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The Tournament of the Roses tradition continues to live up to expectations

This past Tuesday, students, alumni, coaches and fans of the University of Washington joined people all across America in one of the oldest and most beloved New Year’s Day traditions – the annual Tournament of Roses and the Rose Bowl Game.

The opportunity to participate in “America’s New Year’s Celebration,” watched by millions across the country, was truly extraordinary.

The Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade punctuate the end of the holiday season the way the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ushers it in. It’s a great football game, and this year was no exception — we were literally transfixed until the last second of play. (Indeed, some would say, we didn’t lose, we ran out of time!). But, it has always been about so much more. In fact, the very first Rose Bowl, in 1902, was the first bowl game in history, earning the game its nickname, “the granddaddy of them all.” From its inception, it was closely tied to the parade and the celebration of the new year.

It was a privilege to play against The Ohio State University, whose team, it might be argued, should have been ranked in the top four. We are two of the nation’s leading public research universities, with a deep commitment to our public mission of access to ALL talented students, regardless of income. (Ohio State President Michael Drake and I are both on the Board of the American Talent Initiative, whose mission is to increase access to higher education for low income students.) Likewise, both our universities are dedicated to making the world better through research and healthcare and to providing our students with a rigorous and high quality education.

The game’s rich history is filled with the luminaries of our two conferences, such as Woody Hayes and Pop Warner, Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne and Tennessee’s Bob Neyland. It is deeply woven into the fabric of American folklore, inspiring not one but two movies: “Rose Bowl” in 1936 and “The Rose Bowl Story” in 1952. Getting to play in the Rose Bowl is considered such a privilege that for many years there was a “no repeat” rule, barring consecutive appearances even for conference champions, so that more student-athletes would have a chance at this unique experience, a notion that seems unimaginable today. You almost have to be there to understand it – it’s that special.

In many ways it’s unique like the Rose Parade floats themselves. At once bold and subtle, these majestic and colorful floats seem almost as large as a football field. They’re made up entirely of organic material, literally hundreds of thousands of individual flowers, grasses, seeds and grains woven and spun into intricate arrangements. They represent human cultures across time, as in the float from the American Armenian Association depicting a traditional martial arts dance, and they imagine the future, like the float by Cal Poly students that had astronauts communicating with extraterrestrials through the universal language of music. The floats last but days, and are meant to be enjoyed in the moment, but they are the product of weeks and months of planning and preparation, feats of both engineering and artistry. They are “awesome” in the true sense of the word. Watching the floats, the high school and college bands, the young singers, dancers, musicians and gymnasts in front, on top of, and beside the floats performing their hearts out for us was glorious and inspiring. It reminds you what is so good and joyous in the human spirit – and what we can create and achieve, together.

Yes, the UW wants to win another national championship in football. And I know that our coaches and players will continue to work toward that goal. I DO believe it is achievable while continuing to put the STUDENT part of student-athlete first and without compromising our university’s values, embodied in our Coach Chris Petersen and our Athletic Director Jen Cohen.

But we don’t play football just to win national championships; if we did, most schools might as well just give up. Football, like other sports, enriches the college experience for student-athletes and non-athletes alike. It imparts important life lessons about the power of teamwork and collaboration, about discipline and hard work, about the importance of preparation and timing. Sports teaches us how to lose with grace, and to use each loss as a learning moment and building block to success. It’s what Coach Petersen’s philosophy of “Built for Life” is all about. These are the lessons sports can teach us, whether we’re on the field or supporting our teams as spectators because in the moments of greatest intensity, it has the power to bring us together almost as one. I can almost feel the ball roll out of my hands when a UW player fumbles, and in turn, when he crosses the goal line, I’m jumping up and down in ecstasy. I get swept up into Husky Nation and feel a deep kinship with all those rooting together with me. In that moment, we are one, and we are stronger. This is why rivalries and traditions like the Rose Bowl are loved. They bring us together.

As the last seconds of the clock ran down on New Year’s Day, bearing witness to the miracle comeback that didn’t quite happen, not knowing whether to cry or cheer, I was filled with such pride in our team. Even when a win appeared impossible and their odds grim, they never quit, but kept fighting and fighting and fighting back, simultaneously showing us what character is all about and giving us the thrill of a lifetime. This is the essence of what intercollegiate sports is about.  We must continue to value and nurture it, together.

Rose Bowl Game Day Guide, game ticket and Purple Reign Tailgate TicketMichael Drake and Ana Mari Cauce at community service eventGroup photo with Brutus the Buckeye and Harry the Husky mascotsHusky Marching Band at 2019 Rose ParadeAstronaut on Cal Poly Rose Parade floatHusky Marching Band forms W on field