Rose Bowl history: Remembering Jackie Robinson’s football career in Pasadena

It was three-quarters of a century ago when Pasadena’s own Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

But Jackie — more commonly known locally in his youth as Jack Robinson — found the Rose Bowl to be a familiar stadium where he demonstrated skills in football on a par with those he showed off in a Dodgers uniform.

That’s a reason Robinson’s statue was dedicated just beyond the gates of the Rose Bowl in 2017. It was there he was called to perform 13 times — four games for his high school team then known as Muir Tech and nine more as a star for Pasadena Junior College. The “55” on his statue was the number he carried at PJC.

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Robinson, who also starred on the football field for UCLA, was a true renaissance man when it came to sports. In addition to later starring on the football field for UCLA, he was a standout in basketball, track and field and tennis.

Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson appears in a March 1956 file photo during spring training in Vero Beach, Fla..(Associated Press file photo)

His football games for Muir at the Rose Bowl helped launch his legend. Muir played three games in a row at the stadium in October 1936, winning all three without giving up a point.

In the 32-0 win over Glendale Hoover on Oct. 10, Robinson had a touchdown, a 50-yard kickoff return, threw a 40-year pass completion and did some of the punting in front of a Rose Bowl crowd of 5,000.

On Oct. 16, Robinson led a 21-0 win over Covina; his running, passing and kicking overwhelmed the Colts. In that game, he had a 65-yard run nullified by a clipping penalty. A week later, Robinson scored the first touchdown to lead Muir’s 13-0 win over Fullerton High at the Rose Bowl.

His stardom gained greater momentum during the 1938 season, his second for Pasadena JC. The team, then nicknamed the Bulldogs, won all 11 of its games that season.

The biggest may have been a 39-26 victory on Oct. 21 over San Bernardino in the Rose Bowl. Robinson scored three touchdowns and had a hand in three others. It was San Bernardino’s first loss in nearly two years.

There was a crowd of 42,000 at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 28, when Pasadena defeated Compton JC, 20-7. The United Press said it was the largest crowd at that time ever to see a junior college football game on the West Coast.

That crowd got an eyeful of Robinson, who rushed for 15- and 45-yard touchdowns. He also passed for a third score a few plays after returning an intercepted pass 59 yards.

Robinson’s final Rose Bowl appearance saw the Bulldogs clobber Caltech, 39-6, the 14th straight win dating back to the previous year.

The details of one of Robinson’s two touchdowns are a bit hazy. Depending on various sources, Robinson had the longest kickoff return in any game played in the Rose Bowl — 104 yards. Some sources, however, say he faked a punt and raced that distance for a touchdown. News accounts as to what actually happened are a bit sketchy.

In any event, Jackie Robinon’s achievements at the Rose Bowl were the early steps building the legend of Pasadena’s beloved athletic star.

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