located in a mini-valley with hills surrounding the place as temperatures have reached as high as 100 degrees and up; it was over 90 degrees during the day at both games UCLA has played there this year so far.

With the only shade being under the recently renovated press box/luxury suites named after former Bruin coach Terry Donahue, Bruin Nation has often fried when the temperatures approach triple digits.

 

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UCLA’s Spirit Squad performing with the Bruin Marching Band on campus. Photo courtesy of beatsc.com

 

I particularly remember one occasion in 2000 when the Bruins took on Michigan. It was – get this – 110 DEGREES at the Rose Bowl that afternoon as upon arriving home and turning on the local news, I saw that their lead story was the fact that fifteen fans at that game had to go to the hospital for heat exhaustion.

The moral to this story:

If you go to a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl during the first half of the season and if it’s a day game…

  1. Be sure to wear VERY light clothing,
  2. Bring LOTS of sunscreen,
  3. Bring a squirt bottle fan if you have one, and…
  4. Drink TONS of cold water.

Outside of that, there’s not a better football experience in Southern California than the Rose Bowl.

I should know; I’ve been going to games there for nearly thirty years.

As for the game itself, being a Bruin alum and a loyal follower of my alma mater’s football team for well over half my life, to say that I was dejected at the game’s outcome – which I will not mention – is an understatement.

But that didn’t change the positive experience that I got, that I have gotten, and that I’ll likely will always get.

So much so that I’m very much looking forward to the next time, which will be a month from now.

 

 

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The Bruin defense putting a hit on Stanford’s all-universe running back/receiver/returner Christian McCaffrey during this past Saturday’s game. Photo courtesy of gojoebruin.com

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