Jan 7, 2014

When Santa Auburn and the Seminoles come to town: Larry Wilson

By Larry Wilson, Pasadena Star-News

POSTED: 01/07/14, 6:46 PM PST
I was videotaping an interview with a guy I ended up calling Santa Auburn outside the Rose Bowl Monday noon and as I held my iPhone up and pressed the Tout button I was unnacountably worried about whether or not he had picked the right outfit.

Santa Auburn actually works as a department store Santa Claus each December — a bit roly-poly; 76; requisite white beard and black Ray-Bans — and attends not only every home football game at the private Alabama university, but every away game as well.

So of course he made it out to Pasadena to see his team play for the national championship, and of course he was wearing the orange and white Santa outfit — school colors for his Tigers — his daughter made for him out of that same crushed velveteen material they make red and white Santa suits from.

Except, as he explained, since it was so hot out — what was it, 75 degrees at mid-day down in the Arroyo? — this was the Indian summer version, with shorter sleeves.

My worry, of course, was that while Southern California may have been the only toasty place in the continental United States this week, with even the Southern towns of Auburn and FSU’s Talahassee shivering, these folks didn’t know what happens here when the sun goes down.

I knew. When I came back for the 5:30 kickoff after working the crowd during the day, it was in a down jacket. Stayed warm through all four quarters of thrills. Santa Auburn? Probably not. The dude in the light cotton shirt across the Rose Bowl aisle from us who had to give his Auburn fleece to his wife for the entire second half? He looked miserable, and I don’t just mean when Jameis Winston threw his 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left to win the game for Florida State.


It was a really great day to watch a great game in the best college football stadium in the country, and when I sat down with Tournament of Roses Executive Director Bill Flinn for lunch in the big party tent they were calling Destination BCS, he gave an eloquent defense of the TofR’s Rose Bowl prospects going forward from the 100th regular big collegiate football game.

It’s true, he said, as I railed about in my column last week, that with the demise of the unpopular Bowl Championship Series method of choosing a national college top team, it will be hit or miss as far as Rose Bowl participation in the new system. Some years there may be a semi-final playoff game here; some years not. The powers that be, which means the mostly Southern-based collegiate conferences, don’t have any championship games scheduled for the Rose Bowl at all.

But the TofR still has an excellent, lucrative contract with ESPN for 12 more years, Bill says, for a regular, old-fashioned New Year’s football game. Most years he figures it will still be between the Pac-12 and Big Ten conference champs. Unless, of course, your Oregons and your Ohio States are in the top four and thus in the playoff. Or, hmmm, if that Southern stranglehold were broken, and the top four also included your Michigan States and your Stanfords, and then we’ll have the third-place teams from each conference playing in the regular Rose. Unlikely. In any case the Tournament put on its best show for all the other bowl people this week — and indeed they were all here, from the Tostitos to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl — and Bill says they clearly know the Rose is still their Granddaddy.

One advantage if the conferences ever decide to come back for another national championship is that TofR White Suiters, who know how to put on a rather large event, run the party. So it was a nice lunch, too. You could choose different BCS-hosting cities around the tent to have lunch “in.” Bill chose Pasadena, some kind of salad deal. I chose New Orleans. Are you kidding me? Po’boy sandwich, gumbo, catfish with remoulade and a beer? Even gave me some Mardi Gras beads to wear. If Pasadena could just go a little more Krewe de Vieux next New Year’s, we’d really show the world how to celebrate like nobody’s business.

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