The Tournament of Roses Parade began in 1890 as a New Year's Day tradition in the City of Pasadena. The city boosters were exploring a way to bring in tourism and money to the area. The Tournament of Roses Association president, James Wagner, guaranteed $3,500 to cover the expenses of bringing the football teams of the University of Michigan and Stanford University to Pasadena to play. The admission price was 50 cents to $1 to see the game. An additional $1 would be charged to admit a family's horse and buggy to the grounds. The game was played in Tournament Park, where temporary stands were built.
Stanford had played the Olympic Club and Reliance Club twice, beating and tying each. They beat Nevada, 12–0, then lost to Cal in the eleventh Big Game, 2–0.
The 1901 Michigan Wolverines football team was nicknamed the "Point-a-Minute" team when they came to Pasadena to play the game. The Wolverines had racked up 501 points while allowing their opponents no points at all. The 49 points they scored in the 1902 Rose Bowl game brought their season total to 550 to 0.
In record keeping, Neil Snow's five touchdowns are noted along with the "modern" Rose Bowl record of four touchdowns held by Eric Ball, Sam Cunningham, and Ron Dayne. Snow was named the Most Valuable Player of the game when the award was created in 1953 and selections were made retroactively.
The initial attendance has varied according to different sources. The ESPN BCS article lists the attendance as 8,500. The Michigan football media guide and Michigan articles list the attendance as 8,000. The Official 2007 NCAA Division I football records book lists the attendance at 8,000.