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OPINION

When Penn State Trained for the Rose Bowl -- At the Grand Canyon

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Carson Walker

The train was on its way west to Los Angeles when it stopped in the small Arizona town of Williams and detached a special car it had been carrying.

Twenty-two young men got out and headed north.

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This was the 1922 Penn State football team. They were on their way to Pasadena to play the first-ever Rose Bowl game to actually be played in the newly built Rose Bowl stadium.

But first they had to take a hike.

A story in the Dec. 20, 1922, edition of the Long Beach Daily Telegram explained the itinerary that Penn State coach Hugo Bezdek had set for his team.

"Coach Bezdek and his 22 Nittany Lions are due to arrive in Pasadena shortly after noon on Sunday," it said. "They left their alma mater late yesterday afternoon and arrived in Chicago this morning where they will spend the day.

"This afternoon their special car will be attached to the California Limited and will remain so attached until Williams, Ariz., is reached," the story said.

"Here they will knock off for a day and see the Grand Canyon," it said.

The Penn State players were reportedly excited not only about seeing the Grand Canyon but also about the weather that awaited them in California. "The players were cheered by the prospect of warm weather in California," the story said. "For the past week they have been practicing in snow banks, and fast workouts have been impossible."

A story that ran in the Oakland Tribune on Dec. 22, 1922, focused on coach Bezdek's view about how California's weather might impact the Rose Bowl game. "Hugo Bezdek Does Not Fear Coast Climate," said the headline.

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"That Coach Hugo Bezdek of Penn State is having no fears as to the effect of the California climate on his grid squad," said this story, "is shown by the plans of the Blue and White mentor to reach Pasadena, more than a week before the game with the University of Southern California that will be a feature of the Carnival of Roses on New Year's Day."

This coach aimed to keep his team in shape by taking them on hikes -- starting with one at the Grand Canyon.

"If it is warm, we will limit ourselves to one workout," coach Bezdek told the Los Angeles Times in a story that ran on Christmas Day. "My men are in good shape. On the way out they worked twice a day.

"Yesterday we didn't work," he told the Times, "but had a long hike in the Grand Canyon which was instructive, beneficial and interesting."

When they arrived in Pasadena, the Penn State team faced additional hikes.

"Two long hikes today, and one or two workouts tomorrow are on the early program for the Lions, and they will be governed from then on by the nature of the weather," reported the Times.

"The celebrated tourists were met at the depot in Pasadena by representatives of the Tournament of Roses and a number of Penn State grads," said the Times. "They repaired immediately to the Hotel Raymond, and this was followed by a rapid hike of five miles which left the athletes perspiring and dripping."

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They were no longer in snow-covered Pennsylvania. But they were about to become part of a great national New Year's tradition.

Just three years before Penn State's trip west, the Tournament of Roses football game played at the end of the 1919 season had played a central role in making college football a truly national sport.

"Easterners had an idea for a great many years that football out on the Pacific coast was something different from what was found at the Yale bowl, Princeton field or the Cambridge stadium," explained an Oct 15, 1922, story in the Long Beach Daily Telegram.

"The invitation of the Tournament of the Rose committee will be welcomed by the east this fall," said the Telegram.

"It is likely that the one singled out for the honor of crossing the United States to engage in this annual intersectional football battle will be more than glad to accept the generous invitation of their Pacific coast brothers," it said.

"The fact that Harvard made the trip to California in 1919 placed the stamp of approval on the journey so far as eastern gridiron critics are concerned," said the paper. "The Cambridge collegians represent the conservative element in the east."

Penn State's trip west at the end of 1922 to take a hike in the Grand Canyon and play the first-ever Rose Bowl game that was actually played in the newly constructed Rose Bowl stadium did not result in a win for the East.

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The Nittany Lions -- having arrived in California a week early for the game -- arrived at the stadium late because of a traffic jam. "The game was scheduled to start at 2:15 o'clock, but owing to the great traffic jam the auto conveying the Penn State team was held up and the Nittany Lions did not arrive at their dressing rooms until 2:20," reported the Los Angeles Evening Express.

This led to an on-the-field pre-game confrontation between coach Bezdek and University of Southern California coach Gus Henderson. The headline in the Evening Express explained what happened this way: "Fist Fight Between Coaches Over Delay Foiled by Officials."

U.S.C. beat Penn State 14-3.

Immediately after the game, the Nittany Lions did not head back to the Grand Canyon -- or snowy Pennsylvania. Instead, they headed to another place in California.

"The Penn State college football team, which lost to the University of Southern California eleven here yesterday, 14-3, has gone to San Francisco for a short visit," reported the Fresno Morning Republican.



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