Bruin Nation, Bruins, college football, Crosstown Rivalry, L.A. Memorial Coliseum, NCAA, Pac-12 Conference, Rose Bowl, Traveler, Trojan Family, Trojans, UCLA, UCLA Bruins, UCLA vs USC, USC, USC Trojans, Victory Bell, Westwood
The trophy awarded to the winner of the Crosstown Rivalry game, the Victory Bell, painted in the winning school’s colors. Photo courtesy of lapostexaminer.com
AS SPORTS FANS IN THE GREATER LOS ANGELES AREA KNOW (or should if they don’t), THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES (UCLA), AND THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WILL MEET IN FOOTBALL FOR THE 85th TIME THIS SATURDAY AT THE COLISEUM.
BEYOND THE USUAL BRAGGING RIGHTS AND THE VICTORY BELL, AWARDED TO THIS WINNER OF THIS GAME SINCE 1941, THIS LATEST RENEWAL OF THE NATION’S TOP RIVALRY INVOLVING SCHOOLS FROM THE SAME CITY WILL DECIDE WHO WINS THE PAC-12 SOUTH AND PLAY STANFORD IN THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME.
THIS IS PART TWO OF A TWO-PART ARTICLE, AS BEING AN ALUMNUS OF UCLA (Class of 1991) AND A LONGTIME FAN OF THE BRUINS, MY MEMORIES OF THIS RIVALRY ARE SO NUMEROUS THAT IT MANDATED SPLITTING THIS PIECE INTO TWO PARTS.
THIS SECOND PART WILL FEATURE MY PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF THE BRUINS vs THE TROJANS FROM THE TIME I GRADUATED UCLA TO THE PRESENT DAY.
I HOPE IT’S ENJOYED BY EVERYONE…
A little over a year after that Marinovich touchdown pass in the Rose Bowl’s north end zone shattered the hearts of Bruin Nation and assured that the Victory Bell’s color remained red (or “cardinal”, as the Trojan Family puts it), I achieved perhaps the greatest achievement in my life as I graduated from UCLA, earning my Bachelor of Arts degree in History.
Of course I had no intention whatsoever to stop paying homage to the Bruin football team just because I was now an alum, and thanks to the friends I made in the Bruin Marching Band, I had an “in” as far as continuing to attend games in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco.
You see, several of my band friends had left Westwood the year before and joined the UCLA Alumni Band, and when I got a call from one of my buddies stating that I should join, I didn’t need to be asked twice as for a small annual fee I could continue to play the tenor saxophone and support the Bruins not only in football, but in every sport where the Alumni Band was asked to play in.
As for seeing the Crosstown Rivalry game, because of general life happenings I was unable to watch UCLA battle the Trojans until 1993 on what was an enormous stroke of luck as well as fluke of pronounced dimensions:
A neighbor of mine who lived on my block in Santa Monica had tickets to the game at the Coliseum, which like numerous other times before would decide who would win the Pac-10 Conference and go to the Rose Bowl on January 1st.
As ticket prices, as you can imagine, were quite expensive, and as I was a bit apprehensive about going to the Coliseum, home to the Trojan Family, (obviously) enemy territory to Bruins, and dealing with ‘SC fans whose reputation for their meanness, bullying and obnoxious arrogance was well-known throughout the college sports scene, I expected to watch the game on TV.
Until this neighbor called me up literally at 11 o’clock the night before the game, offering me his ticket because he had to go to a funeral.
If you have to guess what my answer was, well…I don’t know what to tell you.
After I met the girl who had the other ticket early the next morning – I remember she was a tall, attractive, friendly young lady who expressed worry that she was wearing a red-striped top although she was rooting for UCLA – we drove east down I-10, turned right on Vermont Ave., me being shockingly surprised at how light the traffic was as I told the girl (sorry, I forget her name) that we needed to get there early to better deal with the 90,000 fans who will be at the Coliseum that day.
Geof Strand, a former Bruin yell leader and UCLA alum (Class of 1971) who exhorted Bruin fans to “Stand and Deliver” at football games from the UCLA Alumni Section from 1976-2013. Photo courtesy of lasportshub.com
A few significant memories stand out about that day, one being that after spending the pregame with the UCLA Alumni Band outside the stadium, who I didn’t know would be there and was pleasantly surprised about, the girl and I headed for our seats.
Which were in a section full of USC students and fans; you can imagine how shocked I was as I was sure I would be sitting among fellow Bruins. Luckily I wasn’t harassed too bad, as I made it a point not to start any negativity due to me being in Trojan territory.
The biggest memory of that November afternoon, however, happened at the end.
SC drove down to the UCLA two-yard line and was about to score what would likely be the winning touchdown. I was already thinking how we can get the ball back and kick a winning field goal as the fans around me were going as nuts as the rest of the Coliseum.
Of course I couldn’t watch that wretched event happen, so I had put my head down in my lap when the girl who was with me started screaming in joy.
“What happened?” I asked.
“We intercepted the ball!” she ecstatically replied.
“NO WAY!” I shouted as the replay of Marvin Goodwin picking off Rob Johnson in the end zone was being shown on the screen.
I’ll let everyone guess as to what my reaction was, though I wasn’t cheering as much as I could have because I didn’t want to get beaten up by upset, grieving, and just plain pissed off Trojans, which is why after UCLA fell on the ball – me repeatedly screaming “Stay down!” to let the clock run out – when the clock hit three zeroes I made it a particular point to shake the hands of the ‘SC folks around me and say “Good Game”, the Bruins winning 27-21 and punching their ticket to the Rose Bowl in what would be their third of eight straight wins over Troy, the longest streak in rivalry history.
Though I did shout to a clip of a USC Song Girl shedding tears on the video screen above the Coliseum’s peristyle, “You call that a cry? Let’s see a real cry!” I couldn’t help it as I had a less-than-great reputation as a bit of a loose cannon – which I will elaborate on a bit more a little later.
I never saw that young lady again, and it would be the last time I would set foot in the Coliseum.
I don’t have to tell you how ecstatic I was that day, as was all of Bruin Nation. I remember running into a former fellow UCLA band member at the game, her and I enthusiastically talking about we need to get back into the band for the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade, which we obviously didn’t get to do.
We went on to lose to Wisconsin a few weeks later at that Rose Bowl game, but somehow it didn’t lessen my happiness at beating ‘SC as much as I thought it would.
A very nice shot of a USC Song Girl and a member of the UCLA Spirit Squad. Photo courtesy of gamedayr.com
As was said, I had a bit of a reputation in the early to mid 90s as being a bit of a loose cannon when it came to UCLA, the Bruins, and the rivalry with that private school located just south of downtown L.A., a reputation that manifested in ways that I’m not at all proud of today.
Such as when I was ejected from the UCLA-USC game at the Rose Bowl the very next year, 1994, for throwing a small piece of ice at the direction of Traveler, the famous Trojan horse mascot that showed itself after every ‘SC score and which every Bruin absolutely loathed.
The ice didn’t come close to hitting that white Andalusian, thank goodness, but I certainly deserved to be led out by the police, hearing some Trojan fan yell, “So long, you dumb a******!” as I headed up the tunnel and onto Lot H, the grass area south of the Rose Bowl that was a common tailgate area.
Suffice it to say, I never threw ice again.
My most memorable rivalry game during that period?
That’s an easy one:
1996, a year where, as the TV announcers covering the game on Prime Ticket said, “No bowl (was) at stake, nothing on the line!”
UCLA’s win streak over ‘SC had reached five games, but for three and a half quarters that afternoon those Trojans were on fire, particularly R.J. Soward, who looked like the Road Runner with the Bruin defenders looking like Wile E. Coyote as he scored at least three touchdowns on some long runs.
Largely because of that USC freshman & his speed, they were up by 17 points in the middle of the fourth quarter, Soward himself being caught by the TV cameras on the sidelines saying, “Five years – it’s over!”
Then the ultimate miracle happened…
After a couple of turnovers by those Trojans – including a crucial fumble with about a minute and a half left – a few capitalizations, and a blocked kick that would have truly ended that five-game win streak, with the Rose Bowl clock showing three zeroes the scoreboard read: UCLA 38 – USC 38.
An exchange of field goals, Skip Hicks’ 25-yard touchdown run to give the Bruins the lead for the first time all day, Soward dropping a pass on a following third down, and a final pick in the end zone, an the biggest comeback in rivalry history was complete:
UCLA 48 – USC 41
The only overtime game in the history of the rivalry.
I specifically recall watching Soward bawling his eyes out like he was taken to the woodshed on his way back to the ‘SC locker room, which was right next to where I and my friends were sitting, and I also vividly recall a very disgruntled ‘SC fan scampering around Lot H afterwards, kicking trash as he was channeling his inner two-year old in a temper tantrum.
In fairness, I also saw proof that Trojans who were gracious and showed good sportsmanship in losing to their crosstown rival did exist as my friend and I found ourselves chatting with a Trojan who told us, “UCLA deserved to win.”
Some enthusiastic members of Bruin Nation cheering UCLA on at a game in he Rose Bowl. Photo courtesy of GoJoeBruin.com
Skipping Forward to the 21st Century…
The years after 2000 were, for the most part, not kind to me or to the rest of Bruin Nation as far as the crosstown rivalry was concerned, Pete Carroll building his dynasty as his Trojans made like a combination of Hurricane Katrina and a category EF-5 tornado, blowing out not only their Westwood counterparts with scores such as 52-21 in 2002 – a game in which the sideline stands at the Rose Bowl, where UCLA fans sat, were empty by the middle of the third quarter (I should know, I was there) – and 66-19 in 2005.
The fact that largely thanks to their Superman-like running back Reggie Bush, ‘SC paid for their dominance with them having to vacate 23 wins from 2004 and 2005, including their undefeated national championship in ’04, losing 30 scholarships and getting a two-year bowl ban from the NCAA didn’t seem to be that much of a consolation, as the Victory Bell was firmly embedded in cardinal and that Trojan Family had more than mere bragging rights and didn’t let anyone Bruin – or anyone else – forget it.
2006 approached, and the Trojans were going for another national title when they came to the Rose Bowl to face a UCLA team that was barely over .500 at 6-5 and was a 23-point underdog that December 2nd evening.
I remember doing my Alumni Band thing and settling in at my regular seat at the 10-yard line, next to the southeast tunnel, optimistic that the Bruins can channel their inner Rocky Balboa like they did two years earlier and play ‘SC tough, but realistically not giving my beloved team that much of a chance.
What unfolded was something quite interesting as Carroll stated afterward,
“Give credit to UCLA. They made it a very difficult day.”
I think that may have been an understatement as our defense gave those Trojans the opposite of Heaven, stuffing their fourth down attempts time and again and standing up to them at every turn, including late in the fourth quarter when both squads almost got into a brawl during a time out.
It was a little later during that same 4th quarter when I found myself screaming in happiness over seeing Eric McNeil tip a John David Booty pass and catch his own tip, intercepting the ball with USC driving for the (most likely) winning score.
However, my biggest recollection of that game was NOT that pick, but what was the greatest punt in college football history by Aaron Perez, who sent Desmond Reed scurrying back 20 yards before a hail mary attempt fell incomplete and then-coach Karl Dorrell, wet with Gatorade dumped on him, exhorted the Bruin crowd on the sideline mike to “Enjoy this win!”
That Reed was forced to back up on that punt so much happened right in front of me was the main factor in that being the top memory of the greatest upset in Crosstown Rivalry history.
Bruins and Trojans heading out to the middle of the field during the fourth quarter of the 2006 game, nearly coming to blows. Photo courtesy of flickr.com
As well as after the game, when a Trojan fan shouted something like good luck in whatever bowl game we would later play in as we were all in a long line to the waiting shuttles that would take us into nearby parking lot where cars were parked. Some Bruin said, “Poor sportsmanship!”, to which the Trojan replied, “How is saying that you guys are in a little bowl game bad sportsmanship?”
Looking back, I have to give that ‘SC guy credit that he was as civil as he was, as he could have said far worse things after UCLA rocked and shocked his world; being that his team would go on to win the Rose Bowl game, I’m sure that eased his pain.
I would go on to see two more Bruin triumphs in 2012, where Anthony Barr ended Matt Barkley’s college career with a vicious sack that sprained his shoulder, happening in the rain, the first time a UCLA-SC game was played in wet weather since 1961,
And 2014, when Sam Handler, a walk-on senior who was injured, permanently etched his name in Bruin lore when he stood in front of the USC Band’s drum major and wouldn’t let him do his tradition of stabbing his sword in the middle of the field.
The game, which we won 38-20 and didn’t seem that close, was sort of anticlimactic after that.
Overall, I have had the fortune to attend 15 of these games, a paltry sum compared to many others on both sides I know; I am positive I won’t even remotely approach ultimate Trojan fan (and USC alum) Giles Pellerin’s record of over 700 Trojan football games, including 69 consecutive rivalry clashes, which ended in 1998 when he tragically passed away during halftime of our battle with his team.
For the record, my personal Crosstown Rivalry win-loss mark in the games I have witnessed in person is 7-7-1.
Overall, my record in UCLA-USC games since I became a student in Westwood is 12-14-1; 12-12 as an alum.
From the perspective of someone who has supported UCLA for over thirty years, I hope that my overall Crosstown Rivalry record could go to 13-14-1 by approximately 5:00 p.m. on Saturday (With my apologies and all due respect to Trojan fans who may reading this).
And from an impartial perspective, I hope it’s a well-played affair with no injuries among the players or incidents among the fans.
Members of USC’s “Trojan Family” tailgating on the ‘SC campus before a game. Photo courtesy of nbclosangeles.com
COMING TOMORROW ON SOCAL SPORTS ANNALS:
FURTHER CROSSTOWN RIVALRY COVERAGE – A FULL PREVIEW OF THIS YEAR’S UPCOMING CLASH, COMPLETE WITH STATS AND KEYS TO THE GAME FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF BOTH THE BRUINS AND THE TROJANS, SO…
BE SURE TO COME TO THIS SITE AND CHECK IT OUT!