Cal still seems a little bitter about 1949

For 64 years, it was the rallying cry for Northwestern football. This was our win. Our victory. Our moment of glory.

The 1949 Rose Bowl.

It was for a very long time the only bowl game Northwestern had ever gone to. It was for an even longer time the only bowl game Northwestern had ever won. It was a game that could be lost to legend and, in fact, has become legendary for its rarity.

That changed in January when Northwestern defeated Mississippi State and won the Gator Bowl. The monkey was off the team’s back and the bowl drought was over. Now all Northwestern has to look forward to is the future. A future with a growing program and lots and lots of success — i.e. more than one bowl win every 63 years.

There is always someone trying to rain on our parade. And that would be this week’s opponent. The school that Northwestern played in that legendary Rose Bowl. The only time NU has played this prestigious academic institution. Until this week.

California is still a bit upset over that game.

While Northwestern have not let go of it because it was the only thing to hold on to, Cal fans will not let go of it because they believe they were robbed. Yes, this one-off rivalry has a bit of controversy attached to it. David Bush of the San Francisco Chronicle went deep into the festering history of Northwestern’s 20-14 win in Pasadena:

It has been nearly 65 years since their only other meeting, Northwestern’s 20-14 victory in the 35th Rose Bowl, New Year’s Day 1949. That game had it all: star power, spectacular plays, dramatic subplots and three hotly disputed calls by the officials that make it probably the most controversial in the history of the Pasadena classic.


In the intervening decades, Cal players and followers have insisted victory that day should have been theirs and that the Bears were the victims of terrible injustice. Time has diminished their numbers and ardor, but still not much prodding is needed to get them started.


“I don’t remember a lot, but I remember we got screwed,” said Dick Erickson, the starting quarterback for the Bears that day, now long retired in the East Bay.

Oh boy. Wildcats fans, understandably, do not remember that part of the story. When I shared the article on Twitter earlier this week, fans were quick to mention nobody ever talks about this part. Even though Cal asked the Pacific Conference (now the Pac-12) to put an asterisk next to the game’s final result, the conference never has.

The icing on the cake to squash this controversy is what Cal coach (a former coach at Northwestern) said to his players during that game: “The referee called it a touchdown, and that’s the end of it.”

You wish sometimes more people took this approach to sometimes questionable officiating (that part of the game probably has not changed much in 64 years). Alas, now that Northwestern and Cal are playing each other again, it is dragging up some bad memories for the Golden Bears faithful.

If you watch the video I attached to this post, you can see that maybe there was a point in the out of bounds play. But you also have to agree with Pappy Waldorf. If Cal was going to win the game, the team should have kept Northwestern from scoring.

We will see what this year’s version has in store for us.