SAN DIEGO — Even though he's won a Super Bowl, it still irks Aaron Rodgers that he and the California Golden Bears were bumped from the Rose Bowl seven years ago by Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns.
The Longhorns went on to beat Michigan in Pasadena. Relegated to the Holiday Bowl, Cal played like a jilted team and was overrun by Texas Tech in Rodgers' final game.
The Golden Bears can get a measure of revenge when they play the Longhorns in a matchup of 7-5 teams in the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday night.
Rodgers, who led the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl win last year as the NFC's No. 6 seed, let out a deep sigh when asked earlier this month if he's still upset about what happened seven years ago.
"Yes. Well, we got them now in the Holiday Bowl, so, seven years later, yes, I'm still upset about it," he told San Francisco Bay Area reporters in a conference call before the Packers played host to the Oakland Raiders. "That was something that I would've really loved to have been a part of. The last Rose Bowl for Cal, I want to say, was in the 50s. Got to get back there soon."
Cal hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since Jan. 1, 1959.
In 2004, Texas overhauled Cal in the final BCS standings and went to the Rose Bowl. Rodgers said then that Brown "was a little classless" in begging for poll votes that would help the Longhorns.
"There's a lot better way to do it, and it's called a playoff system," Rodgers said this year. "It's ridiculous. I don't know what they're calling Division II and III anymore, but they all play a playoff system to get a definite winner. There's no reason that the FBS or FCS, or whatever it's called now, there's no reason that they shouldn't have at least a four-team, eight-team, 16-team, 32-team playoffs. ... You got plenty of time. Wipe out the conference championship games and get a playoff system where there's a definite winner."
Cal coach Jeff Tedford said most people have let '04 go, but understands how Rodgers feels.
"I think it was hard for that team, for that group of guys who had earned the right to, what we felt was to be in the Rose Bowl," Tedford said Tuesday. "They played very, very well. For things that were unexplained to take it over, I think, really left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouth, especially the players who earned it. While the fans probably still have some bitterness about it now, the guys on our team right now, they were 10 years old when that happened."
Tedford was asked if fans might be a little more intense when the Golden Bears get their first shot at the Longhorns since 1970.
"I'm hoping they're intense about the game, you know, not sitting there in their seats, saying, 'You know, back in 2004 — I'm going to yell louder right now.' I just don't' know that that's the case. I think we're trying to make something of that a little bit more than really what it is. That happened a long time ago. It was unfortunate at the time, but we're in a whole new day, a whole new game, different people and things like that. I think some of the fans are still a little bit bitter about that, still remember that. The Rose Bowl is something that when you're that close and you don't go, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth for a lot of the fans."
Tedford and Brown have become friends, so there's no animosity between the coaches.
Brown isn't apologizing for what he did in '04. He said there's always a debate about whether a coach should stand up for his team or keep his mouth shut, or if a coach should vote for his team.
"What I thought when I did it — and I did it in '08 and it didn't work for us — I thought I was standing up for what I believed was true, that we had a good team," Brown said. "In '04, what I thought came to be true because we beat a really good Michigan team in the Rose Bowl and it was a great football game. What I thought in '08 could have been true because we beat a really good Ohio State team in the BCS. I do think I've tried to be fair and honest.
"With Cal being disappointed not getting in, we were just as disappointed in '08 when we went to the Fiesta Bowl instead of playing in the conference championship game. It probably cost Colt McCoy a Heisman Trophy because Sam Bradford won it against Missouri in the conference championship game. It definitely cost us a conference championship because we'd already beaten Missouri badly and we were the better of the two teams at that time and cost us a chance to win a national championship. That could be very devastating, too, and we don't sit about it and talk about it all the time."
While Cal won three of its final four games, the Longhorns have lost three of four coming in.
The Longhorns have had shaky quarterback play all season. Brown said he hasn't decided whether Case McCoy or David Ash will start, but said both will probably play.
"Both of these teams have had good seasons, but neither one is at the standard that we're used to and the standard that both teams have set, so I think you'll see both teams excited about tomorrow night," Brown said.