PASADENA, Calif. - What better way to celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary than with roses - millions of red, pink, peach, white, and every-other-color-you-can-think-of roses.
Lou and Carole Prato are heading here to ring in the new year by watching Penn State play in the granddaddy of college football bowl games, the 95th Rose Bowl.
Add the 120th Rose Parade, with dozens of rose-decorated floats, bands, and the Rose Queen and her Court, and the couple from Port Matilda, Pa., will have plenty of memories - as will the 93,000 other die-hard fans who will pack venerable Rose Bowl Stadium.
"We're big Penn State football fans and have been for years, dating back to when I started going to home football games as a freshman in 1955," says Lou, who is working on his fourth book about the Nittany Lions. "Carole's been a fan longer than I have. Her family lived outside Lewistown, and she was raised supporting Penn State football in the 1940s."
Lou watched the Lions beat Oregon in 1995 - the last time they played in the Rose Bowl - but this is Carole's first visit, even if it's early for their anniversary.
"I'm looking forward to the parade," she says, "and I really want to see how they make the floats."
That's how I spent last New Year's Eve - watching a dragon's head and a giant cargo ship get some finishing touchs, then previewing the finished floats in the Fair Oaks Avenue area hours before the big parade. Floodlights gave it the look of a Hollywood premiere, with the "stars" towering up to 50 feet high and stretching up to 60 feet long.
The stunning floats, which cost at least $200,000 apiece to build, are intricate and creative. Some are designed and built by professionals, others by civic groups such as Rotary International, the Portuguese American Community, and the City of Torrance.
The Native American Chief float, built by Farmers Insurance, was immense - my head barely reached his shins.
This parade's floats will include Natural Balance Pet Foods' bulldogs on skateboards, the City of Mission Viejo's Olympians diving into a deep-water pool, and Honda's 50th-year celebration float that will morph into a 49-foot robot.
And don't forget the Penn State float with thousands of blue and white roses, accompanied by the Nittany Lion mascot, cheerleaders, and the 306-member Blue Band.
If you want to handicap the possible trophy winners, you can watch the judges look over the floats on New Year's Eve afternoon. They consider creative design, floral craftsmanship, artistic merit, animation, thematic interpretation, floral and color presentation, and dramatic impact.
But you'll have to wait for the parade to see the banner preceding each winning float.
Parade diehards - like Penn State students who camp out in "Paternoville" before home games - start staking out their free spots along the 51/2-mile route around noon on New Year's Eve. They bring tents, sleeping bags, inflatable beds, grocery carts filled with food, portable generators, TVs, small refrigerators, and grills.
Families or groups of friends even bring their dogs in crates and rabbits in cages. And they set up portable fire pits to get them through the chilly night, when the temperature can fall into the 30s.
It's one giant New Year's Eve party, leading up to the parade at 8 the next morning.
I love parades. I've seen the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, the St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago, Christmas parades along San Antonio's River Walk, presidential inauguration parades, and the strutting Mummers. The Rose Bowl Parade trumps all others.
This year, 46 floats covered with of roses, other flowers, and all-natural materials will wind their way along Orange Grove, Colorado and Sierra Madre Boulevards, lined by about 1 million cheering fans. The floats will be accompanied by 22 marching bands, including some from Mexico and Great Britain, and 18 equestrian units.
Unlike the Mummers, this parade moves smoothly, with few interruptions or breakdowns, and finishes about 21/2 hours after it starts. The theme is "Hats Off to Entertainment," and actress Cloris Leachman is the grand marshal. It will be telecast live around the world.
I watched the parade at the route's midpoint, which meant I had about a four-mile hike to the stadium for the 2 p.m. game. With traffic at a standstill and long lines for the free shuttle buses, walking was the easiest way, although it didn't leave much time for tailgating.
The pregame spreads of pastries, breakfast tacos, hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, ribs, and fresh fruit salad can't match those outside Beaver Stadium on fall Saturdays, because there's less space. While Penn State fans spill into on-campus pastures, overflow parking here is on the Brookside Golf Course.
But the USC faithful are still big-time tailgaters, using trucks and RVs for their big bars, giant flat-screen TVs, satellite TV, and tables loaded with food. Successful alumni decked out in Trojan cardinal-and-gold gear hire caterers to prepare and serve barbecue, hors d'oeuvres and wine.
And then there are the celebrities, including USC alum Will Ferrell, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Henry Winkler, Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis. You can catch some interviews and photo shoots of some stars in the Rose Bowl garden outside the stadium, among the 100 varies of rosebushes.
Penn State fans will find the oval Rose Bowl Stadium smaller than their 107,000-seat Beaver Stadium. But its setting in the Arroyo Seco Canyon is spectacular, with the game usually starting in bright sunshine that fades into a gorgeous sunset.
The stadium was modeled after the Yale Bowl, with the first game played in 1922. The following year, in its first New Year's Day game, USC defeated Penn State, 14-3, with Trojan coach "Gloomy Gus" Henderson and Nittany Lion coach Hugo Bezdek nearly getting into a fight.
For this Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lion mascot will get some competition from Traveler, USC's white Arabian horse, ridden by a Trojan warrior. Traveler gallops past the Trojan fans each time USC scores.
Penn State fans might get a kick out of the flashy USC Trojan band donning sunglasses for their march into the stadium and the dancing, shouting and singing during their routines. But those fans won't want to see USC coach Pete Carroll and his players direct the band in "Conquest" - that's the fight song played after each win.
Last New Year's Day, I happily cheered for the Trojans with my son, Chris, a USC senior, as they trounced Illinois.
But this year, I'll be pulling for the ageless Joe Paterno and my alma mater: We are - Penn State!
Rose Bowl Rundown
Riders and horses perform drills and trick riding. 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. $10. Los Angeles Equestrian Center, 480 Riverside Dr., Burbank.
Get a backstage glimpse of the floral floats in their final stages of preparation at four locations. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. today and tomorrow; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesday. $7 for two visits, free for ages 7 and under.
Rosemont Pavilion, 700 Seco St., Pasadena.
Brookside Pavilion, Lot 1, south side of Rose Bowl Stadium.
Rose Palace, 835 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena.
Irwindale Pavilion, 16016 Avenida Padilla, Suite B, Irwindale.
Award-winning bands of the Rose Parade perform field shows. 2-4:30 p.m. tomorrow; 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 2-4:30 p.m. Tuesday. $10; free for ages 5 and under. Football field of Pasadena City College, corner of Hill and Colorado.
Hall of Fame Induction
Pep rally and luncheon featuring players, coaches, bands, cheerleaders and other guests. Noon, Tent, Lot K, Rose Bowl Stadium, free parking. $85.
Lineup of floats
Parade floats line up around start of parade route. From 8 p.m. Around Ellis Street and S. Orange Grove and Colorado Boulevards. Free.
120th Rose Parade
Floral floats, equestrian units and marching bands. Theme is Hats Off to Entertainment. 8 a.m. Begins at Ellis Street and S. Orange Grove Boulevard and travels down Colorado Boulevard. Free for curbside. Grandstand tickets available through Sharp Seating, $53-$85.
95th Rose Bowl Game
See Penn State take on the University of Southern California at the Rose Bowl Stadium, 1:30 p.m. Tickets sold in advance; game is contractual sellout.
Post Parade - A Showcase of Floats
See the Rose Parade floats, allow two hours. 1-5 p.m. Thursday; 7-9 a.m. Friday-Saturday, only for seniors and the disabled; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday. $7, free for 5 and under. End of parade route, Sierra Madre and Washington Boulevards.
Game tickets and hotels
RazorGator and its subsidiary, PrimeSport, is an official Rose Bowl partner and might still have hotel rooms, game tickets and passes to the VIP pregame hospitality tent. Go to www.primesport.com or call 1-800-591-9198.
Including lists of open restaurants and services in Pasadena.
Tournament of Roses
Visitors' information line
Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau
- Carol Gifford