UCLA Football: The Ten Greatest Wins Over USC

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This week is a big one for college sports fans in Los Angeles as for the 81st time the two major institutions in America’s second largest city, UCLA and the University of Southern california, will be playing each other in football.

It will be a week in which L.A. will turn into a blue-and-gold / cardinal-and-gold Verona, with Bruin and Trojan students enacting on a dislike comparable to the Montagues and the Capulets.

There’s no denying it, and I’d be a fool to question it – the 21st Century has been great to USC football and its students, alumni and fans, despite the Reggie Bush scandal and the subsequent NCAA sanctions, which includes a loss of 30 scholarships and a two year bowl ban, which the Trojans are currently finishing the second year of.

It has been particularly great for the Trojan Family when it comes to dealing with their Westwood rival as they have won 11 of the past 12 meetings, the one loss being an epic one, a 13-9 Bruin win in 2006 that knocked the then-#2 ranked Trojans out of the BCS National Championship game.

As for this year, I’m not stupid or naive; I know full well that realistically speaking, the Bruins’ chances of beating USC in the Coliseum this year aren’t very good. I know that as of this writing, UCLA is a 14.5 point underdog to those Men of Troy.

But I also know that the Bruins have had some great victories over USC through the years, and I thought I’d spread some cheer among my fellow members of Bruin Nation by unveiling my list of the Bruins’ ten greatest wins over the cardinal and gold, because UCLA does have quite a few.

So here we go, in descending order:

10. 1950, 39-0:   The Bruins’ largest margin of victory versus USC, to this day.

9.   1980, 20-17:  This was called the Probation Bowl due to the fact that both teams were banned from bowl games for recruiting violations. The Bruins won in the last minute on a tipped pass from Jay Schroeder to Freeman McNeil.  

The Trojan defender who tipped that pass? None other than the former longtime coach of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Jeff Fisher.

8.   1954, 34-0:   The year UCLA arrived in the Promised Land and won their lone national championship.

7.    1942, 14-7:    The Bruins’ first ever win over USC, led by UCLA’s version of the Golden Boy, Bob Waterfield.

Incidentally, that was just after the two student body presidents signed a treaty making the Victory Bell, which was the source of an all-out prank war between the two schools, the trophy of the game, a status it retains to this day.

It is painted red when USC wins, and blue following a UCLA triumph.

6.   1965, 20-17:   Gary Beban, the Bruins’ lone Heisman Trophy winner, threw a last minute touchdown pass to beat the Trojans and send the Bruins to the Rose Bowl.

5.    1982, 20-19:    This was the one where Karl Morgan sacked Scott Tinsley with no time left on the clock and USC going for the winning two point conversion. It sent UCLA to the Rose Bowl and started an early 1980s dominance over USC, winning four out of five games against them during the first half of that decade.

I remember that game quite well, being in high school and a member of my school’s marching band at that time. My friends were listening to the game on the radio in our band director’s office, and I had a great time crowing about the win to my USC friends in the band!

4.   1992, 38-37:   The John Barnes – UCLA’s version of Rudy – game.

Having spent the season as a fourth string quarterback, Barnes threw for over 300 yards to lead the Bruins, who sealed the win when Nkosi Littleton knocked down the winning two-point conversion play with less than a minute left.

My friend, who was at that game, told me that he got a drunken, obnoxious USC fan ejected for rubbing a foam finger in his face that night.

3.   1993, 27-21:   The one where Marvin Goodwin intercepted a Rob Johnson pass in the end zone with just over a minute left in the Coliseum, sending the Bruins to the Rose Bowl at the Trojans’ expense!

That’s right, the Rose Bowl was on the line for both teams that day.

I got to attend that game at the very last minute and found myself sitting among a bunch of USC students and fans.

They gave me a lot of grief during the second half, but were strangely quiet when Goodwin picked off that pass. I remember seeing USC’s Song Girls crying their eyes out, too.

2.   2006, 13-9:   It was, in my book, UCLA’s second greatest win over USC and the biggest upset in the rivalry’s history, as the Trojans were a 23-point favorite!

Everyone recalls Eric McNeill’s tipped interception of John David Booty, but that did NOT win the game for the Bruins.

Aaron Perez’s punt, which boomed 20 yards over Desmond Reed’s head after then-coach Karl Dorrell told him to kick the ball out of bounds so it wouldn’t get returned, was what really won it.

Instead of the 35-yard line, Perez put Troy at their own 12.

That was a huge difference – and it happened right in front of me!

And now, my choice for the greatest victory over USC in the history of UCLA Bruin Football…

1.   1996, 48-41 (2 OT):   The only overtime game in the history of this crosstown rivalry.

I’m sure that everyone from the two schools remembers that day, when the Bruins were down by 17 points halfway through the fourth quarter after R. J. Soward went nuts with those long touchdown runs.

Yes, I was there, and the next thing I knew after LaVale Woods fumbled, which allowed UCLA to tie the score, the Bruins blocked USC’s winning field goal attempt to force OT.

Everybody in Bruin Nation recalls quite fondly the 25 yard Skip Hicks touchdown run in the second OT that won the game after UCLA was dominated for three-and-a-half quarters.

I know I do.

I remember after the game lying down in my seat, emotionally exhausted from all the excitement and suspense and thanking God for that miracle, which was exactly what that game was, and I also recall seeing Soward loudly crying on his way back to the Trojan locker room, as well as some hysterical Trojan fan kicking trash in a temper tantrum outside the Rose Bowl.

The best thing about that day, one may ask?

That game was purely for pride. No bowl game was at stake and nothing was on the line for either team.

Often that makes for the best games, because teams playing for just pride have nothing to lose.

And those games are proof positive that the old cliche holds true: Anything can happen in a rivalry game.