As Iowa prepares to face Stanford on New Year’s Day at the 2016 Rose Bowl, fans are considering the type of matchup to expect. A team that radically reinvented itself this season, Iowa will play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the first time since 1990. Prior to the course correction, Iowa failed to surpass an 8-4 season record since 2009, and season ticket sales are projected to drop 10 percent this season from the season prior. This year, however, Iowa is 12-1 and missed an invitation to the National Championship Playoffs by losing to Michigan State at the Big Ten Championship – the team’s only loss this season.
Iowa – traditionally a big, hard-hitting, offense driven by tight ends and fullbacks – found success this year by emphasizing overlooked elements of Iowa football (such as punt returns) as well as perfecting their running game. Iowa will face a Rose Bowl standard in Stanford; the team has appeared at the Pasadena Classic in three of the last four seasons. A much smaller but faster team, Stanford has historically fared poorly against big-hitting teams – as illustrated by the team’s season opener against Northwestern, which it lost 16-6. With an 11-2 record to defend, however, the Cardinal are set to defy expectations.
If one were to use the success of Iowa’s and Stanford’s NFL draftees to speak of the historical quality of the teams, a complicated picture emerges. We compiled the playing records of the 95 Iowa and Stanford Rose Bowl alumni who have been drafted into the NFL and present the study below. Examine the results to discover the type of star players the team typically send to the Rose Bowl in order to determine not only what to expect on New Year’s Day, but what this game will mean for the league in the future.
Tale of the Tape
The 48 Iowa draftees who have played in the Rose Bowl have amassed 27 Pro Bowl appearances and 72 NFL/AFL playoff appearances. They also have seen 228 collective years in the NFL and have racked up an astounding 22,121 yards from the line of scrimmage – including 17,519 yards in receiving. This is surprising, considering that Iowa is a tight end/fullback-friendly team.
Despite the impressive stats, no Iowa Rose Bowl alumnus has ever appeared in a Super Bowl or NFL Championship Game. In contrast, Stanford’s 47 Rose Bowl alumni/NFL draftees have played in six Super Bowls (winning four), amassed nine Pro Bowl appearances, and scored a combined 2,822 points – including 455 touchdowns.
Of the 95 Rose Bowl draftees from both teams, an astounding 41 were drafted as defensive ends, free safeties, linebackers, defensive backs, or defensive linemen. This suggests that, overwhelmingly, NFL scouts appreciate both teams’ ability to produce quality defensive players. These 41 players averaged in excess of 30 games played in the league.
Eleven of the drafted players were quarterbacks. Despite this, no Rose Bowl quarterback has been drafted from either school in the first round since Chuck Long in 1986.
After the Rose Bowl
The players drafted from the Rose Bowl from the two teams cut an interesting profile. Take, for example, Stanford’s Jim Plunkett, a Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback who won the award over Archie Manning and Joe Theismann. Even though he was drafted by the New England Patriots and traded to the San Francisco 49ers, his career didn’t truly start until his ninth year in the league, when he was traded to the Oakland Raiders to be their third-string quarterback.
After a series of retirements and injuries, Plunkett became the starting quarterback. During his first season as lead quarterback, he won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. He threw 2,299 yards for 18 touchdowns, went 9-2 in games started, and won MVP in Super Bowl XV, which the Raiders won over the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.
Three years later, he led the Raiders to another Super Bowl win after losing and regaining his starting quarterback position. Although his 72-72 games started record probably means he will not make it to the Hall of Fame, Plunkett is still the first quarterback of Latino descent to ever win a Super Bowl.
As Iowa and Stanford prepare to meet on New Year’s Day – one to protect and improve on its reputation as a perennial Rose Bowl guest and the other to seek to justify the change in mind that saw an end to years of stagnation – fans ponder who will be the next Rose Bowl alumnus to enter the NFL. Ultimately, “the Grandaddy of Them All” is the highest stage at which NFL hopefuls can dream of playing; it is more than likely that the finest athletes to play in Pasadena have yet to take the field.