Few traditions are more cherished than spending New Year’s Day hungover watching one college football team absolutely destroy another. You are able to witness someone get crushed on a level equal to what the sugary champagne leftovers are doing to your brain. For a moment, there is an entire team of athletes left feeling worse than you. But the 1902 Michigan-Stanford Rose Bowl was so brutal that the Tournament of Roses committee opted for chariot and ostrich races in place of college football.
The Rose Bowl, college football’s first postseason game, was set up with the best intentions. Two college teams would have their travel expenses covered to face off with bragging rights on the line as the East and the West were represented (smartly shying away from North and South representation after that went poorly less than 40 years prior). College football was pretty different at the time though, and without some super helpful preseason ranking system or an established scheduling format, creating the best matchup wasn’t the simplest task. Undefeated, unscored-on Michigan was an easy choice to represent the East, but an undefeated Cal Bears team was passed up for their friends to the north, Stanford, who had a slightly less impressive record at 3-1-2. The rest went about as well as you’d expect, which is why it made sense at the time to see ostriches do their thing the following year.
Thankfully, the Rose Bowl as we know it would return in 1916, and while bowl games have been rightfully celebrated as a tradition ever since, no one knows what happened to the 1,300 ostriches released into the Pasadena countryside when their races were canceled. This bowl season, keep those stupid, flightless birds in your thoughts, and enjoy the games.