The Big Game

Football shapes the future.

By Luke Robinson


The BCS’s reign of terror mercifully comes to an end in about a month. Personally, I thought the BCS was a pretty good system for determining a college champ. But the American public demanded a playoff, and we now have one!

Fittingly, the BCS will end its run within the confines of the scenic Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Thousands of fans will cram into this landmark to watch as Team A and Team B (this article was too time-dependent for me to know who the teams are) play for the coveted crystal trophy. I hate to break the news to you, but chances are, you aren’t going. However, through the beauty of technology, if you aren’t  going to the game, you will be able to watch it on high-def TV,  listen on satellite radio, or even follow it online. In this day and age, it would be harder to avoid a match of this magnitude than to find a medium to observe it.

But what if your options for catching the big game were limited? Like, really limited? I mean, no Internet, TV, or smart phones. No texts from your friends wishing you were there and no Instagrams of the field. That would, in one word, suck.

It’s hard to imagine life without such amenities, isn’t it? However, it was exactly that way in 1927 when an arguably even bigger game took place in the same stadium this last BCS Championship will.

Eighty-seven years ago (Jan. 1, 1927) Alabama was playing Stanford in the Rose Bowl. It was a gigantic game. The previous year, the Tide had traveled west to the same venue and defeated a ballyhooed Washington team 20-19. The outcome was a total shock to most college football pundits (and especially to the Rose Bowl Committee, which had extended invitations to Dartmouth, Yale, and Colgate prior to inviting the ‘unimpressive’ Crimson Tide).

The 1927 New Year’s Day game was to be a different story, though. Alabama was pitted against mighty Stanford, a team that many observers considered superhuman. To make the odds even more insurmountable, the Cardinals were also coached by the legendary ‘Pop’ Warner. Yes, that one.

This Rose Bowl was the West’s chance to show the East that they were the preeminent power in college football and that the Tide’s victory the last year was just a fluke.

Back in Alex City, an anxious crowd gathered downtown to follow the contest. Among the crowd was my grandfather, Donald Petrey (Granddaddy to me), who was 9 years old at the time.

Granddaddy and a cast of hundreds convened near Carlisle’s Drug Store and waited patiently, as a man would emerge from a nearby store and update down, distance, and score after listening to the NBC radio broadcast. It was the first time ever that a college game was broadcasted coast to coast.

The radio broadcast was a welcome sound as the previous year citizens had to wait for updates via telegraph. A man would emerge with announcements, and the crowd would then pass around a hat to collect money for the next report. In hindsight, it took as much teamwork to listen to the game as it did to play it.

As the masses awaited information, the adults discussed various in-game possibilities. The kids played football in the streets. But when an announcement was made, there was silence all around.

In the end, Alabama found a way to tie Stanford late in the game 7-7, despite being outplayed for the entire contest. Also, because championships were actually decided before the bowls in this era, Alabama was declared the national champion that year along with Stanford, Lafayette, and Navy. Bowl games were simply a reward for a great season and not a means to an end in that time.

No doubt inspired by the play of the Tide’s two Rose Bowl teams, Granddaddy desperately wanted to play for ’Bama’s coach, Wallace Wade. So much so that when Granddaddy completed his playing days at Alex City High, he followed Wade to Duke when Wade moved from Tuscaloosa to Durham to coach.

Of lesser note (the writer typed sarcastically), the game was also heard in Arkansas by one young Paul Bryant, who decided then and there that he would be a part of the Alabama football program. (Whatever happened to him, anyway?)

Looking back, the 1926 and 1927 Rose Bowls paved the way for Southern respect and opened new avenues of thinking about how the pollsters vote. These games also had a direct impact on my family; without the ‘26 and ‘27 Rose Bowls,  Granddaddy may never have gone to Duke (and eventually on to dental school). He may have never met my grandmother or moved back to Alex City, either. It’s not too farfetched to say that if Wallace Wade had not coached two brilliant games in Pasadena back in the twenties, I may not even be here!

Hmm…. I wonder what would have happened if Bo Jackson didn’t run the wrong play in 1984? Or if Ed Scissum hadn’t fumbled against Auburn in 1997? What if Mike Shula had signed Tim Tebow?

On second thought, it’s probably best to just not think about it.

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