The Cal team was highly favored in this game, causing one sportswriter to say "All I know about Washington and Jefferson is that they're both dead."
The 1921 team, coached by Greasy Neale, went 10–0 in the regular season, defeating powerhouses Pitt, University of Detroit, and Syracuse. The 7–0 victory over rival Pitt was celebrated with a day of canceled classes and bonfire with inspiration speeches in front of the Washington County Courthouse. As the best team from the east, W&J was invited to the 1922 Rose Bowl to play the best team from the west: the undefeated and heavily favored California Golden Bears. The Red and Black could only afford to send 11 men on the cross-country trip and Robert "Mother" Murphy had to mortgage his home to pay his way. Thus, W&J would be the last Rose Bowl team to play the same 11 men the entire game. During the train ride to Pasadena, in which Greasy Neale continued to prepare his men, one player caught pneumonia and could not finish the journey. Luckily, another player had secretly stowed away on the train and was given the ill player's ticket and roster spot.
Cal had outscored their opponents on the season, 312–33, but the W&J defense held the Golden Bears' potent offense, led by Brick Muller, to no points and no completed passes, just two first downs, and only 49 yards rushing. In one of the most disputed plays in Rose Bowl history, a W&J rushing touchdown was overturned for an offside violation. The game was notable as the last time a "small school" would be represented in the Rose Bowl. W&J's team featured three Rose Bowl firsts: Herb Kopf was the first freshman to play, Charles Fremont West was the first African American to play quarterback, and Hal Erickson became the only man ever to play in two different Rose Bowls, with two different teams, without losing. W&J's Russ Stein was named Most Valuable Player. He was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1991. The Red and Black finished the season with a share of the "mythical national championship," as determined by the Boand System.
^ abcdefghE. Lee, North (1991). "Chapter 8: A Season to Remember". Battling the Indians, Panthers, and Nittany Lions: The Story of Washington & Jefferson College's First Century of Football, 1890-1990. Daring Books. pp. 97–107. ISBN978-1-878302-03-8. OCLC24174022.