Happy New Year! If the first few days of 2014 set the tone for the rest of the year, let’s just say it’s going to be one heck of a trip around the sun. Jeff and I are still basking in the exhilaration from Michigan State’s win in the 100th annual Rose Bowl – the school’s first Rose Bowl victory since 1988. As soon as the Spartans crushed Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship we sprang into planning mode for a New Year’s trip to Pasadena. Game and parade tickets fell into place thanks to some Nike friends, we picked up cheap Southwest flights, and we planned a three-day, once-in-a-lifetime trip (although we hope not) to cheer the Spartans alongside Jeff’s parents and their friends the DeSantises, Jeff’s college soccer buddies, Nike friends, and the other 60,000 Michigan State fans who swarmed Southern California for the game.
And the game was epic. Honestly, when MSU linebacker Kyler Elsworth leapt to stop Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt in the Cardinal’s do-or-die fourth-and-inches with 1:46 left on the clock, I nearly cried.
For Jeff and me, the lead-up to that history-making moment was equally thrilling.
Jeff and I spent New Year’s Eve morning in Irvine with our friend Joey before making a late appearance to the official Michigan State pep rally near the STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles. We didn’t catch any of the speeches from school president Lou Anna K. Simon, athletic director Mark Hollis, coach Mark Dantonio or former quarterback Kirk Cousins, but we gaped in awe at the sea of 27,000 green-and-white-adorned fans that packed the square. (I swear, I only saw a handful of Stanford fans on the streets of L.A. that whole day!) Thousands of State fans spilled into the neighboring J.W. Marriott hotel, where we cheers-ed with friends from the biggest Spartan-loving families in the world, the Bellolis and Folinos. Jeff’s soccer buddy and Cali transplant, Kevin Wittig, and his lady friend, Stacey, joined the party, and later shuttled us back to our Loews Hollywood Hotel complex for some New Year’s Eve celebrations. We rang in the new year (well, for Eastern Time and Central Time at least) at an unexpected spot: the newly-opened Cabo Wabo Cantina, where Dennis the owner wooed the four of us, Jeff’s parents, and the DeSantises with free double shots of tequila and desserts.
We woke before sunrise on January 1, ready for a big day. Bob and Chris, Mr. and Mrs. DeSantis, and Jeff and I cruised down to Pasadena for the 125th annual Rose Parade – the first-ever Rose Parade for any of us. My favorite part was wandering down the float-lined Orange Grove Boulevard before the parade, where we got up-close looks at the approximately 45 flower-bedecked works of art. After watching the two-hour procession of floats, marching bands and high-stepping horse packs, we hiked the 1 1/2 miles to Brookside Park, which borders the Rose Bowl Stadium. Jeff’s old MSU soccer teammates Jonathan Wells, Pat Mahoney and Paul Vance had rented an RV for a couple days and created the perfect tailgating spot. State soccer alum and others streamed through and drank foamy Miller Lite keg beer until we headed to the stadium to join the BCS-record 95,173 spectators for the game.
Of course, the game was amazing. The sun-steeped stadium was beautiful. The fans seemed respectful of one another yet oh-so-stoked. Jeff and I sat in the lower bowl of section 23, just off the Stanford end zone near that goofy-ass dancing tree of theirs. We quickly made friends with a Taryn, a Nike Footwear Innovation gal sitting next to us, and we all yelled for Michigan State and drank Coors Light tall-boys with the rest of Taryn’s crew. It was a glorious experience, and we watched the post-game victory speeches and made one last stop to the RV party before heading back to Hollywood.
Bob, Chris, Jeff and I spent the next day roaming around Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Malibu. A walk down the Hollywood Walk of Fame (just outside our hotel); a Bloody Mary, danish, bagel and lox at the Polo Lounge in the famous Beverly Hills Hotel; and a delicious oceanside lunch at Geoffrey’s Malibu made for a perfect California sendoff before heading back to the real world in Portland.
How about we make this a yearly New Year’s tradition, Michigan State? 🙂