PASADENA -- The Rose Bowl is different.
That is why Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov positioned himself properly as the game wound down. He wanted to make certain his head coach, David Shaw, would receive the proper soaking from the proper Gatorade cooler.
And so, as the noise built over the final seconds to punctuate Stanford's first victory here in Pasadena since New Year's Day of 1972, Skov hemmed in Shaw on the sideline. And his teammates brought the soaking.
"I just wanted to make sure he didn't get away," Skov said.
He didn't. And neither did Stanford's 20-14 victory over Wisconsin here Tuesday, in a muscle-against-muscle, slam-against-slam physical battle. This was something beyond a regular satisfying win, however. The Cardinal has won many games over the past four years. They have won other bowl games.
But the Rose Bowl is different.
The Stanford players began to sense how different it was Tuesday from the moment they ran out of the dark stadium tunnel. As their eyes hit the Southern California sunshine, they noticed something amazing.
"I've never seen so many Stanford fans, and they were so excited," said linebacker Trent Murphy.
There were at least 40,000 of them -- that's how many tickets the school sold -- and probably many more in the 93,000-seat stadium. Often, there aren't as many Stanford fans at Stanford home games. Two years ago at the Orange Bowl, maybe half as many attended. The
It just shows you what the Rose Bowl brand name can do. So much has changed about college football over the past 10 or 15 years, what with the BCS Bowl system and computer rankings and regular season games being played on Wednesday and Thursday nights. But at least the Rose Bowl is the same nearly every year. It has the century-old tradition, the geographic setting, the featured time slot on New Year's Day.
"Every bowl game is an opportunity," Murphy said. "But the Rose Bowl is a little sweeter for us."
The Rose Bowl is different. That's why. As every great Rose Bowl should, this one matched the Pac-12 champion against the Big Ten champion. And while Tuesday's game was not so beautiful aesthetically, the proceedings had a certain purity. Wisconsin likes to play football the same way Stanford likes to play football: Line up, smash hard, repeat.
"Man against man, a physical battle," Skov said.
"When I came in at halftime, my body was feeling kind of beat up," said defensive back Usua Amanam. "But I think we all kind of expected that."
Stanford took an early 14-0 lead because it won that battle early. But the opposing Badgers, despite the five previous defeats they sustained this season, chose not to sag. They outscored the Cardinal 14-3 in the second quarter.
This led to a third quarter that was a meat grinder in cleats. Neither team could move the ball against the other. Stanford and Wisconsin could have changed uniforms, and no one could have told the difference.
"We weren't getting yards on first down," said Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, "and that made it difficult for us to get more first downs. Their linebackers were flowing hard to stop the run. But in the fourth quarter, we got back to doing what we do -- running the ball and making those tough yards."
In this case, that consisted of one final physical push that led to a 22-yard field goal from kicker Jordan Williamson that gave Stanford a six-point lead. But it also gave the ball back to Wisconsin with 6:22 left and a chance to drive for a go-ahead touchdown. Stanford required a big defensive play to clinch the victory. On another day, a defensive play might not be remembered as the play of the game.
But the Rose Bowl is different. Throughout the day, Shaw had watched as his defensive linemen tipped the passes of Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips at the line of scrimmage -- and how Stanford defensive backs nearly picked off those passes.
"I kept telling our guys, 'Somebody's going to make that interception, somebody's going to get one of those,' " Shaw said.
It turned out to be Amanam, the defensive back from Bellarmine Prep in San Jose. Phillips threw another tipped ball. Amanam picked up the ball's flight. He dove and caught it just before it touched the ground.
"I kind of just read the quarterback's eyes," Amanam said. "And fortunately, the ball just fell into my hands."
That happened with 2:03 left. The interception basically clinched the victory after the Stanford offense made one more first down. From there, Shaw went to the victory stand and accepted the Rose Bowl trophy.
Shaw is a Stanford alum and former Cardinal player. As such, Shaw had participated in the Aloha Bowl and the Blockbuster Bowl. But never the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal had also won five other bowl games since the last time it won here in 1972. But none was going to mean as much as this -- and Shaw knew it.
In fact, Monday night at the team hotel, Shaw unveiled a video to the team that featured Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett speaking about the Rose Bowl tradition and how much his own Rose Bowl victory in 1971 still meant to him.
"It's what we wanted to do, to let them know how this game is something these guys talk about years later," Shaw said.
The players apparently got it.
"That was inspirational," linebacker Murphy, who then paid it the ultimate compliment for a college student. "I posted it on my Twitter."
This Stanford team will always be remembered as one of the school's best. The Cardinal finished the season by winning eight straight games and the Pac-12 title. But the team's legacy would not have been complete without what happened Tuesday.
Because the Rose Bowl is different.