Flying across the country to California won’t be a new experience for University of Georgia running back Nick Chubb, who has made visits there to see his grandfather and aunt who live in Los Angeles.
Many of his teammates have never been to the state. Some haven’t traveled out West.
Chubb and the Bulldogs will be leaving today for a trip like none other because of what’s ahead: Playing in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl against Oklahoma for a spot in the national title game.
“You have to kind of have it in your mind that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the Bulldog star said. “You really can’t take it for granted. The young guys have to realize this opportunity is special.”
Bryce Love can vouch for that.
The Stanford running back who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting played in the Rose Bowl in the Cardinal’s 45-16 win over Iowa on Jan. 1, 2016.
“It’s amazing,” Love said. “It really is surreal. You know the history of the game. Obviously when you step on the field it all comes rushing at you at one time. It’s a truly beautiful experience and they’re going to have a good time for sure.”
It’s been a long time – 75 years to be exact – since the Bulldogs played in the 29th Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1, 1943. A year earlier, the Rose Bowl was moved to Durham, N.C., because of the threat of an attack on the West Coast following the Japanese bombing at Pearl Harbor.
Bowl trips for current Georgia players have kept them in the region for games in Jacksonville, Charlotte and Memphis. The program’s last bowl outside the Southeast was in 2000 when it played in the Oahu Bowl in Hawaii.
Georgia will travel by plane together to California, which means safety J.R. Reed will have flown roundtrip to Texas for the holiday before rejoining his teammates.
The Bulldogs in 1942 traveled to the Rose Bowl by train before beating UCLA 9-0 to win the national championship.
“Ooh,” Georgia wide receiver Javon Wims , a Florida native said. “I hate traveling by train from Jacksonville to Miami, so I know three days of train is bad.”
The Rose Bowl pitted teams from the Big Ten and what’s now the Pac-12 every year starting in the 1946 season through 2001 until it hosted the Miami-Nebraska national championship game.
“Not many SEC teams can say they can get a chance to play in the Rose Bowl,” Georgia running back Sony Michel said. “I think it’s a very special opportunity for us to play in that game.”
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley remembers watching Rose Bowls on TV called by Keith Jackson, who was born in Roopville, Ga. and grew up in the state. He broadcasted 15 Rose Bowls, his last in 2006.
“That was just always one of those places that you kind of put on the bucket list as far as wanting to go to that game one day be involved in that game on day,” Riley said.
Alabama in the 1945 season was the last SEC team to play in the Rose Bowl. Auburn’s 2013 team played in the BCS national championship in Rose Bowl Stadium. Alabama also played in the stadium in the national title game in the 2009 season.
“I was very fortunate to get to coach in a game out there and thought it was probably my most memorable game of all the ones I’ve ever coached in just because of the stadium and where it was and all the history that’s involved in it,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, Alabama’s defensive coordinator then in a 37-21 win over Texas.
The Rose Bowl has produced 29 national champions. Baker Mayfield will be the 20th Heisman Trophy winner to play in the game.
“The granddaddy of them all,” said Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback. “It’s something that when you’re playing the NCAA video game, you want to play in the Rose Bowl. You want to have the best setting. I’ve watched the parade on TV. You’ve heard the stories about the flyover. Besides OU-Texas, for me, I think that’s the best setting possible. It’s something special for us.”
Linebacker Reggie Carter, who grew up in Miami and moved to Atlanta, grew up watching the Orange Bowl.
“I’m from the South,” he said. “I don’t know much about the history of the Rose Bowl. I’m excited to learn it. I’m excited to go out there.”
Several Georgia players, knowing what is at stake. said during practices in Athens that this will be a business trip for them, but they will still have a chance to take in a unique kind of bowl trip.
Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson was on a team that had a lopsided Rose Bowl loss to Stanford two years ago, but gushed about the experience, including a “really beautiful” setting with views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
“You’re going to have great weather for the game and you’re going to have fans out and it’s a legendary stadium,” Jackson said. “It’s not going to get much better than that.”