After I graduated from UCLA in 1987, I only caught the Bruins in person infrequently for a few years. I actually saw UCLA play as a road team twice, once at Stanford (a 49-0 win) and also at Berkeley (a 38-21 win that made UCLA the #1 team in the country for all of two weeks.) But it would take a new decade to get me to a USC-UCLA game again.
November 17, 1990, Rose Bowl - A coworker and USC alum asked me to come with him to the game and I sat in the USC section in the south end zone of the Rose Bowl. And in retrospect, it was a very exciting game, although the ending left me a sad and broken man.
UCLA had alternated losses and wins coming into the game and was 5-5. Freshman Tommy Maddox had taken over as quarterback and was showing a lot of promise despite a throwing motion that resembled Chad Bradford at times. UCLA was 4-3 in the Pac-10 and had upset conference leader (and eventual champion) Washington in Seattle the week before. The year before UCLA had played USC to a 10-10 with a potential game-winning field goal by Alfredo Velasco banging off the crossbar as time expired. This year there was more hope. USC was up and down at 7-2-1 overall and 4-2-1 in the conference. USC quarterback Todd Marinovich was in and out of the lineup for USC as he went in and out of coach Larry Smith's doghouse.
This was one of the wildest games I'd ever seen. 52 seconds into the game, Maddox threw a pass that Stephon Pace intercepted and ran back 27 yards for a TD, in what had been the quickest score ever in the history of the USC-UCLA series. USC had a bad snap on the PAT and led 6-0
The game then turned into a tennis match. UCLA drove the field when it got the ball back and Maddox ran for a TD to put UCLA up 7-6. Then Mazio Royster answered back for USC on the Trojans next drive with a TD and a 2-point conversion made it 14-7.
In the second quarter, Maddox hooked up with Sean LaChapelle for a 47-yard TD to tie the score. UCLA actually held USC on its next possession, but then fumbled the ball back to USC at its own 29 and USC drove for an easy score with Marinovich sneaking it in from the 1. It was 21-14 USC at the half.
The second half started with the only long drive of the game. The Trojans went 68 yards in 18 plays that took over 10 minutes off the clock. And all USC got out of it was a 20-yard field goal and a 24-14 lead.
Once UCLA got the ball back, Maddox led the Bruins down the field on a 73-yard scoring drive with Brian Brown scoring from the five to make it 24-21 USC. The Bruins held the Trojans again and were ready to start a go-ahead drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but Maddox's pass was intercepted by Jason Oliver and he ran it back 34 yards for a TD and a 31-21 USC lead.
Now Maddox got down to work. He led the Bruins on two quick touchdown drives, each one ending with a TD pass to Scott Miller and UCLA led 35-31. But Marinovich led USC right down the field and put the Trojans back ahead with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Johnnie Morton.
But the game was far from over. There was 3:09 left when Maddox continue carving up the USC secondary and the Bruins went 75 yards in less than 2 minutes with Brian Brown punching it in from the 1 with 1:19 left.
That was a little too much time however. Marinovich and USC started at their own 23 and just cruised down the field, throwing two long passes to Gary Wellman and then a 23-yard TD pass to Morton with 26 seconds left. And finally time ran out. USC 45, UCLA 42
I was quite dejected after this game and decided to walk home to work off my disappointment. This isn't as much of an act of penance as it seems when I tell you that I only lived about 2 miles or so from the Rose Bowl. I got home just in time to watch Cal give up 9 points to Stanford in something like 12 seconds to lose Big Game. Then my brother and his wife offered to take me out for dinner at Gus's Bar-B-Q in South Pasadena. And then I discovered the biggest indignity of all: the food there was awful and the service was worse. I did see Robert Reed in the restaurant. I thought to myself "That guy doesn't look so hot." I wish it had only been a bad piece of pork.
Maddox threw for a school record 409 yards and Miller set a school record with 175 yards receiving. Both records would subsequently be broken.
November 23, 1991, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - This game was unusual mainly for the company I went with. I went with my oldest brother and his wife, BOTH of my parents, and a guy from Luxembourg. I am pretty sure it was the only football game my father ever saw in person. My father and football were not good friends. He just didn't like watching the game. He could never figure out the concept of getting a first down. He just thought there were people running around at random hitting each other. He would make you spend two hours telling you how the officials measured for a first down. He thought that whole system was flawed. Dad did have a point there as the spotting of the football and the supposed accuracy of yard markers are part of the big lie you have to buy into when you watch football. This motley bunch of fans got seats in the penultimate row of the Coliseum in the closed end.
The 1991 UCLA squad was 7-3 coming into its final game, 5-2 in the Pac-10. USC was awful. The Trojans were 3-7 and 2-5 in the Pac-10. The Bruins had Tommy Maddox back for another year and USC had the eminently forgettable Reggie Perry at quarterback. UCLA had not defeated USC since a 45-25 win in 1987 and this seemed like a good time to end that streak.
UCLA roared out a 10-0 lead on a 41-yard field goal by Louis Perez and a 72-yard touchdown run by Kevin Williams. UCLA scored another touchdown in the second quarter when tight end Brian Allen fell on a fumble by Maury Toy in the end zone. The play took a while to sort out and with today's review rules, there's no telling who would have been awarded a score on that play.
In the second half, the much maligned Perry put together two touchdown drives, one of which ended with a 13-yard TD pass to Curtis Conway. Perry scored the other TD on a quarterback sneak and it made the score 17-14 UCLA in the third quarter.
Maddox decided to get back into the game after USC's comeback and led UCLA on a 73-yard scoring drive and finished with a 17-yard TD pass to Toy. UCLA was up 24-14.
However, Perry didn't quit and he led the Trojans down the field again for another TD, a 5-yard pass to Yonnie Jackson. It was 24-21 UCLA.
USC got one more chance and drove down to the UCLA 37 with 1:19 left and faced a fourth and five. Perry dropped back and saw that he had Johnnie Morton open. But he didn't see linebacker Arnold Ale bearing down on him either. Before Perry could get the pass, Ale proceeded to knock the ball out of Perry's hand as well as take off Perry's helmet. All that was left was a few kneel downs by Maddox and the final score of UCLA 24, USC 21 was sealed.
UCLA would go on to the Sun Bowl (then called the John Hancock Bowl) and beat Illinois 6-3. Which was the lowest scoring game for UCLA until 2003 when they played Illinois at the Rose Bowl and won 6-3 again.
November 21, 1992, Rose Bowl - Personally, this is the most memorable USC-UCLA game I've ever been to. I didn't particularly want to attend the game. I had been battling a bad case of bronchitis for weeks and was coughing so much that I had hurt my ribs. UCLA was not very good and came into the game 5-5 and had gone through several quarterbacks trying to find a replacement for Wayne Cook, who had been injured in the season opener against Cal State Fullerton. A JC transfer named John Barnes was named the starter for this game, mainly because he had been able to eke out wins over Oregon State and Oregon the preceding two weeks. UCLA was just 2-5 in the Pac-10. My mom nagged me to go to the game because as she said, "You don't know what could happen and you'll feel bad if you miss it. You're not that sick anyway."
USC was not exactly having its best year, but the Trojans were 6-2-1 and 5-2 in the Pac-10. The immortal Rob Johnson was the quarterback. Many UCLA fans have erected small shrines in honor of Rob Johnson.
However, USC looked to have the command of the game and took a 31-17 lead in the third quarter on a blocked punt for a TD and a 32-yard scoring run by Estrus Crayton. Then UCLA receiver J.J. Stokes took over the game.
With 12:49 to go, Stokes caught a 29-yard TD from Barnes to make it 31-24. UCLA held USC, got the ball back and then tied up the game on a 1-yard TD run by Kevin Williams set up a 56-yard catch by Stokes, who always seemed to matched up against increasingly shorter USC defensive backs.
UCLA got the ball on its own 10 with 3:08 left when Barnes connected with Stokes over the middle and then Stokes just powered past Jerald Henry for a 90-yard TD pass, the second-longest pass play in UCLA history at the time (it's now the third longest). UCLA was up 38-31.
But as is normal in these games, USC had a rally left in them. And Johnson was able to lead USC downfield and eventually scored from the 1 to make it 38-37 with 41 seconds left. In the era before overtime, USC coach Larry Smith made the decision to go for two. Johnson's pass for Yonnie Jackson was broken up Nkosi Littleton and the Bruins prevailed UCLA 38, USC 37.
UCLA's season was over as bowl overpopulation hadn't hit yet. USC would go on to lose the following week to Notre Dame and then lose to Fresno State in the Freedom Bowl and Smith was fired and USC opted to go with the reign of John Robinson the Second.
Stokes set a UCLA record with 265 receiving yards in the game on just six catches. Barnes threw for 385 yards in his last collegiate game and earned instant mythic hero status at UCLA.
When I got home, I called home to tell my mom about the game. My dad answered the phone and much to my amazement he said, "Wow! That was quite a game! That was really exciting!" I think even my football-eschewing father got caught up in it. My mom got on the phone and said, "See, aren't you glad you went?"
Mom passed away the following summer. She has still missed some great ones.
I missed the 1993 and 1994 games for reasons I can't remember. In 1993, UCLA beat USC 27-21 at the Coliseum when Johnson threw an interception in the end zone in the waning seconds and UCLA won a rare game when a Rose Bowl berth was on the line for both teams. In 1994, a mediocre UCLA team pounded USC on the ground to pick up an easy 31-19 win. Which brings us up to...
November 18, 1995, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - USC was heading to the Rose Bowl as they were 8-1-1 and 6-0-1 in the conference. UCLA was 6-4 and 3-4 in the Pac-10. Freshman Cade McNown was the quarterback for the UCLA and he had done well for a newcomer. USC's strong team featured receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who had made secondaries throughout the country look foolish all year. UCLA's biggest offensive weapon, running Karim Abdul-Jabbar was out with a sprained ankle.
I again sat way up toward the top of the closed end of the Coliseum. UCLA sprung out of the gate scoring touchdowns on its first three possessions to stun the crowd. Receiver Jim McElroy featured prominently in two of the scores. On one of them, McElroy caught a 59-yard pass from McNown that set up a 1-yard run for a score by Cheyane Caldwell. On the other, McElroy threw a 35-yard pass to Kevin Jordan for a touchdown. UCLA led 21-0 before much of the crowd was settled in.
USC clawed its way back to 21-14. But UCLA managed to add a field goal to make it 24-14 in the fourth. Much of UCLA's offense in the second half consisted of scrambles from McNown and runs by an ever-changing cast of backup running backs, one of which was a cornerback for much of the year.
Delon Washington scored for USC to make it 24-20 with 3:30 left. The Trojans went for two and didn't make it. Although the Trojans had gotten close, their offense, which had been explosive much of the season, took 20 plays and over 9 minutes to score. UCLA ran out the clock. UCLA 24, USC 20.
McNown was 8 for 17 in the game for just 131 yards, but UCLA managed to get 216 yards rushing out of a patchwork backfield. It was one of the best-coached games in Terry Donahue's career at UCLA. The Bruins would go on to play Kansas in the Aloha Bowl and they were clobbered 51-30. USC went on to the Rose Bowl and defeated Northwestern, who had the most disagreeable fans I have ever had the displeasure to meet, 41-32.