25 A Week In Sydney
26 Interview with the Widow - 1
27 Interview with the Widow - 2
28 Three Kings of Orient
29 1969 - Year of the Rooster
30 Summer in Europe
31 Bellybuttons & Maggots
32 Yes/No vs. Maybe
33 Blood, Beer and Warm Feet
34 Mine Universe
35 Hands off, Boots on
36 The Accidental Cure
37 It's the Only Thing
38 The Professor's Stable
39 Little House on the Highway
40 "9/11 is OK"
41 Suspected Child Abuse
42 Midlife Crisis
43 Where Am I Today - 1
44 Where Am I Today - 2
45 The Rosebud Period
46 Angular and Giddy
47 Sandin, N. A., Computer
48 Hot Trailers
IT’S THE ONLY THING
After Christmas in 1955 and after a basketball game at our high school alma mater in Perry, Michigan, six idiots left by car for California and the 1956 Rose Bowl game between Michigan State University (MSU) and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). During the trip we visited Las Vegas and Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and many other sights. In California we saw Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm and visited with Francis Munsch (an old friend from Perry) while staying at a Motel in Eagle Rock just a short distance from the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. We played golf on the course behind the Stadium in the Arroyo Seco. New Year’s Eve was spent in Hollywood.
The trip was made in my white 1955 Ford. We left in a blinding snow storm, but kept going until we drove out of it and didn’t stop overnight until we reached Albuquerque, New Mexico. We took two hour shifts with the driving, but only the three in the back seat were comfortable enough to sleep. On our return trip we helped out the state of Arizona’s economy by paying $25 of a Kangaroo Court judge’s salary for alleged speeding.
Pono was freshly divorced (a 1955 Christmas gift) and open to suggestions, so when MSU got the Rose Bowl bid, the idea of a trip blossomed. The other five guys were actually in attendance at MSU, but I was in one of my “breaks” (it took me 11 years to get my bachelor degree). However, my best friend Tom came to the rescue and let me borrow his ID. He and I didn’t look that much alike, but what the hey?
Why did we wait until after the PHS basketball game to leave? I don’t have a clue – but I know some of the guys had siblings playing.
We loaded up six guys, six suitcases, and at least one set of golf clubs (Pono’s of course) in the car and took off. It was snowing like crazy, we did a 180 spin just a few miles away from Perry, somehow got out of the ditch, and kept on driving. Every two hours we stopped for a break and a change of drivers, then piled back in and did another stretch. The guys in the back seat managed to sleep a bit, but the driver and two in the front just dozed.
Eventually we drove out of the storm. We made our first overnight stop in Albuquerque, probably about 1400 miles from Perry. Six stinky, tired guys needed the break (and a shower).
Mostly, I’m kidding about the driver dozing, but the night after the Albuquerque break I woke up once and found that the driver’s eyes were closed more than half the time. We did a quick driver change that time and made another overnight near Grand Canyon! The next morning we doubled back for sight-seeing and found that we were just yards from the canyon rim when the driver was dozing. (Yes, I remember who it was – no comment.)
As we approached Pasadena, we started thinking about where we should stay. (I never claimed that we were well organized.) We all agreed that we should find a place near the Rose Bowl. (As you can see, we were quite clever.) So, we found the Rose Bowl and then started driving around to find a place. The first motels we found were booked solid and the clerks alluded to some events scheduled for the New Year weekend. (It took a while, but we finally worked out that the events might be the Parade of Roses and the Rose Bowl game!)
It was about then that we found ourselves in Eagle Rock, still quite close to the stadium. We had been warned that the pedestrian was king in CA and that we needed to afford the right of way to them. A sweet-looking young lady in shorts and a halter was trying to cross the street from a motel on the left side of the street and the driver screeched to a halt to let her cross safely. We took the incident as an omen and pulled in to that motel.
Now, even under normal circumstances it isn’t easy to find accommodations for six rowdy guys, and when motels are booked long in advance for an event you’d think it to be impossible. But fate seems to care for fools and drunks and we were both. The motel had a detached unit that could handle 6-8 people and the booking had just been cancelled! We pounced on it!
We got to know the lady who was the manager of the motel. She claimed to have worked for Bob Hope in some capacity and named several other celebrities with whom she had rubbed shoulders. When we checked out, she gave me a little brass cowboy boot ashtray with some sort of history. For all I know she had dozens of them and gave one to any party that didn’t trash their rental unit too badly.
None of us had much money, so we tended to do things on the cheap. On New Year’s Eve we picked up some vodka and a bunch of orange juice and mixed up a big bowl of screwdriver in our rental. As the evening wore on we drove over to Hollywood and joined in the crowd dragging the streets. We drove back and forth, hanging out the windows, yelling at pedestrians and people in cars, and traffic stopped dead at midnight. It sounds kind of stupid to me now, but I recall having a great time that night!
Fortunately the game was on January 2 in 1956 since New Year’s Day was a Sunday, so we had a day to recover from the debauchery. I remember someone else driving us somewhere on January 1, but I required a stop along the freeway for some abdominal relief.
We were close enough to the stadium to walk there on game day, and even the walk was like a party, with more and more fans joining us at every block.
The game was exciting with TDs by UCLA, MSU, MSU, and UCLA for a 14-14 tie with six minutes remaining. The last minutes were a flurry of penalties and possibilities. With seven seconds remaining, Dave Kaiser of MSU converted his first career field-goal attempt, a 41-yard kick, to give the Spartans a 17-14 win.
The return trip was a mirror image of the trip there, except that we had no snow and more junk in the car (souvenirs). That 1955 Ford was loaded! I felt like it groaned a little every time the driver hit the accelerator. Nevertheless, on the wide open highway of Arizona, a police car materialized out of nowhere and we were ticketed for speeding. Now, we may have been doing 5 mph or so over the limit, but I don’t think it was possible for us to be going the speed listed on the ticket. We were led to a “judge” holding court in a small diner and fined $25 (“cash only please”). Words like speed trap and kangaroo court come to mind. (Yes, I remember who was driving this time, too.)
Our return to Perry was a kick! In our little home town (pop. 1354 when I was there) everyone knew about our trip and we got most of the credit for the MSU win!
It’s not easy to see history as it is being written and I won’t put words in the mouths of the other five guys on this trip, but I for one missed the place in history of the 1956 Rose Bowl game while I was watching it.
I’ll bet you have heard and maybe even said “Sure, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. Do you know where that came from? In a Sports Illustrated article before the 1956 Rose Bowl, UCLA coach Red Sanders was quoted as saying that!
One month before the 1956 Rose Bowl game a very significant civil rights event transpired. Do you know what that was? Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. How does that relate to this game? MSU and UCLA were two of the most racially integrated college football teams of the day with six African American players for the Bruins and seven for the Spartans. In addition, 1956 marked the integration of the Sugar Bowl, the last bowl game to be integrated!
While we were witnessing the game first hand, another record was being set in America. Care to guess? The 1956 Rose Bowl has the highest TV rating of all college bowl games, having been watched by 41.1% of all people in the US with TV sets! Of course, the record stands because there weren’t that many TVs – and of course this was before Fox News.
Also of historical value at this time, Disneyland had just opened in July 1955, so we were among the first 4 million or so visitors!
And finally – big name changes! In 1855 the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan was established. In 1861 it became the State Agricultural College. In 1909 it became Michigan Agricultural College (MAC). In 1925 it became Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science (MSC). In 1950 MSC joined the Big Ten. In its centennial year of 1955, MSC became Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science (MSU). Thus although MSC beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl game of 1954, the 1956 Rose Bowl was the first appearance of MSU in that event!
I graduated in the spring of 1962. Finally in 1964 the descriptive words were dropped and my alma mater became Michigan State University (MSU). At one point in my college matriculation there were two power plants on the campus, both with very tall smokestacks. The older stack had MSC facing Grand River and MAC facing South Campus. The newer stack had MSU facing Grand River and MSC on the back.
Somewhere in my travels I saw a bumper sticker that will give MSU alum a chuckle but may escape some others – it said “MSU – THE University of Michigan!”