There is something different about the Rose Bowl. From the classic sign on the south end of the stadium to the San Gabriel Mountains to the iconic rose on the 50-yard line, there is a feeling in the Rose Bowl that is unmatched in any venue in American sports.
The granddaddy of them all boasts the most timeless setting and weaves together the histories of players over the past century.
But there's a common thread echoed in players who play on that field both now and 40 years ago -- there's something about that grass.
Yes, it's replaced before the game, making it an untouched playing surface, a rarity for football fields these days. But there's also an aura and a feel to the grass itself, something that makes 300-pound men want to taste the grass and others want to treat it like the links at the Masters.
"I remember how pristine it was. … It was like, 'I can't mess this up,'" 1981 Rose Bowl MVP Butch Woolfolk said. "You didn't want to mess it up when you fell down, and when your cleat dug out some, you'd want to replace the divot."
"We'd usually do a walk-through at the stadium the day before," 2013 Rose Bowl defensive MVP Usua Amanam said. "Guys were on the ground smelling the grass and picking up pieces of the grass and laying on the grass. I found that really interesting."
But more interesting is the odyssey the grass goes on before it becomes the resting place of the most iconic football game in the U.S.
Before it becomes the Rose Bowl rug, it's a tiny, three-strain seedling out of Mountain View Seeds in Salem, Oregon.
Eight months ago, it made a 1,024-mile trip to West Coast Turf -- the company that has been growing Rose Bowl fields off site for the past two decades -- in Palm Desert, California, where it was planted in top-grade sod on top of a sand that echoes the base of the Rose Bowl field itself.
As the grass begins to grow, a sample of the soil and leaf blade clippings are sent every month to a lab to be tested for the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels.
Is there too much of one chemical? Is the sod lacking in another? How must the fertilizer -- which is lovingly applied twice a week -- be altered to better cater to the needs of said blades?
It is a labor of love and a high-stakes chemistry and biology problem set.
This season, Rose Bowl grass guru Will Schnell (official title: Turf grass manager at the Rose Bowl) decided to switch from the Bermuda/rye grass, which has been successfully used every year at the Rose Bowl, to the Kentucky bluegrass blend, a move he has been contemplating for years.
What he knows is that it's a better cool-season grass, something he thinks will withstand the 38-degree Pasadena nights even better. This type of grass is found in most major league baseball parks in the North during the summer, which echoes the seasonal changes of the San Gabriel Valley in January.
The grass will be a slightly darker green hue, which may or may not pop on any given HD television set. But Schnell believes it will most certainly hold up even better in those chilly Pasadena nights.
The hardest part of this process comes around Thanksgiving, when an entire football field must be transported up 10-East through Southern California.
On November 23 at 5:30 p.m., the first half of the field was cut into systematic strips -- 70 feet long, 42 inches wide, one inch deep (except for the sideline ends, which is three-quarters of an inch deep) and began its journey to Pasadena.
By 4:30 a.m., all 17 trucks had made their way to the Rose Bowl and the assembly began. Simultaneously, the second half of the field was cut at West Coast Turf and transported as well. Those pieces -- on 18 semi trucks -- were installed the following day.
Each of those 3,000-pound pieces then came to rest on the sand base at the Rose Bowl.
Ten days after the sod was laid, roots began pushing their way into the sand. Nine days later, Schnell's crew rolled over the pieces -- which was gradually becoming one big piece -- with a five-ton roller.
Through this entire time, the process of keeping the turf happy and healthy was ramped up from its days in Palm Desert. Again, there were fertilizers twice a week, constant leveling, fungicides, monitoring of water and chemical levels. Schnell walked over every piece of it, trying to find any off-level spots (there were none).
Once the many strips become one big piece, the field is mowed to a height of five-eighths of an inch in alternating directions (Schnell compares it to vacuuming shag carpeting), which is what gives it the differing shades of green. In just the past week, it has been mowed three times and it'll be mowed once more before its big night.
Last week, the crew outlined the emblem in the middle of the field as well as the end zones that'll read "Iowa" and "Stanford." On Tuesday evening, they finished up the first coat of paint. Wednesday will see a second coat, then touch ups on Thursday after walk-throughs.
It's at this point -- once the hard part, by all considerations, has been completed -- that Schnell might start feeling some nerves.
"There's no hiding it if the grass is not good," he said. "They'd only point to one person and that'd be me. Until the teams come out and start working out on it, you never know what you have. … It's like the coach, you never know how the team is going to play until they actually come out on the field."
But like David Shaw and Kirk Ferentz, Schnell can be fairly certain that he did everything he could to get his grass ready for its big game.
And like both of those head coaches, only time will tell … or maybe, the sight of a few players taking pregame catnaps on the perfectly level and silky smooth grass.