If you’re a true college football fan and you’ve never been to a Rose Bowl Game, make sure you put it on your list of things to do before you leave this world and head off into the Great Beyond. Even during what many critics consider a down year for the Rose Bowl, the feeling here is electric.

Acres and acres of tailgaters blanket the parking lots and public golf course that surround the stadium. Various strains of rock and rap music clash from competing portable sound systems, and the aroma of grilled tri-tip, burgers, and polish sausage overwhelm the senses.

Footballs fly back and forth between fans, while good-natured ribbing prevails between Michigan and USC fans. A lot of alcohol is shared amongst the revelers.  This is, after all, just a few hours removed from the New Year’s Eve bashes that many braved throughout most of the night.

These are folks who are used to visiting this venerated ground regularly; both teams have played in the Rose Bowl Game three of the last four years, and more than any other two programs over the past fifty years.

Forget what other sportswriters are saying about this game being a consolation bowl. It’s an instant classic. We’re talking tradition here. Rock-solid tradition. USC has won more Rose Bowl games than any other program in the history of the contest, and Michigan has won more games, period, than any other program in college football history.

If not for a few plays here or there, these two squads could be playing for the national title. More than 20 players in this game are projected to play in the NFL during the next few years. Both Pete Carroll and Lloyd Carr have won national titles with these programs in the past nine years, and both teams project to be highly ranked and among the favorites to play in the 2008 national championship game.

And we can’t forget the marching bands and two of the best-known school fight songs in the country. If they don’t get you revved up for some heavy hitting on the field, nothing will. I could go on, but it’s close to game time and I’ve got to pack up and race down the runway to that hallowed ground—a little piece of football real estate I like to call gridiron nirvana.