Any idiot can soap windows or have a dozen pizzas delivered as a prank, but it takes a special kind of idiot to ruin the Rose Bowl. Fortunately, the world is full of that sort of person, and there seem to be more every day. Many are called to massively inconvenience large numbers of people, but only a few have the patience, focus, and near-total lack of regard for others to pull of a truly epic prank. Here are four of the true standouts.
Caltech Students – Bad at Sports, Good at Revenge
Caltech, like many prestigious technical colleges, specializes in producing elite engineers and terrible athletes. In the 113 years (and counting) that the Rose Bowl has been played, the Caltech Beavers have never gotten close to competing in it. By 1961, after 59 consecutive years of early-round elimination, some Caltech students decided to even things up.
Instead of doing what modern people do when they’re working off a grudge—call in a phony bomb threat—Caltech made its presence felt in a somewhat more passive-aggressive way. In the days before Jumbotron, spectators were restricted to showing enthusiasm North Korean style: whole sections of fans holding colored cards that could be flipped to spell out messages. At halftime, the Washington Huskies cheering section was set to do just that.
Using thousands of spectators to spell out messages with nothing but cards is tricky work. For starters, you need thousands of people to sit in exactly the spot you’ve assigned them, which is a bit of a trick in the Rose Bowl, as everybody is sitting on concrete bleachers. Second, you need everybody to flip their cards at exactly the right moment, or your message will have holes in it.
A Caltech student stole the Huskies’ master plan a few days before the game while the Washington Huskies were visiting Disneyland. If this had been just any prank, it would have ended there, but this was Caltech—and six decades of pent-up nerd rage—so a substitute plan was left for the team to pick up as if nothing had happened.
At the game, everything went perfectly. During halftime, the crowd spelled out the first 11 pro-Huskies messages just as intended, then things went sideways. Message number 12 was a graphic which showed not a dog—the Huskies’ mascot—but a beaver. After that, the crowd spelled “SEIKSUH,” and then “CALTECH.” Given that the game was televised nationally, this actually may have gotten more publicity than a bomb threat.