On December 6, 2015, the Rose Bowl selection committee announced that the Stanford Cardinal (representing the Pac-12 Conference) would face the Iowa Hawkeyes (representing the Big Ten Conference) in the 2016 edition of their New Years classic. While this may not be a significant event for many people, it was for my 75 year old father who is a lifelong Hawkeye fan. Even though he had broken his shoulder recently in a fall while recently attending the Iowa-Nebraska game in Lincoln, he is still planning to get into a car with some friends for the 24+ hour trip to Pasadena. While this might seem like an odd way to start a History Rhyme, there is a good historical reason why we are discussing the New Year’s plans of my father’s favorite team. It has to do with the way that nearly equal periods of time can seem so different depending on: 1) whether events occurred on one’s lifetime, 2) the age when the events occur, and 3) how personally memorable past events were to the observer. So, lets take a journey back in time to when the University of Iowa has gone to the Rose Bowl and how some of those events are remembered by me.
Prior to this upcoming trip to Pasadena, the Hawkeyes were last in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1991, when they were defeated 46-34 by the Washington Huskies. From the upcoming game to then is a period of 25 years. At that time, George H. W. Bush was president and both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democratic Party. The average price of gasoline was around $1.16 that year. In the month prior to that game, the newly reunited Germany had its first parliamentary elections that kept the center-right Christian Democratic Union (and its coalition partners) in power, South Africa was moving towards a post-apartheid world as Nelson Mandela met for discussions with president F. W. De Klerk; the Middle East moved toward war as the United States gave Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw from Kuwait; Lech Walesa was sworn in as Poland’s popularly elected president on December 22th; on the day before the Rose Bowl, the Sci-Fi Channel began transmitting. At that time, I was a twenty year old college student (majoring in Physics – although soon to become a history major) at Iowa State University. On the day of the game, I was working my holiday break job as a doorman at a small movie theater that no longer exists in a southside Des Moines, IA indoor mall that is now mostly an outdoor mall. I was not an Iowa fan (which is partially why I was attending Iowa State) so I did not pay much attention to the game. I do recall seeing the game playing on the little thirteen inch TV that my manager had in his office. I also recall that my 49 year old father did not attend that game. He recently told me that he did not go since Iowa had been to the Rose Bowl three times in ten years so he decided to wait until the next time they went. He did not expect it to take this long.
Prior to the 1991 game, Iowa had been to the Rose Bowl two previous times in the 1980s – 1982 and 1986. I will not discuss the 1986 game much other than to mention that, as a person who did not like the Hawkeyes, the mid-1980s was not an easy time. The team was coached by the legendary Hayden Fry and was consistently successful. I was fifteen years old and do not recall watching that game. While researching that game, I came across a story that I had forgotten but now can remember quite well. In that game, Iowa was favored over UCLA and was led by their sure-handed running back Ronnie Harmon who had only fumbled once in the whole year. On January 1, 1986, he had four fumbles in the first half and dropped what appeared to be an easy touchdown pass. Iowa ended up losing 48-24 and rumors stared swirling that Harmon had thrown the game. In 2002, HBO’s Real Sports program looked into the controversy, but nothing was ever conclusively proven.
The Rose Bowl game that I remember especially and the whole reason why I made this History Rhyme about the “granddaddy of them all,” occurred on January 1, 1982. At this time, Ronald Reagan was president and both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democratic Party. The average price of gasoline was $1.13 that year. In the month prior to the game, President Reagan signed an executive order that allowed the CIA to engage in domestic counter-intelligence, the Polish government declared martial law and arrested Solidarity leaders (including Lech Walesa), civilian governments in Ghana and Argentina are overthrown by military juntas, and the musical “Dreamgirls” first premiered in New York at the Imperial Theater. At that time, I was a ten year old suburban Iowa kid who had not seen much of the United States except for trips to Disney World in Florida by plane and a trip through South Dakota by car.
This was the first time the Iowa Hawkeyes were playing in Pasadena since 1959. In most of the 23 years between those games, Iowa football teams were consistently dreadful. The 1981 season was the first winning season for the Hawkeyes since 1961. During that period, they had endured one zero-win season and three one-win seasons. Yet, despite all the ineptitude on the field, there was still strong support in the stands. I have a memory of attending an Iowa game in the late 1970s (prior to Hayden Fry’s arrival in 1979) where the stands appeared pretty full – a resimiscence that my father has confirmed. So, as you might imagine, there was great excitement when Iowa won the Big Ten title and was headed off to play the Washington Huskies. This game occurred 35 years prior to the upcoming game yet I have some exceptionally clear memories of it due to the fact that my father decided that he (then age 40), his wife (age 38), and his two young sons (ages 11 and 8) should join what seemed like everyone else in Iowa (the joke being “would the last person leaving Iowa please shut off the lights”) was coming to California. So, right after Christmas 1991, we packed up our 1980 Pontiac LeMans station wagon (with the genuine fake wood trim) and headed down the road. On that trip, I passed through new states for me – Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. I distinctly remember on that trip spending the night at an old motel in Liberal, KS and staying up late to watch “Johnny Carson” (otherwise known as The Tonight Show). We went to Disneyland (I loved Tomorrowland) and Universal Studios (before they had any roller coasters). We stayed at a cousin’s town home (which I had never seen before, but which seem ubiquitous now). I remember the morning of the game being rainy and that I really was quite bored watching the Rose Bowl parade. By the time of the game, it was a nice day. We sat way up in one of the end zones and (along with about 100,000 people) watched Iowa lose to Washington 28-0.
Iowa has gone to the Rose Bowl two other times – in 1959 and 1957. In those cases, Iowa won. Obviously, I have no memories of those games because I was not yet born. Since these events occurred prior to my birth in 1970, they seem quite different to the game I attended in 1982 – even though there is only a 23 year span between the 1959 and 1982 games but a 34 year span between the 1982 game and the one which will occur soon. I do not know if this is true for other people, but events which occurred for a time when I can say “at that time I was X years old and I was doing Y” seem more understandable than those which occurred before I took my first breath. I have a memory of Richard Nixon resigning when I was four years old that seems much more relatable than the Kent State shootings which occurred only a month before my birth in June 1970. We have talked about historical telescoping in a previous History Rhyme (Impatiance Day) so we are familiar with the ways our perceptions can shape our views of the past. I do not know if there is a specific term for the type of perception shifting I describe, but it does shape the way I view things. I have to work harder to understand those who breathed air that I did not. Then again, trying to understand them is what makes history so interesting for me.
Soon, there will be a new piece of historical data to be placed onto the Rose Bowl page of Sports-Reference.com. There will be a winner and a loser, but more importantly, there will be new memories for many people (including perhaps future historians) who can say “I was there!” I extend my best wishes for safe travels and enjoyable experiences to the participants and observers. Finally, even though I still am not an Iowa fan, I will on behalf of my father say “Go Hawks!”