The last five games in this series include a couple good ones (maybe not aesthetically), but the amount of drama drops as the years go on.
November 23, 1996, Rose Bowl - UCLA, under new coach Bob Toledo, was 5-5 on the season and 3-4 in the Pac-10. USC was also 5-5 and 3-4. It was not one of the more highly anticipated matchups in the USC-UCLA rivalry, although it turned out to to be one of the better games. Well, at least it was exciting. It may not have been well-played. But it was fun. For half the fans.
USC looked to have control of this game as Trojan QB Brad Otton found receiver R. Jay Soward open all the time, throwing to him for 260 yards (a USC record) and three TDs. USC led 38-21 with 11 minutes left in the game as the UCLA defense looked to be completely overwhelmed.
Toledo and offensive coordinator Al Borges put the Bruins into a two-minute offense. On their first drive in that mode, they got a 47-yard field goal from Bjorn Merten to make it 38-24. UCLA got the ball back again and got a 1-yard touchdown run by Kevin Brown, but there was just 2:49 left. And UCLA's onside kick attempt went out of bounds.
USC just had to run out the clock from favorable field position to finish it off. USC coach John Robinson thought there was too much time left to just kneel down and run off the clock (I believe UCLA was out of timeouts) so he called for a running play with fullback LaVale Woods. UCLA linebacker Danjuan Magee stripped Woods of the ball and the fumble eventually bounced into the hands of safety Kusanti Abdul-Salaam (who had started at UCLA as Andy Colbert). UCLA had the ball at the UCLA 44.
It took just five plays for Bruin quaterback Cade McNown to lead UCLA to a touchdown with Skip Hicks scoring from 11 yards out with 39 seconds left.
USC, now led by backup QB Matt Koffler after Otton left with a ribcage injury, got down to the UCLA 23 with 11 seconds left. Adam Abrams tried a 40-yard field goal for the win, but Travis Kirschke blocked the kick and USC and UCLA headed to their first (and so far only) overtime game.
The Trojans got the ball first in overtime and scored on a field goal by Abrams. UCLA matched it.
In the second OT, Hicks ran 25 yards for a TD on the first play and took a 48-41 lead. Koffler tried to lead USC back, but Soward had a drop of a third down pass and then Koffler threw an interception on fourth down to end the game. UCLA 48, USC 41. USC would salvage a 6-6 season with an overtime win over Notre Dame the following week.
I stopped going to the Coliseum after the 1995 game, mainly because it was too much trouble to get off work. But the Bruins won in 1997, 31-24.
November 21, 1998, Rose Bowl - UCLA was 9-0 and 7-0 in the Pac-10 for this game. USC under new coach Paul Hackett was 8-3 and 5-2 in the conference. The Bruins had already clinched the Pac-10 and were angling for a spot in the BCS championship game in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Trojans led first, 3-0, on a 36-yard field goal by Adam Abrams, but never lead again. But Deshaun Foster scored two quick touchdowns to put UCLA up 14-3. The Trojans got to within 14-10, but Foster then sprang a 65-yard touchdown run to give the Bruins a 21-10 lead. Two field goals by Chris Sailer made it 27-10 at halftime. USC lost four fumbles during the game.
The second half was pretty much a formality as the Bruins scored their eighth straight win over the Trojans. UCLA 34, USC 17
After the game in the Los Angeles Times, USC's Chad Morton was quoted, "God, eight years, I mean, we've got to stop this streak before it gets
ridiculous, like Notre Dame was or something."
UCLA would lose out on a chance to play for the national championship with a 49-45 loss to Miami on the road despite Cade McNown throwing for a school record 518 yards. The Bruins then lost to Wisconsin, 38-31, in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans shut out Notre Dame, 10-0 and then went on to face TCU in the Sun Bowl, where they lost 28-19.
In 1999, the Trojans snapped the losing streak with a 17-7 win over UCLA in a battle of mediocre teams. The Bruins were 4-7 that season and USC was 6-6.
November 18, 2000, Rose Bowl - It was a less than stellar matchup this year as the 6-4, 3-4 Bruins faced the 4-6, 2-5 Trojans, who had lost five of their last six games. UCLA fans expected a win in this game even though the defense had gotten progressively worse throughout the season.
Krispy Kreme Donuts had a promotion that year that would give the fans a free half-dozen donuts if the Bruins scored first in the game. And throughout the season, they had never done so at home. But 20 seconds in to the game, the Bruins sacked USC quarterback in the end zone and fell on the fumble for a touchdown for a quick 7-0 lead. That was the lone defensive highlight for the Bruins. The rest of the game, Palmer and the Trojans carved up the Bruins defense. Palmer threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, personal bests for him at the time. USC ran 82 plays during the game to just 51 for UCLA.
But UCLA's offense was able to match USC for nearly all of the game. And after oft-injured, oft-drunk quarterback Cory Paus scored on a 1-yard run with 1:05 left, the game was tied at 35-35.
Palmer didn't care and it took him just four plays, along with a UCLA penalty, to get the Trojans to get in to field goal position at the UCLA 19. The problem was that USC didn't have a reliable kicker. Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, USC was using David Bell at kicker. Bell had never made a field goal and had missed a 22-yard field goal.
But coach Paul Hackett felt he had nothing to lose by sending Bell out for the field goal try. The snap was bad, the kick was ugly, but it made it over the crossbar. USC 38, UCLA 35.
The Bruins got a bid to the Sun Bowl and lost to Wisconsin and lost 21-20. Hackett was fired at the end of the year. After a few missteps, USC settled on a new coach: Pete Carroll.
In 2001, Carroll made his first statement in the USC-UCLA rivalry as the Trojans dominated the Bruins 27-0, who were suffering fallout from the suspension of Deshaun Foster (who had a nice car) and the unexpected announcement that Cory Paus had been convicted of drunk driving, something UCLA coach Bob Toledo hadn't known about. Oh yeah, lots of fun.
November 22, 2002, Rose Bowl - UCLA was 7-3 and 4-2 in the conference. USC was 8-2 and 6-1. This may have looked like it would be a close game, but it was all USC.
Bruin kickoff returner Tab Perry fumbled the opening kickoff and Carson Palmer didn't waste much time before finding Kareem Kelly for a 34-yard touchdown. The score came 16 seconds into the game. Then Palmer threw a 51-yard TD pass to Keary Colbert. Then UCLA had a bad snap on a punt and the Trojans scored another TD and led 21-0 with 5:42 to go. In the first quarter.
UCLA scored a touchdown on its next drive to make it 21-7 and got the ball back at its own 6 after finally forcing the Trojans to punt. Coach Bob Toledo decided to change quaterbacks and took out Drew Olson and put in Matt Moore. Moore fumbled the first two snaps he took and lost the second one and USC converted it into a touchdown and a 28-7 lead at halftime.
USC scored on its first drive of the second half to make it 35-7 and the UCLA fans made a beeline for the exit and the second half of the game was played behind an odd backdrop of empty seats in the middle, with the end zones packed with cardinal and gold clad fans. USC 52, UCLA 21.
The Trojans would beat Notre Dame the following week, the first time since 1981 that USC beat both UCLA and Notre Dame in the same year. USC needed the Bruins to beat Washington State on December 7, 2002 to get a Rose Bowl bid, but the Cougars routed the Bruins, 48-27. USC went on to the Orange Bowl and beat Iowa 38-17. UCLA fired coach Bob Toledo after the Washington State game and put towel-waving assistant coach Ed Kezirian in charge of UCLA for the Las Vegas Bowl, where the Bruins beat New Mexico 27-13.
USC routed the Bruins the next year at the Coliseum 47-22 en route to a shared national championship with LSU.
December 4, 2004, Rose Bowl - USC was 11-0, 7-0 in the Pac-10, #1 in the country and hoping to wrap up a spot in the Orange Bowl for the BCS championship. UCLA was 6-4 and 4-3 and heavy underdogs.
Because of TV scheduling, the game was now being played in December instead of the Saturday before Thanksgiving. UCLA had been off for three weeks, while USC had routed Notre Dame 41-10 the week before.
On the second play of the game, Reggie Bush ran 65 yards for a touchdown. On the next drive, Ryan Killeen kicked a 37-yard field goal and USC had a quick 10-0 lead.
USC had to punt on its next drive. Craig Bragg picked up the ball at the 4. I thought to myself, "What an idiot!" But Bragg brought the punt back for a school record 96-yard TD to get UCLA back into the game.
Bush then broke off an 81-yard TD run to put USC up 17-7 and UCLA could only answer with a Justin Medlock field goal. Killeen kicked his second field goal just before the half ended and USC led 20-10.
In the second half, USC could manage just three field goals as quarterback Matt Leinart (who was on his way to the Heisman) seemed to just misfire on passes into the end zone. USC converted just one of 13 third-down attempts.
UCLA got to within 29-24 on a TD pass from Drew Olson to Marcedes Lewis with 2:04 left. UCLA's onside kick attempt was covered by USC backup quarterback Matt Cassel. But with 53 seconds left, Bush fumbled and the Bruins got one more chance to go for one of their biggest upsets ever.
But there was no happy ending in the Rose Bowl for UCLA this day. Jason Leach intercepted an Olson pass and the Trojans ran out the clock. USC 29, UCLA 24
USC went on to the Orange Bowl and trounced Oklahoma for the national championship, 55-19. UCLA went on to play Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic and lost 17-9.
In 2005, USC didn't give UCLA a chance to breathe and throttled the Bruins 66-19.
And so here we are.
Will 2006 be something to be etched in the annals of the USC-UCLA rivalry? Or will it just be a slight detour on USC's march to the BCS championship in Glendale? I tend toward the latter view.
But times change. However, Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl I will sit and watch the game with a hint of optimism tempered by a sense of doom that I've developed the past few years. History tells me that times will get better. They can't get worse.