Access' Nancy O'Dell & Al Roker Spend New Year's Day At Rose Parade

Access Hollywood’s Nancy O’Dell kicked off the New Year surrounded by thousands and thousands of roses.

Nancy and Al Roker were in Pasadena, Calif., hosting NBC’s coverage of the 120th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade on Thursday morning.

The 2009 parade theme was “Hats Off to Entertainment” and its grand marshal was 82-year-old actress and recent “Dancing With the Stars” contestant Cloris Leachman.

Along with the floats, the parade featured 21 marching bands and 18 equestrian units along the five-and-a-half mile route.

Thousands of revelers packed the streets on Sunday as the Rose Parade got off to a rousing start with dancers swinging, bands marching and a 49-foot robot who tipped his top hat to the crowd.

Parade-goers were amazed by the robot named Asimo on a float sponsored by Honda Motor Co. when fireworks and streamers shot out of his hat.

“That was something,” said Peggy Tesh, 82, who came to the parade with her family from North Carolina.

The crowd also gave a standing ovation for a U.S. Marine Corps band from San Diego.

The recession and housing crisis didn’t keep the crowds away as they were greeted with blue skies and temperatures in the low 50s. The National Association of Realtors also entered its first float in the Rose Parade and was one of 46 — some from major companies with sagging stock prices such as Honda and Macy’s — in the floral extravaganza that has marched on through the Great Depression and world wars for 120 years.

Planned more than a year ago — before a flood of foreclosures and a credit crunch that has made mortgages hard to come by — the association’s float is dubbed “Celebrating the Dream of Homeownership for 100 Years.” It showcases a Victorian-style house covered in corn husks, coconut flakes, sesame seeds, roses and orchids.

Tournament of Roses Chief Operating Officer Bill Flinn said the effect of the recession likely won’t be seen in this edition of the parade because commitments to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on floats have been in place for at least a year.

Things may be different next year, although he added, “We do feel one of our jobs is to bring optimism at a time when things are not so good for so many people.”

Gail Braun and her husband George, who came from Pasadena, Md., to attend the parade and to pull for Penn State in the Rose Bowl game later Thursday, agreed with Flinn.

“The stock market has impacted us, but we planned this back in March,” George Braun said. “If it was planned last month, we might not be doing this.”

“It’s been a dream to come through here,” Gail Braun said of visiting another Pasadena across the country as she cradled a yellow rose. “I just love the flowers.”

Tesh’s 59-year-old daughter, Jane Tesh, always wanted to come to the Rose Parade as well after attending the Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving and Mardi Gras.

“This is on the list of things you want to do in life,” she said. “I have a list and now I can check this off.”

For the second straight year, the irrigation firm Rain Bird won the prestigious Sweepstakes Trophy for most beautiful float for its Safari-themed entry “Entertaining Expedition,” which featured flowing water, a giant moving elephant and three giraffes.

No. 5 USC battles the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl game later in the day.

Pasadena police estimate more than a million people will descend on the city for the parade and the annual Rose Bowl game that follows it, plus various other Tournament of Roses festivities. More than 1,000 law enforcement officers will be on site this year, like past years, to monitor the route, police spokeswoman Janet Pope Gibbons said.

Police Lt. Randell Taylor said thousands of parade watchers gathered Wednesday night.

Police arrested 36 people along the parade route, mostly for public intoxication. One man was arrested for throwing beer bottles into the crowd on Colorado Boulevard. The man was subdued by bystanders until police arrived and arrested him for assault with a deadly weapon, Taylor said.

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