Gordon Monson: Rose Bowl vs. College Football Playoff was a showdown between what was and what will be

The CFP and the Granddaddy of Them All found a way to work things out — and college football will be better for it, the Tribune columnist writes.

Sometimes old things are the best, and they’re worth putting up with, even if they’re a bit fussy and inconvenient.

Things like the Rose Bowl.

An example: One of my close friends, who lived on the side of a mountain about two 5-irons from the old, distinguished bowl in the Arroyo Seco, sold me his car some 35 years ago. We used to bomb up and down Pasadena’s Linda Vista Avenue to and from his home in that beauty — a slightly weathered guards red Porsche 911 Carrera — and when he said he was selling it, I was buying.

He asked, “What are you willing to pay?”

I said, “Whatever you’re asking.”

His price — again, he was one of my best friends — was a little on the heavy side — dude was a commercial real estate salesman — but I paid it and the deal was done.

I loved that car, drove it nearly every day, all over L.A.’s freeways, for personal and professional reasons, to take my wife on dates, to cover sports events. I interviewed former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda in that car. Whew, the stories he told.

Like the one about Reds manager John McNamara, who Lasorda bumped into in the aisle of a church in Cincinnati on the Sunday morning before a game.

“I knew why he was there and he knew why I was there,” he said. “After mass, John said, ‘Wait for me outside, I’ll be right out.’ I watched him as he slipped off to the side to light a candle. Instead of leaving the church, I went to the other side and knelt at the altar. He left. I went over and blew that candle out. I knew one thing: He was not lighting that candle for a dead relative. … All during the game, I was yelling, ‘Hey, Mac, it ain’t going to work, pal! I blew it out!’ We clobbered them that day, 13-2. Last year, Johnny Mac went to Rome and he sent me a card. Here’s all it said: ‘Try blowing this candle out.’”

It wasn’t the fanciest sports car in the world, and my friend had been in a wreck in it when an inattentive grandma plowed into the rear bumper, but it had been fully restored.

I brought it to Utah when I moved here in 1993, and kept it for years — until for some silly reason I sold it. Yeah, it was aging, showing signs of its age in the form of an oil leak here, a worn-out part there. It required TLC and it was kind of a pain, but … I should have kept the thing. Too much love had gone into it, too many fond memories in it and on account of it.

I swapped it out for … what’s this, an SUV? Stooooooopid.

Some things you don’t chuck aside and replace.

When word came out on Wednesday night that the College Football Playoff folks had reached an agreement with Rose Bowl managers, a deal that cleared the final substantial roadblock to begin a new 12-team playoff in 2024, I thought about that old car, about what’s worth keeping and why.

The Rose Bowl had been a thorn in the playoff commission’s side since the decision had been made to expand the playoff from four to 12 teams. And because former contracts already were in place with the six “major bowls” until 2026, the new 12-team version could not proceed in expedited fashion without unanimous agreement with those six.

The other five bowls were on board, but the sixth, the Rose, wanted special accommodation. It wanted, among other things, its traditional exclusive time slot on New Year’s Day at 2 p.m. It wanted that time, in part, on account of a certain parade you may have heard of, a community event that annually draws more than a million people to the streets of Pasadena, and it favored the idea of having a national television audience watching not just the Rose Bowl game, but also enjoying those camera shots of the sun splashing all over the San Gabriel Mountains as it set.

That may have seemed like a ridiculous request/demand to the CFP commissioners, but we’re talking about leaders of an entity who may have been known by more than a few as highfalutin and downright snooty.

On the other hand, of all the really cool traditions in college football, the 100-plus-year-old Granddaddy may not be at the top of that heap, but it’s within shouting distance of it.

This past week, the playoff commission essentially threw an ultimatum down at the Rose Bowl, informing it that if an early agreement wasn’t met — delaying the start of the new playoff until 2026 would cause a loss of millions — then the commission would move forward thereafter without the Rose Bowl, and the bowl then would be left outside future playoff rotations.

As a longtime proponent of an expanded playoff, and a lover of the Rose Bowl, I was torn by that showdown. Maybe you were, too. I had an angel on one shoulder, a devil on the other, and I was caught in the middle of the back-and-forth.

Trouble was, I couldn’t tell exactly which was the angel, which was the devil.

There was good and bad, arrogance and greed, on both sides.

It was a matter of tradition vs. progression, what was vs. what will be, power to the left, power to the right, stubbornness all around. You can imagine what was being said not just among the commissioners, but also inside the operations of the other bowls, all of which were likely asking themselves some version of: “Who the hell do these narcissists in Pasadena think they are?”

The battle pitting the Rose with the playoff was the embodiment of the old way against the new, and, as everybody knows, old ways in college football die hard. And, as always, money is mixed into the whole of it.

Still, there’s something more than quaint about holding onto some of the traditions that separate college football from the professional game. Should some of those old traditions be preserved inside the structure of the new? Some observers even suggested that the Rose Bowl should be the home of every national championship game. That, of course, would never fly, not with so many other parties interested and invested in the profitable playoff process.

At this writing, we don’t know all the details of how the negotiation between the Rose Bowl and the playoff commission played out. It has been said that the Rose capitulated on some of its demands.

ESPN reported via sources that the Rose Bowl’s request for an exclusive window for its game in the years when the Rose wasn’t hosting a College Football Playoff game on New Year’s Day was met with a less-than-rock-solid notion that CFP officials would try real hard to work with them, but there could be no exclusive window for the game. Furthermore, other accommodations sought by Rose Bowl officials regarding the future playoff television contract couldn’t be assured or even addressed because what that TV deal will look like remains unknown.

Bottom line is, the Rose Bowl has agreed to terms to an expanded playoff starting in 2024. And that’s good news for traditionalists and progressives, people who want to preserve some of the old and mix it in with a modern playoff that’s fairer and more inclusive and more exciting than what it’s been in the past and what it is now, a continued fractured college football postseason, one that limits opportunity to just four favored participants.

Man, I wish I’d kept that old car. I wouldn’t drive it every day, but neither would it be a garage queen. I’d take care of it, baby it a bit here and there, and get behind the wheel when I could. And hold onto the memories of bombing up and down Linda Vista Avenue, just a couple of 5-irons away from the Rose Bowl, remembering the good times, remembering what Lasorda told me during that interview.

“You have to live your dream. You’ve got to meet your challenges in life. Keep trying. Keep believing. Keep going. It can be hard at times. But good things will happen, because God sometimes delays, he doesn’t deny. I lost the World Series the first two times we were in it. You’ve got to find your way through what’s possible. You’ve got to dream it, want it. And you’ve got to pay the price for success.”

Yeah, I miss that car.