Beginning Part One of a three-part digression from baseball content here on the Griddle, I was going to go back to my favorite topic: history. But the topic will be one that may not be of great interest to a nationwide audience, but it's relevant for this week. It's a look back at the USC-UCLA football rivalry. And I'll be looking back at it in the most egocentric way possible. I'll just be rehashing games that I went to in person.
In all, there have been 14 games I have attended in person. UCLA has won 8 of them and USC has won 6. There have been routs on both sides and narrow wins for both teams. And even though, I am preparing my look of grim acceptance for this Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl, I still enjoy the game. When I was younger, I got all worked up about the result. But with time, you get perspective. Teams that are up, come down. Teams that are down, come up.
I'm not going to write about all 14 in one post. I'm going to break into three parts. This will either heighten the excitement or possibly just extend your boredom over a longer period of time.
November 24, 1979, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - Coming into this game, UCLA was an uninspiring 5-5 as coach Terry Donahue was in the process of changing UCLA's offense into a passing attack. Freshman QB Tom Ramsey had led UCLA to a 35-0 win at Oregon the week before and some people thought that just maybe the Bruins could pull off an upset against the Trojans. However, USC, which had shared the national championship the year before with Alabama, was 9-0-1, coming into the game, with just a tie against Stanford as the only negative mark on its record. However, USC hadn't clinched the Pac-10 championship because the conference made Arizona State forfeit a win over Washington, so the Huskies still had a chance at Pasadena.
I was just 13 years old for this game and I sat with my brother in the southeast corner of the Coliseum far, far away from the field. Since this was designated as a USC home game (UCLA would not move its home games to the Rose Bowl until 1982), the usual seats we had were switched. My brother and I were excited about this game because Ramsey would be starting at quarterback for UCLA and he went to our high school (Kennedy High of Granada Hills) and this was going to be a big deal.
However, this game was no contest. The Trojans dominated this game from the start. USC led 35-0 at halftime, thanks in part to two interceptions by Ronnie Lott of Ramsey, one of which he brought back for a score and Ramsey made a particularly embarrassing attempt to make a tackle on Lott to boot. Ramsey went 3 for 13 for 34 yards and was replaced by senior Rick Bashore, who threw a couple of TD passes in the second half for cosmetic purposes. Charles White ran for 194 yards and scored four TDs. Paul McDonald (now one of USC's radio announcers) was 17 for 23 for 199 yards, which was a pretty big total for a USC quarterback in that era. The Trojans would go on to defeat Ohio State 17-16 in a thrilling Rose Bowl. USC 49, UCLA 14
Despite the outcome, this was pretty much the year that I officially became a UCLA fan. It was the first year I had ever attended a college football game. That was because my brother Michael was serving as one of UCLA's mascots that year. He got two tickets for each game and I went to most of them with my mother, although she didn't want to hassle with the parking for the USC game so I went with my brother Tom, a UCLA freshman. (My oldest brother Jim, didn't have the academic chops for UCLA so he had to his safety school.) Even though it was an up and down season for UCLA, I had a lot of fun at the games although there might have been something else at work as I was a 13-year old seated directly in front of the UCLA cheerleaders. That and the UCLA basketball team making it to the final that year.
(From left to right, Man dressed as a bruin, Mom, Dad in Pauley Pavilion in 1980.)
November 19, 1983, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - 1983 was my freshman year at UCLA and the Bruins got off to a rocky start, going 0-3-1, then winning six straight, before losing 27-27 to Arizona in Tucson. That loss seemingly ruined the Bruins chances of winning the Pac-10. They were 5-1-1 in the conference and 5-4-1 overall. Washington was 5-1 in the conference and would go to the Rose Bowl if they beat Washington State in Seattle. USC was not having a good year under new coach Ted Tollner. The Trojans were 4-5-1 overall and 4-2 in the conference.
The UCLA students sat in the northeast corner (or the closed end) of the Coliseum for this game. The game drew 83,767 fans, a little lower than what the Coliseum seats now, but there were some seats taken out of commission for renovations for the Olympics.
USC led 10-6 at halftime. UCLA had two drives that sputtered out and ended up in field goals, while USC scored on a touchdown pass from Sean Salisbury to Joe Cormier and another field goal set up by a Tony Brewer interception of UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel.
Later in the game, UCLA got the news that Washington was trailing to Washington State and the Bruins came out firing in the second half. The Bruins drove 80 yards for a touchdown to start the second half. Then they held the Trojans, got a good punt return from Lupe Sanchez, and that set up another TD and it was 20-10 UCLA.
On USC's next possession, Michael Harper fumbled, UCLA recovered and got another touchdown when fullback Brian Wiley, running to position the ball for a field goal attempt on a third and goal from the 17, ran through the line and found himself most unexpectedly in the end zone. It was 27-10 Bruins.
When it was over it was UCLA 27, USC 17 and Washington had lost to Washington State 17-6. The Bruins went on the Rose Bowl to face Illinois, where they destroyed the visitors from Urbana-Champaign 45-9.
November 17, 1984, Rose Bowl - USC had already clinched the Pac-10 title and were 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the Pac-10. The Bruins were 7-3 and 4-2. The big story before the game was USC quarterback Tim Green threatening to put "a whipping" (in other places it was "a whuppin"") on UCLA. UCLA 29, USC 10
However, it was the Bruins who did the whipping, taking advantage of a bunch of USC turnovers to pick up a surprisingly easy win. John Lee kicked five field goals, giving him 29 for the season, an NCAA record at the time. UCLA's Green, Gaston by name, rushed for 134 yards. Dennis Price had a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown to cap off a happy day for those of us in the UCLA student section on the east side of the Rose Bowl.
UCLA played themselves into a Fiesta Bowl bid with the win and went on to beat a Bernie Kosar-led Miami team, 39-37. USC would lose to Notre Dame at the Coliseum the following week, but rebounded to beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 20-17.
November 23, 1985, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - The fortunes of USC and UCLA were almost reversed in this season. UCLA was 8-1-1 and 6-1 in the conference coming into this game. USC was just 4-5 and 3-3 in the conference including a shutout loss at Arizona State and a loss at home to Baylor and a 37-3 pasting by Notre Dame. The Bruins had a strong running game behind Gaston Green and Eric Ball. USC coach Ted Tollner had turned to freshman Rodney Peete as his quarterback and USC's once formidable running game was just a rumor.
In 1985, USC moved the UCLA student section over to the peristyle end (SE) of the stadium. UCLA entered the game in an unusual state, that of expecting to win the game. But as many rivalry games go, the expectations were wrong.
The game looked like it would be easy for UCLA as the Bruins moved the ball up and down the field easily in the first half, but led just 13-7. Two long drives ended up as field goals and on another Green fumbled at the USC 12. UCLA outgained USC 253 to 132 in the first half.
In the fourth quarter, UCLA led 13-10 and had a second and goal at the USC one. Terry Donahue called on Ball, his short yardage specialist to carry it in. But Marcus Cotton jarred the ball loose and Sam Anno recovered. UCLA lost three fumbles and quarterback David Norrie threw two interceptions on the day. But USC couldn't score off of that turnover. However, my roommate Alan and I, who were at the game, have always called Eric Ball "No Ball" to commemorate that very annoying fumble.
But in the waning minutes, Peete was able to pilot USC to a 56-yard touchdown drive. On a 3rd and 11, Peete was able to run for 11 yards and a first down. On a fourth and two from the UCLA six, Tollner opted to go for the first down instead of a tying field goal (a tie would have likely knocked UCLA out of the Rose Bowl) and Peete scrambled for three yards. Peete eventually scored on a sneak from the one with 1:13 left. On UCLA's last chance drive, Norrie was picked off by Tim McDonald and the Trojans celebrated a win USC 17, UCLA 13.
While it might have seemed that UCLA was out of the Rose Bowl with a loss, they got a reprieve later in the evening when Arizona upset Arizona State 16-13 to send the Bruins to a Rose Bowl date with Iowa, which the Bruins won 45-28. USC would beat Oregon in Tokyo to gain a spot in the Aloha Bowl, where they lost to Alabama 24-3.
November 22, 1986, Rose Bowl - UCLA was out of Rose Bowl contention due to an early season loss to Arizona State and came in to the game 6-3-1 overall, 4-2-1 in the Pac-10. A 28-23 loss to Stanford at the Rose Bowl was another killer (Damn you, Brad Muster!). USC was 7-2 and 5-2 in the conference. It should have been a close game, but it was a replay of 1979 with the roles reversed.
Gaston Green ran for 224 yards on 39 carries and scored four TDs as the Bruins pummeled the Trojans at the Rose Bowl. UCLA 45, USC 25.
UCLA had scored 24 points in the first half on three touchdowns by Green and a field goal. The Bruins had the ball at the USC 39 with nine seconds left and quarterback Matt Stevens (now a UCLA radio analyst mirroring Paul McDonald's from 1979) rolled out and heaved a high pass into the end zone. The intended target was Flipper Anderson who was triple covered by the USC secondary. Four men went after the ball, but it ended up being tipped to UCLA's other receiver on the play, one Karl Dorrell, who caught it for the touchdown and UCLA led 31-0 at halftime.
The Bruins would eventually lead 38-0 in the second half before most of the starters were taking bows. USC managed to put some points on the board to avoid losing to UCLA by its biggest margin ever (34 points in 1954 and UCLA won by 25 points in 1970). UCLA rushed for 289 yards overall to USC's 45. UCLA had 512 yards overall.
UCLA got a bid to the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim with the win to face BYU and the Bruins won that won easily 31-10 as Green rushed for 266 yards. USC would lose to Notre Dame 38-37 the following week and then lose to Auburn 16-7 in the Florida Citrus Bowl and Ted Tollner was fired and Larry Smith was brought in from Arizona to help restore USC's glory.
And when the school year was over, I graduated from UCLA and wouldn't see another USC-UCLA game for four years. But I remembered that in my student directory, the address and phone number in Oklahoma of one Troy Aikman was listed...