The Rose Bowl has played host to bands from rock and roll legends The Rolling Stones and U2 to current pop stars Justin Timberlake and Beyonce, and innumerable sporting events, including the Women’s World Cup Soccer, NFL Super Bowls, and the annual iconic Rose Bowl football game. The Rose Bowl also has a storied history with President Richard Nixon.
Though it is currently the home field for the UCLA Bruins, it was once the home field for CalTech when that prestigious university fielded a football team. From 1930-1934 when Nixon played football for the Whittier Poets, Nixon took to the field to help defeat the Beavers at the Rose Bowl.
On January 1, 1939, Dick Nixon, who was dating Pat at the time, secured seats on the fifty yard line and brought her to see Duke (his law school alma mater) take on USC (Pat’s alma mater) in the Rose Bowl. It is easy to imagine Nixon’s excitement building the clock wound down to less than a minute in the final quarter as Duke, undefeated that year, was leading the Trojans 3-0. But the Trojans came roaring back to score a touchdown and win the game, 7-3.
The following year, when Tennessee was preparing to play USC in the Rose Bowl game, Nixon’s scouting report on behalf of the Whittier 20-30 Club was covered in the The Whittier News. He visited the Tennessee Volunteers football team at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, and reported that “They are all built close to the ground, but broad and powerful; the ends looked like tackles, the backs looked like tackles, and the tackles looked like tackles.” Nixon, tongue-in-cheek, also reported that several young ladies were busy entertaining the squad, and the players appeared to be having more fun than they were supposed to.His observation proved accurate as USC defeated Tennessee 14-0.
In 1953 and 1960, Nixon was Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade and attended the Rose Bowl games. Although there have been other notables to serve as Grand Marshall more than once in the modern era (i.e., Bob Hope 1947 & 1969, Shirley Temple Black 1939 & 1989), Nixon is the only one to serve as Grand Marshall twice within 8 years. In the 1953 game Nixon saw USC defeat Wisconsin 7-0, and in 1960 he witnessed the Washington Huskies dismantle Wisconsin 44-8.
In 1969 Nixon returned to the Rose Bowl as President-elect, escorted by his friend (and then Governor) Ronald Reagan, and not wanting to demonstrate a bias to either USC or Ohio State, watched half the game from each sideline. Unfortunately, Pat Nixon’s USC Trojans fell to the Buckeyes 27-16.
Over the course of nearly forty years, Southern California Native Son Richard Nixon’s life was intertwined with the iconic Rose Bowl, as a football player, man courting his future wife, Vice President elect, candidate for President, and President elect.
Clockwise, from top left: Pasadena Rose Bowl Stadium; Richard Nixon suited up for Whittier College; Dick & Ron, Pat and Nancy crossing the field in 1969; Pat & Dick in 1960.