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Rose Bowl 2014: What You Didn’t See on TV

I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to California to see our Spartans play in the Rose Bowl. Seeing the Spartans play in the Rose Bowl in person, and seeing the Rose Parade, have both been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching the parade and the game every year, starting with my first Rose Bowl party when I was just 20 months old. So when the opportunity arose to go, I jumped at the chance.

Cover of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, with the face of John Candy replaced by the face of Katie KellyThis was a personal vacation, not a business trip, so I took a bit of an unconventional route there rather than traveling with the official MSU contingent. I was dropped off at the Amtrak Station in East Lansing. From there I took a train to Union Station in Chicago. I then took a cab to O’Hare – barely making it to the gate in time – and boarded a Virgin America flight to Los Angeles with a layover in San Francisco. It was a long day. On the way back I flew to O’Hare (again with a layover in San Francisco), stayed a night in Chicago and then caught the last train out of town before Amtrak cancelled trips due to weather, getting off in Battle Creek.  This really was a planes, trains and automobiles trip – just without John Candy to provide comedic relief.

Map showing route to Pasadena

I realize that I was lucky to be in California for this historic game. Not only was it MSU’s first Rose Bowl appearance in 26 years, but it also marked milestones for the Rose Bowl (the 100th game) and the Rose Parade (the 125th parade). It marked the final year that the participants in “The Granddaddy of Them All” were guaranteed to be from the Big Ten and Pacific-12 conferences because of the change to the playoff structure next year.

While not everyone could be there, many Spartans fans around the world were able to watch the parade and game on television. But the media didn’t capture everything – so I’d like to share with you some Rose Bowl memories that weren’t covered on TV.

Walking down the streets of Los Angeles (or around the airport, or Chicago, or San Francisco…)

I typically wear some sort of Michigan State apparel when I’m traveling, and I’m sure I’m not alone. This was a tip I learned from a friend a few years ago, and I have yet to walk through an airport without hearing a “Go Green” in response to whatever MSU shirt or jacket I happened to be wearing. My trip to the Rose Bowl kicked that experience into a whole different gear! You’ve probably heard how there were so many Spartans in California for the game (many more fans than were representing Stanford). I knew this would be the case before I went out there, but it didn’t occur to me until I was on the road that all these Spartans would be fully representing their school the entire time they were out there. There were crowds of Spartans on every flight I had – both there and back – to the point that the airlines were making comments about it. Once in Los Angeles, I could not go more than one city block without seeing a Spartan (or a crowd of them). It felt more like East Lansing on game day than East Lansing does!

Looking up.

In addition to the hospitality shown by hotels and residents, the visitors to California were welcomed by the MSU alumni clubs in California. There were MSU-themed billboards everywhere. There was a gigantic Sparty in the center of Downtown Los Angeles. Hotels were decked out in team logos. It was neat to see my school represented in such a big way all over the greater LA area.

Photo collage from around Los Angeles

Clockwise from upper left corner: Billboard in Hollywood; Sparty at L.A. Live complex; Billboard in Hollywood; logos on windows at the official media hotel (LA Hotel Downtown)

Sitting, unplugged, and enjoying the sunshine.

Sorry Michiganders! I know the weather in Spartan Country was less than warm during Rose Bowl week, but this had to make the list. As a communications manager I’m constantly plugged in – desktop, laptop, tablet, phone – I always have a device on me and I’m checking it regularly. This vacation week I was able to turn off the office email, slow down and just soak everything in. Sitting under a palm tree, drinking a Starbucks latte and enjoying the California sunshine was an experience I’ll never forget. It took going to the Rose Bowl, but I finally stopped and took time to smell the roses.

A collage showing palm trees and phone screenshots of weather forecasts. It reads 12 degrees in East Lansing and 64 degrees in Pasadena.

Trees outside the coffee shop near my hotel, along with weather reports from home and Pasadena.

Spotting familiar faces in the crowd.

At the MSU pep rally: In a sea of over 10,000 people, I managed to run into friends. In fact, I ran into the parents of one of my neighbors from my junior year in Shaw Hall. They live in Minneapolis and I normally only see them during our reunion tailgate during Homecoming.

Panorama from the pep rally
At the parade: The Rose Parade typically draws around 700,000 attendees. While crossing the street following the parade I ran into my kindergarten teacher.

At the game: The Rose Bowl stadium seats 94,392. I ended up sitting in front of a fellow Mid-Michigan Spartans board member, and next to a co-worker from University Advancement. While walking around the concessions stands I found another Mid-Michigan Spartans board member. While leaving the stadium I ran into a friend from my pre-college days (we were in school from kindergarten through twelfth grade together, as well as at MSU for undergrad). While driving out of the parking lot I looked out the window of the car to see two fellow communications professionals from the university.

Rose Bowl Panorama

And I thought “It’s A Small World” was in Anaheim, not Pasadena! (My apologies if that song is now stuck in your head.)

Chanting at the Rose Parade.

Katie with Rose Parade float

My seats for the parade were on the bleachers just before the start of the parade. My friend and I were lucky in that as soon as the parade stepped off we could see it – there was no waiting for it to reach us. But that didn’t mean we didn’t have any waiting to do before it started! People start heading out to watch the parade in the wee hours of the morning, many lining up at 3:30 a.m. We left our hotel in Los Angeles at 5:15 a.m. By the time we drove into Pasadena, parked and found our seats it was about 6:30, and the parade didn’t step off until 8:00. How did we pass the time? We joined hundreds (thousands?) of Spartans around us in periodic back-and-forth chants. Hearing “Go Green” from across the street and shouting a reply of “Go White” is definitely a new favorite way to wake up in the morning!

Feeling the excitement of the big game.

I just can’t describe how it felt to be at the Rose Bowl game. I grew up going to football games, and I’ve enjoyed my share of other MSU and professional sports as well. I’ve been to a lot of games. But I’ve never been to one like this. The crowd was so enthusiastic. It seemed like we were destined to win. While I was a little nervous after Stanford’s first offensive drive, I never had any doubt that MSU would bring home the win. The crowd’s confidence in our team, and the sheer joy when the win was secured, was palpable. The entire experience was surreal.

Rose Bowl Stadium - Fisheye

Landing at O’Hare.

Weather was rough in the Great Lakes while I was gone, and it was gearing up for a winter storm as I returned, thanks to the #PolarVortex. I’m not a great flier. I’ve only flown a few times and I get nervous about takeoffs and landings. So I was paying pretty close attention to the forecast as I packed my bags for the trip home. I knew odds were good we’d hit some turbulence, and sure enough the last flight was pretty bumpy. When we touched down at O’Hare I could feel the plane fishtail a bit on the runway and could see that I was not the only one concerned. But the pilots had everything under control, and while everyone applauded and let out the breath they were holding, a fellow Spartan yelled “Go Green!” and the whole plane yelled “Go White!” in response. It was the last cheer I heard on my trip – and definitely the one that stood out the most.

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