COLLEGE FOOTBALL ON THE WEST COAST GOT OFF to a rocky start: In 1902 Stanford was crushed 49--0 by Michigan in the first Rose Bowl. Four years later Cal and Stanford temporarily abandoned football (deemed too violent) for rugby. But by the '20s, following the formation of the Pacific Coast Conference, the game had taken hold. The next two decades yielded hallowed names: the Wonder Teams of Cal's Andy Smith; Howard Jones's USC juggernauts; and Stanford's mighty Vow Boys (so-named for their pledge to beat USC, which they did). The teams played in some of the nation's most picturesque venues, such as L.A.'s mammoth Coliseum, Washington's bayside Husky Stadium and Cal's hillside Memorial Stadium.
Pacific Coast Conference football offered mostly salubrious weather and perfectly paired natural rivalries (still true even with the addition of the Arizona schools in 1978). These are serendipitous regional symmetries that no other conference can boast. It also provided a bonanza of homegrown talent yielded by the region's post-WWII population boom. And yet the Eastern-centric press often failed to take notice (except when Pac schools were waxed by the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl). The problem of recognition was particularly acute when schools from the Pacific Northwest came to the fore: Who outside of Pullman, for instance, recalls the historic 1930 Washington State team of coach Orin Ercel (Babe) Hollingbery that featured All-America center Mel Hein and went to the Rose Bowl?
Once Pac games began to be televised, however, the word got out. And has stayed out. The entire nation has thrilled to the duels in the sun featuring John McKay's rampaging USC tailbacks beginning in the 1960s, the heroic heaves of a flotilla of Stanford quarterbacks (Albert, Brodie, Plunkett, Elway, Luck et al.) over seven decades and the scoreboard-blowing offense of last year's supercharged Oregon Ducks. To those Easterners who still sniff that West Coast teams are as soft as the UCLA pom-pom girls ... well, how would you like to run a nutcracker drill against the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Kenny Easley, Steve Emtman, Ronnie Lott, Anthony Muñoz, Jonathan Ogden, Troy Polamalu, Terrell Suggs, Ron Yary?
Now Colorado and Utah come in, extending the conference's range to the Rockies and importing their own hallowed traditions, to say nothing of glorious natural settings. For the new Pac-12, even higher peaks are on the horizon.
FIRST DOWNS, PAC-12
1892 First Big Game
In San Francisco, Stanford defeats Cal 14--10
1894 First Shots in the Civil War
Oregon State beats Oregon 16--0 at Corvallis