Michigan beat Stanford 49-0 in the initial Rose Bowl played on Jan. 1, 1902. The game was not played again for 14 years. Ohio State became the second Big Ten team to play in the game, losing 28-0 to California on Jan. 1, 1921.
Big Ten schools then put a kibosh on the frivolity of postseason games. It wasn’t until the 1946 season when the conference began sending a team to California to play the Pacific Coast Conference (now Pac-12) champion.
The Gophers made a first appearance on Jan. 2, 1961. Already voted as national champions by the wire services (polling ended with the regular season), the Gophers were upset by Washington, losing 17-7.
A year later, the Big Ten’s deal with the Rose Bowl had expired, and Ohio State’s faculty senate — non-fans of coach Woody Hayes, apparently — voted not to allow the champion Buckeyes to go to Pasadena.
The lack of a formal deal meant the rule that a Big Ten team could not go to back-to-back Rose Bowls was suspended. Thus, the runner-up Gophers were invited, became the first team to represent the Big Ten in consecutive Rose Bowls and put a 21-3 thrashing on UCLA.
The Big Ten did not allow a team to play in a bowl game other than the Rose Bowl until after the 1975 season, when Michigan defeated USC in the Rose and Ohio State defeated Colorado in the Orange.
There were 11 bowl games between major college teams after the 1975 season. Two years later, the Big Ten allowed a third team in a bowl: Cal Stoll’s Gophers, 7-5 after losing to Maryland 17-7 in the new Hall of Fame Classic in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 22, 1977.
The Gophers next played in a bowl game on Dec. 21, 1985, defeating Clemson 20-13 in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. The number of bowls had increased to 17, and ticket sales indicated Minnesotans were skeptical over the importance of qualifying for one with a 6-5 record.
The Gophers sold a mere 600 of the 12,000 tickets that they were contractually obligated to purchase.
I mean, 17 bowl games … it was getting silly, right?
The Gophers have played in 19 bowl games (7-12). Best victories:
1. Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 1962, Gophers 21, UCLA 3: After being upset a year earlier, the Gophers went back to Pasadena and proved their mettle.
2. Music City Bowl, Dec. 31, 2004, Gophers 20, Alabama 16: It was a 6-5 Alabama team dealing with recruiting limits, but it gave Glen Mason’s teams a three-game bowl victory streak over Oregon, Arkansas and the Tide.
3. Holiday Bowl, Dec. 27, 2016, Gophers 17, Washington State 12: School President Eric Kaler and AD Mark Coyle looked like death warmed over on the sidelines, as the Gophers — led by soon-to-be-fired Tracy Claeys — upset the Cougars.