Mike Bellotti, coach of the Oregon team that felt it should have been in the national championship game at the Rose Bowl rather than Nebraska, tried his best to be magnanimous Thursday night and nearly pulled it off.
Bellotti, whose team finished 11-1 and second in both major polls but wasn't picked to play in the title game when the computer conglomerate that determines the matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 spit out Nebraska instead of the Ducks, had originally referred to this bowl championship series as "a bad disease, like cancer." That assessment, as hyperbolic as it was, took on additional credibility when Oregon routed Colorado, 38-16, in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day. That was the same Colorado team that had made mincemeat out of Nebraska a month or so ago.
So when Bellotti met with a few reporters just after halftime Thursday night, with Miami coasting along after its 34-0 first-half explosion, the temptation was to say, "I told you so."
Instead, Bellotti tiptoed around a bit, saying, "Yes, this is frustrating. Miami is a talented team, but, yes, we'd like to have had a shot at them. We would have liked to have had a chance to do something here."
Bellotti also said, "The polls had us No.2 for a reason, and our passing game would have given us a chance here."
He was asked about the apparent discrepancy in speed between fleet Miami and lumbering Nebraska and he said, "We were considered to be a fast team."
Giving credit to both Miami and Nebraska as highly talented, he added, "Knowing how close we were, it is still a heartbreak thing."
Today, our Marines are serving in Afghanistan. But when the Rose Bowl was in its youth, they were also serving as some of the best football teams in the country.
Oakland freelance writer Dennis Cavagnaro points out that the fourth and fifth Rose Bowls were not won by college teams but by the Marines.
"The time was 1917, WWI, and throughout the country, many universities suspended football," Cavagnaro writes. "With President Woodrow Wilson's encouragement, 'I don't see how such a celebration would interfere with the government's war activities,' the Tournament of Roses was able to continue the still-young tradition of the Rose Bowl football game, the nation's first bowl game, and, at that time, the nation's only bowl game.
"Many of the universities--Michigan, Pitt, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Washington State--were considered, but they demurred. The tournament's football committee then took Uncle Sam into partnership, not the least reason being that he had the corner on the nation's football players."
The Rose Bowl yearbooks report that the 1918 game was won, 9-7, by "The Marines" over Camp Lewis, an Army team. Those "Marines" were, in fact, mostly Ducks, many of whom had helped Oregon defeat Penn in the previous Rose Bowl, 14-0. After that, they had reported for duty at Marine Barracks, Naval Shipyard, Mare Island, near Vallejo. The next city north of the camp was Napa.
The 1918 game was played in 86-degree heat, before an estimated crowd of 20,000, and the Mare Island coach was, naturally, Oregon's coach, Hugo Bezdek, who actually was brought in late in the season to advise the coach in name, right tackle John Beckett.
After their victory, the Mare Island Marines, who scored first by drop-kicking a field goal, were given three days' leave before heading off to war. Each winning player also got a kiss from the commanding officer's wife.
Of the players taking part in that game, nearly half were eventually killed in either World War I or World War II.
The Mare Island Marines returned to play in the 1919 Rose Bowl, but with an entirely different team. The war had just ended and Mare Island was 10-0.
But its opponent was a Great Lakes Naval Station team from the Chicago area that had played a tougher schedule of college teams and had defeated Northwestern, Illinois, Notre Dame, Iowa, Rutgers and Purdue, as well as the U.S. Naval Academy.
Among the stars of that Great Lakes team was one George Halas, who intercepted a pass in the Rose Bowl game, played before 27,000 in cold weather, and led his team to a 17-0 victory over Mare Island.
The incentive for Great Lakes in this one was even larger than a three-day pass and a kiss from the CO's wife. For a Rose Bowl victory, the Great Lakes team members were promised early discharges.
He wasn't George Halas, but 56 years later, a star player of a different kind led his team, the USC Trojans, to a Rose Bowl victory and a national championship by throwing "the best pass I ever threw" in a career that included many great ones on both the college and pro level.
His name was Pat Haden and he remains among the more celebrated and also least likely heroes of Rose Bowl lore.
The year was 1975, and the happenings of the '74 season put USC in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, the Trojans needing a win and a later victory that New Year's Day by Notre Dame over Alabama in the Orange Bowl to claim a national title for Coach John McKay.