Rose Bowl Rewind: Penn State vs. USC — 1923

Arielle Sargent
December 19, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- With Penn State's fourth Rose Bowl Game appearance just two weeks away, it's fitting to take a look back at the three previous times in program history the Nittany Lions have traveled to Pasadena, California, for the "Granddaddy of Them All." 

Across the next several days, travel back more than 90 years to Penn State's first ever bowl game, revisit the undefeated 1994 season and another Big Ten Championship year in 2008, all leading up to the Nittany Lions' fourth Rose Bowl appearance to come on Jan. 2, 2017. 

To get started, we'll start from the beginning.

The first of 46 completed bowl games in Penn State program history dates all the way back to 1923, where the Nittany Lions made their Rose Bowl debut against USC on New Year's Day in what would also be the first ever game at the current Rose Bowl Stadium in the Arroyo Seco area of Pasadena.   

The 1922 Penn State football season featured more than just a few firsts, including the debut of the Nittany Lion. Making its first appearance, the Penn State mascot donned an African Lion uniform re-purposed from a Penn State player's production of George Bernard Shaw's "Androcles and The Lion" in the first meeting in program history against Syracuse at New York City's Polo Grounds on Oct. 28, 1922.

Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Hugo Bezdek, the Nittany Lions posted a 5-0 record before the outing against the Orange, entering the matchup averaging 33 points per game before playing to a 0-0 tie against Syracuse. 

Next up, Penn State was slated to play Navy in a highly-anticipated outing in Washington, D.C. Having not surrendered a loss in 30 consecutive games, Penn State traveled to American League Park to square off against Navy on Nov. 2, 1922. Entering the matchup with a depleted roster due to injuries, the Nittany Lions played in front of a crowd of 35,000 featuring congressmen and dignitaries as well Pittsburgh head coach Pop Warner and Penn's John Heisman.

Navy jumped out to a 7-0 lead by halftime before a fake punt and fumble recovery sent the Midshipmen ahead 14-0, with the Nittany Lions ultimately falling short to give Penn State its first loss in 30 games.

Penn State responded with a 10-0 win against Carnegie Tech the following week, but lost back-to-back games at Penn and at Pittsburgh in the yearly Thanksgiving week game to close the regular season.

At 6-3-1, Penn State was set to match up against a University of Southern California squad that had won all but one game on the year, including each of its last four straight for a 9-1-0 record. USC also was making its first overall bowl and Rose Bowl Game appearance against Penn State after Pacific Coast Conference champion California declined the invitation to play in Pasadena. The Trojans' only loss in 1922 had come to the Golden Bears. 

Although the trip to the Rose Bowl Game was the first bowl in program history for the Nittany Lions, Bezdek had previously guided Oregon to a victory over Penn in the 1917 Rose Bowl as the Ducks' head coach.

Penn State boarded a train on Dec. 19, making stops in Chicago and the Grand Canyon before arriving in Pasadena on Christmas Eve.

On the day of the game, the Nittany Lions made an appearance at the Tournament of Roses Parade before boarding taxis to head to the game, without a police escort. Los Angeles post-parade traffic created a crisis for the team as the cabs carrying the 29-person travel party navigated through the lawns of local residents before arriving to find that kickoff had been pushed back 10 minutes.

After a bit of contentious discussion between Bezdek and USC head coach Elmer "Gloomy Gus" Henderson, the game was delayed an hour and the game would end under just the light of the moon in the night sky.

Penn State struck first, when quarterback and kicker Myron "Mike" Palm nailed a 20-yard field goal to give the Nittany Lions a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. USC answered with a pair of one-yard touchdown runs in the second and third quarter, respectively to pull ahead 14-3. Neither team would score again as Penn State's defense held off the Trojans in the final frame, but the Nittany Lions couldn't get on the scoreboard again, held to just five first downs in front of the crowd of 43,000.

As the final whistle blew late into the evening, sportswriters had to strike matches to provide enough light to finish filing their stories. Penn State finished the 1922 season at 6-4-1, while also donating its $21,349.64 in Rose Bowl Game profit to the $2 million Emergency Building Fund, directed to the construction of Irvin Hall, which was formerly Varsity Hall. 

Since their first meeting in the 1923 Rose Bowl, Penn State and USC have met in two more post-season contests, with the Nittany Lions winning in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl and the Trojans winning in the 2009 Rose Bowl. 

Penn State and USC have emerged as two of the nation's most successful programs in bowl success, with the Trojans ranking No. 1 (66.0, 33-17) and the Nittany Lions No. 3 (63.0, 28-16-2) in bowl winning percentage among teams with at least 20 post-season appearances.

Last Updated January 06, 2017