My trip to Pasadena: A zero-star review

I warned everyone.  Nobody listened.

I got the same incredulous reaction from every person I talked to, from friends to fellow members of the media.  No one wanted to hear that the LSU-UCLA game will not be fun.  No one wanted to hear how the Rose Bowl is not actually in L.A., and how once you travel to Los Angeles, you’ll have to travel again just to get to a stadium in the middle of nowhere, with no atmosphere and none of the things that make L.A. fun.

Would it really be worth the trouble to drive all the way to Pasadena, which is 26 miles northeast of UCLA’s campus and about nine miles from Downtown L.A., just to watch LSU blow out an inferior team? What if the unthinkable happened and we went all that way just to see the Tigers lose?

All of that may sound shocking to the uninitiated but to someone like me who has lived in L.A. for eight years, these are all legitimate concerns that must be addressed.

In the end, I was right to be skeptical of the LSU-UCLA game day experience.

LSU’s pathetic 38-27 loss to unranked UCLA reminded me of another ill-fated road trip for the Tigers – their 16-14 loss to Wisconsin at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field in 2016.  In that game, LSU also got pushed around by an out-of-conference opponent with inferior recruiting chops.  Just like Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, the Tigers were dominated at the line of scrimmage and beaten at their own game.

In both games, the team looked unprepared and flat.  In both games, the team played at an historic venue falsely propped up by the same lame narrative pushed by every broadcast team that ever worked there.  Green Bay was a whole lotta nothing, as if the I-10 abyss between East Baton Rouge Parrish and Orleans Parrish had been transported to the Midwest.  There was no pageantry, no electricity in the air.  Just a big stadium in a big concrete parking lot surrounded by a quiet neighborhood.

The Rose Bowl, which is as modern as City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium, offers a similar vibe.

UCLA games are so popular that they tarp off an entire end zone! Photo: Jacob Krasnow

My warnings of a lame game day experience really sunk in as I and my friends found ourselves trapped on the side of the Colorado Street Bridge after the game, trying desperately to find a safe place to hail a rideshare home because the Rose Bowl does not provide an area to do so.  On top of that, the stadium’s contraflow plan prevents Ubers and Lyfts from getting anywhere near the stadium itself.

But we all should have known the night would go sideways when we arrived in Old Town Pasadena on Saturday afternoon to find an infrastructure completely unprepared for the crush of traveling LSU fans.  Bars and restaurants seemed to only have one or two servers working at a time, unable to meet the needs of thirsty Louisianans.

This was Pasadena’s chance to shine, its chance to impress one of the most loyal and well-traveled fan bases in all of sports. It was as if no one had ever heard of LSU, as if they didn’t know there was a game.

We should’ve known the night would go sideways when we realized the Golden Band from Tigerland didn’t travel with the team.  We should’ve known the night would go sideways when LSU QB Max Johnson did his best Aaron Brooks impression and embarrassed us all by lobbing a bizarre backwards pass behind his back.

Max Johnson? More like…Minimum Johnson. Screenshot: YouTube

We should’ve known it would go sideways when I warned everyone that watching a game at the Rose Bowl, an outdated stadium that hosts a team playing “home games” over an hour away from its campus, was not worth the hassle.

I hope everyone learned their lesson as they sat in L.A. traffic, the weight of LSU’s failure sinking in.

The biggest revelation from the Saturday night not spent in Death Valley was that this year, the LSU football team and the UCLA game day experience have one thing in common: they’re not what we thought they were, existing only as dim shadows of what the pundits talked them up to be.

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