Sat, Dec 04, 2004 - Page 19 News List

UCLA-USC rivalry one of US' oldest and tamest

By Joe Lapointe  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

In a region known for crowded freeways, a group of students gathered around an automobile and took turns smashing it with a sledgehammer in the middle of the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles on a sunny day early this week.

But this was no protest against traffic congestion or smog. The car, a Hyundai Excel, was crudely painted cardinal red and gold, the colors of the University of Southern California Trojans, who are UCLA's opponent today in the final game of the regular season for both teams.

The students supporting their Bruins were expressing feelings about Southern California, an undefeated crosstown rival that ranks first in the Pacific-10 Conference and is ranked No. 1 in the country.

Some wore blue shirts that said "Beat USC." Nearby, the statue of the school mascot could not be seen, because it was covered by a temporary blue shed that bore a sign that said "The Bruin Bear is Hibernating."

Translation: It was being protected from USC pranksters who might want to vandalize it. Next door, inside the J.D. Morgan Center, Jarrad Page explained further.

"I don't think they respect our team, but we're going to have to change that," said Page, a junior strong safety for UCLA. He said fans around town were talking too much about USC's 11-0 record and its chance to play for the BCS national championship in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4, and not enough about its final hurdle against UCLA, which is 6-4.

"It would be huge to beat them," Page said. "They wouldn't get to go to the national championship. It would just mess up everything."

Like many players on both teams, Page is from California. The athletes, the other students and the alumni of both schools often socialize with one another, live near one another, work alongside one another.

The college football rivalry existed long before any professional sports team, even the Dodgers or the Lakers, arrived in Southern California.

John Wayne was a lineman for USC in the mid-1920s, when he was known as Marion Morrison. Red Sanders, who coached UCLA in the 1950s, once said of this annual game: "It's not a matter of life and death. It's more important than that."

The game today, the teams' 74th meeting, will be played far from either campus, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which is UCLA's home stadium. The Trojans have won the last five meetings after losing the previous eight. They lead the series, 39-27-7.

About half of the 90,000 fans will support the visiting team. Does this indicate greater local backing for USC, which started playing football in 1888, 31 years before UCLA?

According to Patrick Allen, who graduated from USC in 1972 with a degree in history, it is partly a bandwagon effect caused by USC's recent success and partly because "SC's got a more rich football tradition."

"UCLA is more of an upstart, probably more of the little brother," said Allen, who is a television cameraman.

His younger brother, Darrell Allen, also has a degree in history, but his is from UCLA, in 1973. Rather than travel to the Rose Bowl, the brothers will meet at Darrell's house to watch the game on television. Darrell Allen, who is a construction contractor, said the city was "split right down the middle" between supporters of the two teams.

"We always say SC people are just so darn arrogant," he said. "But I graduated from UCLA debt-free and my brother owed a big student loan."

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