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UCLA running back Skip Hicks making a good run during the Bruins’ epic double overtime win over USC in 1996. Photo courtesy of foxsports.com

 

OUR CROSSTOWN RIVALRY COVERAGE CONTINUES WITH A REMEMBRANCE OF THE ONLY TIME THAT THE BRUINS AND TROJANS EVER NEEDED OVERTIME TO DECIDE THEIR FOOTBALL GAME

 

With apologies to the Beatles…

It was twenty years ago (not exactly) today.

I’m sure that no one from Bruin Nation or the Trojan Family would have guessed how things between their two beloved teams would unfold on the morning of November 23, 1996.

Particularly since neither UCLA nor USC were having good seasons that year, the Trojans standing at a very mediocre 5-5 while the Bruins were coming into that crosstown grudge match with a forgettable 4-6 record.

What people seemed to forget (at least I did) was that since nothing was on the line but the Victory Bell – no conference championship, no Rose Bowl (or any bowl for that matter) or anything else – those situations often made for the best games because there’s nothing to lose.

And it’s said that teams with nothing to lose are dangerous.

That certainly described USC for the first three and half quarters of that City Championship as they proceeded to try to smash UCLA’s five game winning streak against them.

 

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The bell that Bruin Nation got to keep blue after that 1996 rivalry game. Photo courtesy of uclabruins.com

 

R.J. Soward, a freshman wide receiver, could have beaten any NFL secondary that day as from the second row of Section 2 at the Rose Bowl, I was one of the 80,644 fans who saw him absolutely go off, making like the Road Runner fleeing Wile E. Coyote as I remember at least three touchdowns from him, with two of them where he went well over fifty yards.

Indeed, I and the rest of Bruin Nation was glum for the first two and a half hours of that battle as ‘SC built a 17-0 lead after the first quarter and led 24-7 at the half, those Trojans clearly intending to run up the score.

None of us UCLA folks – except for those unrealistic diehards who think their team’s the best even if they are playing like Charlie Brown and the Bad News Bears combined – thought we would mount any kind of a comeback.

But those Bruins did.

But even with UCLA being a completely different team in the second half, I distinctly recall them trailing by 17 points at the halfway point of the fourth quarter.

That’s when it started…

Even after UCLA came to within a touchdown at 38-31 with a little less than three minutes left, I still figured that the Trojans would get a couple of first downs and wrap things up.

Until LaVale Woods fumbled the ball, Rodney Lee made an wickedly brilliant diving catch from Cade McNown, and Skip Hicks did the tying honors with an 11-yard run into the end zone.

 

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Bruin wide receiver Danny Farmer making a great catch during 1996’s classic match-up against the Trojans. Photo courtesy of latimes.com

 

I don’t need to tell you how crazy everyone in blue and gold got at that point.

We all got even crazier when Travis Kirschke made rivalry history, blocking the winning field goal attempt by USC’s kicker Adam Abrams and sending the City Championship into it’s very first (and to this day only) overtime.

Of course one can imagine how upset the Trojan fans were; I saw it first hand among those wearing cardinal and gold who were sitting near me.

The biggest thing I remember in that period was that unlike everyone else, I was rather quiet, unable to make noise as I spent those last few moments of regulation and overtime standing with my arms crossed, staring at the action in an intensified catatonic state because I was too nervous to do anything else, wearing my #18 UCLA jersey – which I’m ironically wearing right now as I write this!

The crowd was relatively calm as the teams traded field goals in the first overtime.

Then it happened…

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A UCLA souvenir pennant commemorating the Bruins’ six straight wins (to that point) over USC. Image courtesy of ebay.com

 

I know everyone in Bruin Nation remembers this with glee, Skip Hicks emerging from the pile on the first play of the second overtime and rushing for a 25-yard score.

It was the first time that the Bruins led in the game.

I was probably the only Bruin not yelling my head off as ‘SC got the ball, me still in my catatonic state; I particularly recall on third down Soward, who had been Superman for those Trojans all day, dropping a pass that would have certainly earned a first down for them if not a touchdown; he was all alone and had room in front of him as he was apparently trying for the score before he secured the ball.

When the last pass was picked off in the end zone, the greatest comeback win – and in my opinion the greatest win in UCLA football history – was complete.

After I hugged my buddy next to me, I remember laying down and thanking God for the win as I (mistakenly, I know now) thought that the Good Lord – or somebody up there – must have been a Bruin based on what had just happened on that Rose Bowl turf.

I also remember Soward wailing in tears as he and some assistant who was trying to calm him down walked back to the USC tunnel.

Which obviously illustrated how the Trojan Family felt after losing a game that for about 80% of it was solidly theirs as afterwards, as my friends and I were celebrating in Lot H, the grassy area south of the Rose Bowl where fans tailgate, we noticed a USC fan throwing a temper tantrum that more than rivaled a two-year old’s, kicking trash like they were the football players that beat his beloved Trojans.

Looking back, I wonder if someone should have handed him a pacifier.

 

The end of UCLA’s 48-41 double OT win for the ages, from the vantage point of the Bruin Marching Band, courtesy of YouTube

 

It should go without saying that the 66th meeting of the Bruins and Trojans in football was one of the most memorable if not the most memorable game between Los Angeles’ two biggest colleges.

Putting it another way,

When I did a top ten UCLA victories over USC article for Bleacher Report in 2008, I had no doubt regarding my number one choice…

It was this game, a game where the right to paint the Victory Bell in your school’s colors was pretty much the only thing at stake.

Indeed, that 48-41 win was the season finale for UCLA’s football team that year.

But when I think about it, I’m positive it was a springboard for the next two seasons, which saw the Bruins…

* Go a combined 20-4,

* Beat USC two more times,

* Win the Pac-10 Championship in 1998,

* Become a legitimate Bowl Championship Series contender, and…

* Go to two major bowl games, including the Rose Bowl.

One can say that all that glory started on that sunny fall day in ’96.

A day that like everyone in Bruin Nation I’ll always remember with much happiness.

Heck, I feel a sense of excitement and happiness now just thinking about it, and its been two whole decades!

 

COMING TOMORROW:

OUR OFFICIAL PREVIEW OF THIS YEAR’S UCLA – USC GAME.

WE WILL STATE WHAT THE KEYS TO THIS 86th MEETING WILL BE FOR BOTH SIDES, WHO ARE THE PLAYERS TO WATCH, AND WHAT THE BRUINS AND TROJANS HAVE TO DO TO WIN.

SO BE SURE TO CHECK THIS SITE!

 

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Another shot of Skip Hicks getting good yardage against the Trojan defense. Photo courtesy of scout.com

 

 

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