1956 Rose Bowl
42nd Rose Bowl Game
1234 Total
Michigan State 07010 17
UCLA 7007 14
DateJanuary 2, 1956
StadiumRose Bowl
LocationPasadena, California
MVPWalt Kowalczyk
(Michigan State HB)
FavoriteMichigan State by 7 points[1]
National anthemUCLA Band and Michigan State Marching Band combined
Halftime showUCLA Band, Michigan State Marching Band
United States TV coverage
AnnouncersMel Allen, Sam Balter
Rose Bowl
 < 1955  1957

The 1956 Rose Bowl was the 42nd edition of the college football bowl game, played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Monday, January 2. The Michigan State Spartans of the Big Ten Conference defeated the UCLA Bruins of the Pacific Coast Conference, 17–14.[2][3] Michigan State halfback Walt Kowalczyk was named the Player of the Game.[4]

The game featured two of the most racially integrated college football teams of the day, with six African American players for the Bruins and seven for the Spartans.[5][6] This stood in stark contrast to the Sugar Bowl, where there was controversy over whether Bobby Grier from Pitt should be allowed to play and whether Georgia Tech should even play at all, due to Georgia governor Marvin Griffin's opposition to integration.[7][8][9] Only one month previous, Rosa Parks made her famous protest in the Montgomery bus boycott. The 1956 Rose Bowl has the highest TV rating of all college bowl games, watched by 41.1% of all people in the US with TV sets.[10]

As New Year's Day fell on a Sunday in 1956, the bowl games were played the following day.


See also: 1955 college football season

Michigan State College Spartans

Main article: 1955 Michigan State Spartans football team

The Ohio State Buckeyes were the undefeated Big Ten conference champions. However, Ohio State would not be invited to the Rose Bowl because of the no-repeat rule in the Big Ten conference. This left Michigan State to be accepted. Ohio State was ranked fourth with a 7–2 record, and Michigan State was second with a 9–1 record.[11] The teams did not play each other during the regular season. Michigan State opened with a 20–13 win at Indiana, but fell to in-state rival Michigan 14–7, their only setback of the season. They won 38–14 over then-#20 Stanford, and defeated then-#4 Notre Dame 21–7. The Spartans did not play Northwestern, Iowa, or Ohio State. The Buckeyes' two losses were out of conference, to Duke (20–14) and Stanford (6–0).

UCLA Bruins

Main article: 1955 UCLA Bruins football team

UCLA was the defending national champion after an undefeated season in 1954. The Bruins began the 1955 season ranked number one. In a showdown at #5 Maryland, the Bruins lost 0–7 to the Terrapins. A 38–0 win over Oregon State ultimately proved to be the game for the conference championship. The Bruins won the rest of their regular season games, including a 21–13 win over Stanford. With the Pacific Coast conference championship already won, the Bruins won their third straight rivalry game over USC 17–7.

Pre-game activities

In a Sports Illustrated article preceding the 1956 Rose Bowl, UCLA head coach Red Sanders was quoted as saying "Sure, winning isn't every thing, It's the only thing."[12] Coaches Duffy Daugherty and Red Sanders appeared on The Jack Benny Program "New Years Day" 1956 episode on Sunday, January 1, 1956, preceding the game to be played the next day.[13]

Game summary

This was the second meeting between the two schools, the first was a 28–20 victory for the Spartans two years earlier in the 1954 Rose Bowl. The Spartans wore their green home jerseys and the Bruins wore their white road jerseys.

On the first play from scrimmage, Jim Decker of UCLA intercepted a pass from Michigan State quarterback Earl Morrall, and returned four yards to the MSU 16-yard line. Four plays later, Bob Davenport scored on a two-yard run over left guard to give the Bruins a 7–0 lead.

Midway through the second quarter, Michigan State put together an 11-play, 80-yard drive to pull even at seven; Walt Kowalczyk's 30-yard run to the UCLA 17 set up Morrall's 13-yard touchdown toss to Clarence Peaks. There was no additional scoring through the third quarter.

On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Spartans took their first lead at 14–7 on Peaks’ 67-yard touchdown pass to John Lewis, who caught the ball on the 50 and took it the distance. Five minutes later, The UCLA Bruin passing game produced a big play as UCLA quarterback Ronnie Knox connected with Jim Decker with a 47-yard pass play to the Spartan 7-yard line. Three plays later, Doug Peters scored on a one-yard plunge at center. Morrall directed an 11-play, 59-yard drive to the UCLA 24, but Gerald Planutis missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt.

Five penalties were called in the closing minutes and field position shifted in Michigan State's favor when UCLA was whistled for three-straight penalties. UCLA was called for an intentional grounding infraction which pushed the ball back to its own one-yard line; a punt gave the Spartans the ball at the UCLA 40-yard line. The Bruins were cited for interference with the kick returner on the punt play, which put the ball at the Bruin 19-yard line. Replacing Planutis as placekicker, Dave Kaiser of Michigan State converted his first career field-goal attempt, a 41-yard kick, with seven seconds remaining in the game to give the Spartans a 17–14 win.[2][3]


First quarter

Second quarter

Third quarter

No scoring

Fourth quarter


Team Stats Mich. St. UCLA
First Downs 18 13
Net Yards Rushing 251 136
Net Yards Passing 130 61
Total Yards 381 197
PC–PA–Int. 6–18–2 2–10–1
Punts–Avg. 2–40.0 7–39.6
Fumbles–Lost 4–1 2–0
Penalties–Yards 10–98 8–60


Although it was UCLA penalties in the final minutes that gave field position to Michigan State, the Spartans' 98 yards given up on 10 penalties are a Rose Bowl game record as of 2008. The Spartans were named National Champions by the Boand System.[14][15] Oklahoma would be named National champion by all the other organizations. In the 1956 Orange Bowl, the #1 Oklahoma Sooners defeated the #3 Maryland Terrapins 20–6 in a battle of undefeated teams. The Sugar Bowl was the last bowl game to be integrated. The Cotton Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Sugar Bowl were not integrated until 1948, 1955, and 1956 respectively.[16]


  1. ^ "Eight of top 11 teams play". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. January 2, 1956. p. 48.
  2. ^ a b "Michigan State tips UCLA 17-14 in Rose Bowl". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. January 3, 1956. p. 3B.
  3. ^ a b "Disputes rise over calls in Spartan win". Pittsburgh Press. United Press. January 3, 1956. p. 28.
  4. ^ 2008 Rose Bowl Program Archived 2008-03-06 at the Wayback Machine, 2008 Rose Bowl. Accessed January 26, 2008.
  5. ^ MICHIGAN STATE VS. UCLA JET'S ROSE BOWL PREVIEW * * *. Jet Magazine, December 1955, Quote:"A record number of Negro football players-13-are eligible for the 42nd annual Rose Bowl game to be played by Michigan State and UCLA on January 2."
  6. ^ Smith, John Matthew – "Breaking the Plane": Integration and Black Protest in Michigan State University Football during the 1960s Archived February 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. The Michigan Historical Review Vol. 33, Issue 2.
  7. ^ Mulé, Marty – A Time For Change: Bobby Grier And The 1956 Sugar Bowl Archived 2007-06-10 at the Wayback Machine. Black Athlete Sports Network, December 28, 2005
  8. ^ *Zeise, Paul – Bobby Grier broke bowl's color line. The Panthers' Bobby Grier was the first African-American to play in Sugar Bowl Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 07, 2005
  9. ^ Thamel, Pete – Grier Integrated a Game and Earned the World's Respect. New York Times, Published: January 1, 2006.
  10. ^ Harvey, Randy – Bucking Tradition: Rose Bowl, Planted in the Past, No Longer the Flower of Football. Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1988 Of the 10 highest-rated college bowl games of all time, 9 are Rose Bowls. At the top of the list is the 1956 game between UCLA and Michigan State, which was watched by 41.1% of all people in the United States who had television sets at the time.
  11. ^ "AP Poll archive 21 November 1955". Archived from the original on 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2008-03-14.
  12. ^ Sayre, Joel (December 26, 1955). "He Flies On One Wing". Sports Illustrated. p. 29.
  13. ^ Jack Benny Program (Jan. 1, 1956) YouTube, "New Years Day" 1956 episode (Season 6, episode 7. Original air date: 1 January 1956)
  14. ^ Past Division I-A Football National Champions Archived March 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. NCAA, January 11, 2006
  15. ^ Boand, William F. "Azzi Ratem." 1930. Booklet. "Azzi Ratem – Boand Football Ranking System."
  16. ^ www.britannica.com/eb/article-234274 football, gridiron. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 28, 2008. Football in the United States – The racial transformation of American football. Encyclopædia Britannica