PASADENA, Calif. –

I woke up at 3:15 a.m. on New Year’s Day, afraid I had overslept.

Fortunately, I still had 15 minutes before my alarm would go off, welcoming me to the 15-hour ordeal that was my Rose Bowl experience.

It began when I arrived at Old Pasadena, excited about the chance to finally see the Tournament of Roses Parade, the one I had always avoided watching on TV. My friend’s dad, uncle and I made the trek over deserted Los Angeles highways to reach Pasadena before the break of dawn: 4:30 a.m.

Much to our surprise, we weren’t the first people on the streets.

Reaching Colorado Street – the route the parade took – we saw what looked like a line outside stores waiting for the new PS3 strung out on both sides of the street. Families huddled around heat lamps or small fire pits. Others gathered inside select coffee shops – which took advantage of those who spent New Year’s Eve night on the streets to turn a little more profit out of the parade experience. Stores boarded their windows, and police braced for the high density of people who would line the sidewalks later that morning.

After three and a half hours trolling the parade route, we settled into a spot near its beginning. Just as the clock struck 8 a.m., we heard the crowd roar and turned our eyes skyward to awe over a stealth-bomber flyover.

The scream of the v-shaped aircraft was more than enough to ready me for one of the most nationally watched parades. From the police motorcade slowly clearing the way for the parade to the high school bands to the legion of Stormtroopers and Grand Marshall George Lucas, the parade provided quite a pleasant experience – more so than the televised version ever appeared.

From there, my party traversed across the town and took a shuttle to the Rose Bowl. Nothing could’ve prepared me for the historic site. When the bus rolled into the parking lot, the majesty of the venue finally became clear. The surrounding mountain peaks proved a perfect backdrop for a stadium somewhat hidden from view by numerous palm trees planted close to its walls.

As I stepped slowly into Tunnel 12, which led me to my seat, the darkness gave way to the glare of the sun. I emerged to finally see firsthand the field that had been the stage of so many of my Michigan memories.

The Southern Cal fans scattered throughout the Michigan section were cocky but respectful. (They apparently enjoyed the vast number of Wolverine cheers involving clapping.)

An hour before kickoff, the Michigan fans couldn’t wait for the game to start, with numerous chants and cheers that even drowned out the three-fourths of the stadium that consisted of Southern Cal fans. We had waited just more than a month to finally avenge the loss at Ohio State and show the nation that we had, in fact, earned a rematch with the Big Ten Champions.

About 10 minutes before kickoff, the funniest moment played out on the Rose Bowl JumboTron. Instead of the traditional naming of the players, position, hometown and school year, the Rose Bowl took it to another level: computer animation.

Using EA Sports technology, the screen showed each of the players introduced excelling at their assignments. I don’t think I’ll ever see a computer image of right guard Alex Mitchell pancaking that many defenders in one play again.

Unfortunately for anyone associated with the Michigan football program, the game finally kicked off. And the Spirit of Troy took it from there. The Trojan band clearly had the upper hand as the game progressed, mostly because its team on the field actually played well . no, spectacularly.

After a combined six-point first half effort from the two squads, I felt lucky that the two were knotted. Southern Cal played the better half, and Michigan struggled to move the ball consistently. (The only Wolverine fan who enjoyed the game was probably the guy two seats down from me. He arrived five minutes into the game with a handle of Southern Comfort and a drunken grin on his face).

The second half was a half-an-hour of football I wish I could forget.

Going into my trip to Pasadena, I thought the Rose Bowl would be my chance to finally put the Ohio State disappointment behind me and walk away with a fresh Michigan Rose Bowl Champion T-shirt. But the Trojans robbed me of that satisfaction.

With every pass Southern Cal quarterback John David Booty lofted high into the crisp, cool California night sky, a little part of me died. When wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett pointed a single finger at Michigan safety Willis Barringer as he trotted into the end zone, he personally taunted me.

The Rose Bowl JumboTron computer graphics, which before the game had displayed such hilarity as Mitchell’s blocks, now mirrored reality. Southern Cal’s offense passing over the Michigan defense with computer-generated Barringer left shaking his head.

The game mercifully ended, the Trojans stormed the field, confetti shot into the sky and I headed for the nearest exit.

But before I could leave, one Michigan fan – wearing a faded Anthony Thomas jersey – summed up the experience with a single question addressing no one in particular:

“What can you say now to prove that Michigan belongs in the National Championship?”

I had no answer.

– Wright had no idea the Tournament of Roses Parade would have been his favorite activity on New Year’s Day. He can be reached at kpwr@umich.edu.

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