Heisman Winners Who Played In The Rose Bowl As The Stadium Turns 100

Charles White in the 1980 Rose Bowl.

The iconic Rose Bowl Stadium, home to the Rose Bowl and countless other athletic and other events, is celebrating its centennial year in 2022.

Heisman winners hold, of course, a treasured spot in Rose Bowl lore, with some of college football’s greatest players rendering command performances in the “Granddaddy of them all” on the gorgeous stage in Pasadena, Calif.

Now a U.S. National Historic Landmark and also listed as a California Historic Civil Engineering landmark, the Rose Bowl first hosted a Heisman Trophy winner on Jan. 1 1943.

That was the game when Georgia’s 1942 Heisman-winning running back Frank Sinkwich and the Bulldogs made its debut in the event, a 9-0 defeat of future full-time tenant UCLA. Sinkwich, bruised and injured, scored the game’s only TD on a 1-yard run late in the game, rushing for 34 yards.

The Bulldogs win is just one of two appearances the SEC school made in what was of course, for decades, exclusively a Big Ten-Pac-12 affair.

The BCS and CFP opened the Rose Bowl up to other teams, and Georgia played in the game once again on Jan. 1, 2018, where the Bulldogs won again. This time, they faced a Heisman winner, getting the better of 2017 recipient Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma, 54-48 in double overtime. Mayfield threw for 287 yards and two scores in the loss.

The most recent Heisman winner to play in Pasadena was 2020’s DeVonta Smith, whose Alabama team took on Notre Dame in a CFP semifinal on Jan. 1, 2021. Smith led Alabama to a 31-14 win, catching three TD passes among seven receptions with 130 receiving yards.

Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman winner, led Oregon into the first-ever CFP game, squaring off against the previous year’s Heisman winner, Jameis Winston. Mariota and the Ducks turned the Jan. 1, 2015 semifinal game into a rout, 59-20. Mariota threw for 338 yards and two scores and ran for another TD, out-dueling Winston’s 348 yards and a score. It was Winston’s first loss as a Florida State starter.

University of Oregon Football quarterback
The Oregon Ducks take on the Florida State Seminoles in the 2015 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA on January 1, 2015. (Eric Evans Photography)

Nebraska’s Eric Crouch, the 2001 Heisman winner, led the Cornhuskers into the BCS title game against Miami held for the first time at the Rose Bowl and played Jan. 3 2002. It marked the first time since 1919 that neither the Pac-12 or Big Ten had a team in the game. Miami ran away with a 37-14 win. Crouch ran for 114 yards in the loss. 

The 1990s saw three Heisman winners from the Big Ten on the Rose Bowl stage. Ron Dayne rushed for 200 yards and a score in Wisconsin’s 17-9 win over Stanford, technically played on the first day of the next decade, Jan. 1, 2000.

On Jan. 1, 1998, the Charles Woodson-led Wolverines defeated Washington State, 21-16. Woodson had an interception and one reception in the Michigan win. Six years earlier, fellow Wolverine Desmond Howard played in the game, which Michigan lost to Washington, 34-14.

USC’s 1979 Heisman winner Charles White led the Trojans to a dramatic win over Ohio State on Jan. 1, 1980. He totaled 247 yards on 39 carries, including the go-ahead 1-yard leap with 1:32 left in the game. On the play 1981 Heisman-winning-teammate Marcus Allen led the way as a fullback.

White earned Player of the Game honors for the second Rose Bowl in a row after earning Co-Player of the Game plaudits the year before when he helped lead USC to a Rose Bowl over Michigan.

Buckeye back-to-back Heisman winner Archie Griffin led Ohio State to back-to-back Rose Bowls, although both in losing affairs. In the 1976 game following his historic second Heisman win, Griffin, playing with a broken wrist for most of the game, gained 93 yards.  A year earlier, Ohio State fell to USC, 18-17. Griffin was held to 75 yards rushing, ending a streak of 23 straight 100-yard games.

Stanford’s 1970 winner Jim Plunkett completed a fantastic senior year at Stanford with a 27-17 Rose Bowl win over Ohio State, throwing for 265 yards a score as the Cardinal upset the top-ranked Buckeyes with 14 fourth-quarter points.

The first USC player to play in the Rose Bowl was O.J. Simpson, whose Trojans fell in the 1969 edition of the Rose Bowl, 27-16, to Ohio State. Simpson ran for 171 yards in the loss, including an 80-yard TD score.

USC Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer also played in the stadium, though in regular-season contests.

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