PASADENA, Calif. -- There's something about the Rose Bowl's setting that takes your breath away.
When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest during the late 1960s, I can still remember how magical the stadium looked on TV when Big Ten teams like Indiana and Ohio State came west to play in the Rose Bowl.
The surroundings struck Texas coach Mack Brown the first time he brought his team to a Rose Bowl game here and the venue remains special to this day.
"When we came here in '04 for the '05 Michigan game, I thought it was the coolest thing, and I didn't know what to do, because a young guy from Cookville, Tennessee, would never be able to coach or play in the Rose Bowl," Brown said. "Same thing for Alabama. I grew up an Alabama fan. I watched [former Alabama] Coach [Bear] Bryant. But you didn't come west. You played in the Cotton Bowl and you played in the Orange Bowl and you played in the Sugar Bowl, but this was taboo for us."
Brown contacted former USC coach John Robinson for pointers on playing at the Rose Bowl.
"He said it was very unique. Coach Robinson said, 'It's very, very hard to get to the Rose Bowl as a player or coach; very few people get to do it. What you need to do is be really proud, and when you stand out on the field before the game, make sure you go out there by yourself, stand in a corner, look up in those beautiful [San Gabriel Mountains], see the sun setting and say this is pretty cool, and then go back and do what you always do.' But take a moment to appreciate it."
As special as that first game was, Brown's second Rose Bowl game was even more memorable. Vince Young's 8-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left won the national championship.
"When we looked at the Michigan win, we thought it couldn't get any better than that," Brown said. "The next year we beat SC, and we said, 'Ooh, this is better than that.' So now you're back to the now.
"This game is very important to both teams. They're historic programs, very proud fan bases in both cases. The history of the game is so important to both. [Former Texas] coach [Darrell] Royal is still alive and has things named after him. I think Coach Brown still walks the halls at Tuscaloosa, and he has things named after him. But everybody that sees the "A" and sees the Longhorn on the helmet and knows the programs, and that's what makes this game so special."