COVID-19 has changed everything, including sports. Although the Pac-12 announced a football season this year, UCLA has only seven scheduled games, with no fans in attendance. Deciding where to play and in front of whom have become questions of politics as well as safety. And yet, politics have always been present in sports, as illustrated by the story of how UCLA chose to make the Rose Bowl the home of Bruin football nearly 40 years ago.
Shortly after the end of World War I, civic leaders in Los Angeles came together to plan a grand memorial to honor the military men who had died overseas. The city would build a venue “comparable in beauty and size with those which made the fame of Ancient Rome,” crowed the Los Angeles Times.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum opened in June 1923 and became home to three football teams: the USC Trojans, the UCLA Bruins and the L.A. Rams. But when the NFL team left after the 1979 season, it set into motion a series of events that led to UCLA’s departure just a few years later.
When the Rams made their move to Anaheim official, the Coliseum Commission the governing board of the facility, entertained an offer from Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis to relocate his team to L.A. — pending a few changes. Davis’ demands included repainting the locker rooms to the Raiders’ silver-and-black color scheme, and he insisted on adding 150 luxury boxes, replacing thousands of prime seats between the goal lines. Longtime tenants USC and UCLA balked about not being consulted on the proposed changes.
Rent negotiations, details about the proposed renovations and an NFL lawsuit held up the Raiders’ move to L.A. for several years. Once the lawsuit was settled, the Coliseum Commission approved the lease agreement with the Raiders in July 1982. That same month, when the Commission board refused to let UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young M.A. ’57, Ph.D. ’60 speak at a meeting, he instructed his assistant, John Sandbrook ’91, M.B.A. ’93, to begin negotiations with Pasadena for UCLA’s use of the Rose Bowl stadium. Chancellor Young “was pretty upset and instructed me to go make a phone call,” Sandbrook remembers. “We contacted Pasadena and opened discussions.”
Pasadena did all it could to make the Rose Bowl an attractive alternative. While the Coliseum charged 10% of the net receipts, Pasadena would charge only 8%. Even though Pasadena had fewer seats overall, 43,000 of them were between the goal lines, compared to 28,000 at the Coliseum. To top it off, Pasadena provided almost unlimited free parking at the adjoining Brookside golf course. “There would be tailgate options galore on the green grass,” Sandbrook says.
The UC Board of Regents affirmed Young’s decision to leave the Coliseum after more than five decades, even though then-Mayor Tom Bradley vehemently opposed UCLA’s relocation to Pasadena.
“There was a lot of grumbling about the idea of moving to the Rose Bowl, which was twice as far from Westwood as the distance to the Coliseum,” Young remembers. “Head coach Terry Donahue initially told me I was destroying UCLA football — that we wouldn’t be able to attract new players.”
However, by the time the football season was about to begin, Donahue ’67, M.S. ’77 had a change of heart. “We begin our season here [at the Rose Bowl] on Sept. 11, ,” he said. “And there’s no doubt in my mind that if everything goes well, we’ll end it here on Jan. 1, 1983.” The coach proved to be right.
On Nov. 20, 1982, UCLA’s crosstown rivalry game against USC went down to the wire. Just as the fourth quarter gun sounded, USC scored a touchdown, and the Trojans were down by only one point, 20-19. Rather than attempt an extra point and settle for a tie, USC Coach John Robinson chose to go for a two-point conversion. But UCLA noseguard Karl Morgan ’86 sacked Trojan quarterback Scott Tinsley, preserving the Bruins’ victory.
1982: UCLA stops USC's 2-point conversion to get the win.— UCLA Athletics (@UCLAAthletics) November 12, 2018
5 days away from @UCLAFootball vs USC at the @RoseBowlStadium. Don't miss another moment.
🎟️: https://t.co/TasWtLu7Fd #BeatSC | #GoBruins pic.twitter.com/9F7nvMsSYC
That win ultimately earned the Bruins first place in the Pacific-10 Conference and a berth in the New Year’s Day Rose Bowl game, which they won against Michigan. “It was a magical turnaround for UCLA football,” Sandbrook says.
According to Donahue, “the move from the Coliseum to the Rose Bowl in 1982 was the single most important decision in the history of UCLA football. It was the first time that UCLA had a true home field advantage.”