As the sun peeked through the clouds at Don Leis’ Pasadena home, the colors of the tickets splayed out across a backyard table beamed brightly. The colors are vibrant, as if no time has passed since they were first printed decades ago.
By Reina Esparza
This pile of tickets represents more than 70 years of Rose Bowl Game history for Leis, 89, who is preparing to attend his 74th Rose Bowl Game on Saturday.
With the exception of last year due to COVID, Leis officially has attended every Rose Bowl Game since he was sixteen years old. But his first glimpse of the historic college bowl game was in an unofficial manner.
“The very first [Rose Bowl Game] I got in [was] when I was like fourteen, that was 1946, I believe,” Leis said. “We went under the fence, me and my buddies, we were juvenile delinquents. They threw us out right away.”
The following year, Leis had a job as a newsboy, and he was given the opportunity to sell newspapers inside the game and, afterwards, he took a seat in the endzone to watch the action unfold. In 1948, his dad bought him his first official Rose Bowl Game ticket to watch Michigan State and USC face off in the New Year’s Day showdown. He has kept every ticket since then.
Born in 1932 in Lamanda Park
Leis was born in 1932 in Lamanda Park in East Pasadena; he has called the city home ever since. He credits his lifelong residency in Pasadena as the main reason why he has maintained this long running tradition with the Rose Bowl Game.
“I’ve gone to every game, except for last year, that would’ve been my 74th continuous Rose Bowl Game. There’ll probably never be anybody that’ll come close to being there, even 74,” he said. “Nobody will come close to it…I’m born and raised here and I’m still here, Pasadena Boy.”
Leis has seen many teams come to the Rose Bowl Game over the years, including Wisconsin, TCU, Michigan and Ohio State. One year, Leis was sitting in the grass behind the goal line in the endzone, when he had a near collision with Heisman Trophy winner and fullback Alan Ameche from Wisconsin.
“He came busting into the endzone, almost ran into me,” Leis recalled.
Besides the annual game, the Rose Bowl also offers Leis a place to jog twice a week, something that continues to stimulate the Senior Olympian athlete and Southern California Striders track and field club member. He uses it to keep strong for the various events he competes in, such as 50m, 100m, javelin, high jump and long jump. He also uses the hilly terrain there as a marker for his continued devotion to track and field.
I just got the Rose Bowl in my blood
“After the Rose Bowl Game, I stay around for all the festivities. It’s dark, and I walk out with the crowds of people and I go right out by the clubhouse and there’s a hill to go up…up towards Washington,” Leis said. “And I always go nonstop up that hill. I tell people ‘if I don’t make it to the top, I’m done with track and field.’”
Leis explained that while other people are slowly walking up the hill after the game, he is weaving between them to get to the top.
Despite last year’s interruption to his tradition, he is ready to face that hill again, but most importantly, to be back in the iconic Pasadena stadium that has been part of his life for over 70 years.
“I just got the Rose Bowl in my blood. I’ve been there since I was a kid,” Leis said. “I’m always excited to be there. I was born and raised here, and I’ll continue going until my dying day.”
Nicole Bernard contributed to this story.
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