The theme of the Tournament of Roses on New Year's Day is "A Celebration of Laughter," but the very first Rose Bowl game played inside the stadium, in 1923, wasn't one chuckle after another. Not for all the fans, not after the game had ended.

Take it from Lathrop K. Leishman, the 81-year-old elder statesman of the Tournament of Roses.

Leishman has been involved with the annual festivities for more than half a century, is a former Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association president, longtime chairman of the football committee, former parade grand marshal and the son of one of the two persons mainly responsible for the birth of the bowl.

In keeping with the upcoming theme, Leishman can look back with a smile on some of the happenings over the years.

"For that first game in 1923, just about everybody who came by car arrived in a black Ford and were directed to parking areas that were unpaved and unlit.

"The team that was to play USC which eventually won, 14-3 was Penn State. The trouble was, they got delayed in traffic, and the game was nearly an hour late in starting.

"When it finally ended, about 52,000 fans poured out. Those who wanted to leave by car were going around trying to find black Fords in pitch darkness."

Before that historic contest, there hadn't seemed a need for a fence around the stadium.

"We were going to take the tickets from the people as they entered through the tunnels," Leishman said. "It was a mistake. Too many came in too fast . . . After that experience we put up a fence."

While it was being constructed, he remembered, there was a sign at the north end that simply read: "Stadium."

"Harlan Hall, a reporter for the Pasadena Star-News who was on loan to the tournament as a publicist, commented that we had a Rose Parade, so why not call this the Rose Bowl. That is what happened, and that is what a new sign said."

Six years after that first game came the famous one in which California center Roy Riegels recovered a fumble and in confusion ran the wrong way, toward his own goal line, eventually being chased and grabbed by one of his own teammates.

"My folks had given me a movie camera a week earlier for Christmas," Leishman recalled. "I had it with me at the game, and was going to use it at times. When Riegels started running, I got excited and was hollering along with everybody else. I completely forgot about the camera."

So many memories. Even though Leishman will turn 82 in four days, he still shows up every working day in the office of his Leishman Management Co. real estate developers.

William moved his wife and newborn son to Pasadena in 1904 and soon joined the tournament association.

He became tournament president in 1920-21, when the football games were between teams from the East and West, and were played in Tournament Park, which now is part of the California Institute of Technology campus.

There had been a wooden fence around the field. Tickets to the game were $1.65, but some people didn't get to use them. After the parade, spectators would walk to the park, some would push down the fence and rush inside, and some ticketholders weren't able to get to their seats.

After the crowded conditions of the 1922 game, the elder Leishman and architect Myron Hunt took tournament and city officials to the Arroyo Seco.

"It was just a dump filled with boulders and trash," Leishman's son said. "My father was a native of New Haven, and in a piece of plywood he had cut a hole in the shape of the Yale Bowl. He held the board in the air and showed where such a stadium could be, and where the cars would park.

"The city traded its Arroyo Seco for Tournament Park, which it later sold to Caltech. Construction of a Rose Bowl began."

The rest is well known. Since then, the stadium has been enlarged four times, to its present seating capacity of about 104,000, which it has no problem reaching.

He skips the parade now because of the early morning chill, but wouldn't think of missing the game.