After Michigan routed Stanford 49-0 in 1902 to win the first Rose Bowl, Tournament of Roses promoters had to wait 14 years before finding another West Coast team willing to take on an Eastern opponent. There were other events during the hiatus—chariot racing, bronco-busting, egg-and-spoon racing—but no football game until unbeaten Washington State accepted the challenge in 1916.
That season's champ from the East, Syracuse (9-1-2), was invited to face State, but the Orangemen, who had already taken a three-game swing through the West that season, declined. Despite a mediocre record (5-3-1) by bowl standards, Brown was the second choice. The game's promoters had been impressed with the Bruins' late-season wins over Yale and Carlisle and with their star halfback, Fritz Pollard, who the following year would become the first black running back to make Walter Camp's All-America team. For Brown, this first and only appearance in a postseason game wouldn't be an experience it would want to repeat.
The Bruins' journey to California was the longest any college team had taken to play a single football game. They had reservations at a hotel in Pasadena, but upon their arrival, the desk clerk announced that the hotel had space for everyone except Pollard. This wasn't the first time the team had encountered such prejudice. On the train coming out, Pollard hadn't been allowed to sit with his teammates in the dining car. At the hotel, Assistant Coach Bill Sprackling demanded to see the manager. When the clerk refused, Sprackling pounded on the desk bell and shouted, "If there isn't a room for Fritz Pollard, none of us wants one." The manager appeared, and Pollard got a room.
Two days before the game, the team was taken on a sightseeing trip that included a tour of an ostrich farm that bordered an orange grove. According to Jay Barry, author of a forthcoming biography of Pollard, "Most of the players were from the East and had never seen oranges on trees. So they hopped the fence and gorged themselves. They paid the price with a bad case of diarrhea."
Meanwhile, Washington State was having a grand time acting as if it were an Ivy League team. Before leaving Pullman, Coach Bill (Lone Star) Dietz arranged for his players to work as extras in the movie Brown of Harvard. Years later, Dick Hanley, a halfback on the team, would recall, "For two weeks before the game we were busy all day filming the football scenes. We thus combined our movie work with training for the game, and Lone Star, a real dandy, who carried a cane and wore a silk hat and spats when he coached, got a part as one of the principals in the picture. We made about $100 apiece and bet it all on ourselves to beat Brown."
On the morning of the game, the Bruins were the guests of honor at the Tournament of Roses parade, which featured the first bathing beauties ever to appear in the pageant. "They wore black bloomers, stockings and swimming tops," says Pollard, who is now 86 and living in New Rochelle, N.Y. "They were the only ones dressed for the weather." Two nights before, snow had fallen in Pasadena for the first time in 16 years. Things had warmed up by game time, but it was still precipitating. The rain that day would make the '16 Rose Bowl one of only three that have been played in wet weather.
"We'd all left our rain cleats back in Providence," says Pollard. "Who'd need them in sunny California, we'd figured. The shorter dry-weather cleats allowed me to move faster and got me going sooner, but Lord, they'd be an anchor in the mud!"
At 2:15 p.m. Washington State kicked off through a wall of water that had turned the playing surface into a quagmire. Pollard fielded the kick and was still trying to get a toehold in the mud when he was tackled. "By the time we'd run our first four plays, you couldn't tell any of the players apart," says Pollard. "We were covered from head to toe with California."
Because Pollard was improperly shod, it hardly mattered that the Cougars were keying on him. "Heck, I'd go down sometimes without them even laying a finger on me," he says. Brown Quarterback Clair Purdy did his best to exploit the opposition's concentration on Pollard by decoying Fritz around end while he and Halfback Harold (Buzz) Andrews probed the middle. The ploy worked for a while. Late in the second quarter the Bruins reached the Washington State four but came away empty-handed.
About five minutes into the third period, with the score still 0-0, Pollard left the game choking on mud and water. After regaining his breath, he repeatedly pleaded with Coach Edward North Robinson to put him back in. Robinson refused, explaining that without rain cleats and exhausted from his efforts during the first half, Pollard could hardly improve on his replacement, Irving Fraser. Pollard later learned how memorable a scene he'd created with his constant entreaties.