Memorable Moments of the UCLA-USC Rivalry


Here are a few memorable moments from the Crosstown Showdown, the game that decides who owns Los Angeles for the next year between UCLA or USC. 

How are a lifelong love and a strong dislike born at the same time?  For me it happened on November 24, 1979. If you had asked me the importance of this date I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.  But two important events happened on that day for me. One, was a family get together and the other was a Bruins-Trojans get together at the Coliseum.  I was always a sports fan growing up but when that day started I could have cared less about the game in downtown L.A.

That would change…

Fun and frolic ensued at the family get together.  What that was I couldn’t tell you.  Hey, I was only eight years old!  But at some point I made my way to the living room where the UCLA-USC game was on the television.  When I sat down to watch the game, it was already in the second half and it really wasn’t a contest at that point.  I couldn’t say what the score was but if you had told me it was USC winning 100-0 I would have believed you.

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The thing I noticed other than the blowout was the beautiful powder blue jerseys which I liked a lot better than the red ones.  The color of the uniforms is very important to an 8 year-old.  I was the only person in the room watching the Bruins getting pummeled on the Coliseum turf.  Everyone else had long given up on the game but I decided to watch because I felt a little sorry for the team in blue that would eventually lose 49-14.

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My family had long been USC fans so every few minutes a family member would trickle into the room and make some comment about how great USC was.  Or they’d come in, watch for a minute, and then say how UCLA sucked (okay, they didn’t say sucked because no one used that term back then but you get the idea).  And as the blowout grew bigger the comments became even more disparaging to UCLA.  It was if that team in blue didn’t even belong on the same field that day.

…When I left that living room I had decided that from that point forward I was going to bleed blue and gold.

And I didn’t say a word but on the inside my sympathy for the Bruins turned to bitterness and anger.  I was bitter that no one had any compassion for that team in blue and angry at my family.  And what I became to believe that day was the culture USC football encouraged people to apeak and act as my family did.  It was as if they were better than UCLA in every way.  USC was college football royalty and UCLA was their peasant to be belittled and embarrassed.  When I left that living room I had decided that from that point forward I was going to bleed blue and gold.

Since then the USC-UCLA football game has been a pseudo holiday for me.  Here are some of my favorite memories of the rivalry:

1980- This was the very next year and I only remember one play from that game.  UCLA was trailing late in the 4th quarter when Bruin quarterback Jay Schroeder threw a seam pass to running back Freeman McNeil.  A Trojan defensive back defender jumped up and batted the ball into the air where it landed in McNeil’s hands and he went 58 yards for the game winning touchdown.  The Trojan that batted the ball into the air was Jeff Fisher.  Yes, the same Jeff Fisher that coaches a certain team that might come back to Los Angeles.

1985- The first game I ever attended in person as my dad and I sat in the first row in the Coliseum right behind the goalpost.  Before the game, I asked my dad to buy me a button that looked like the USC logo but said SUC.  I wore that thing with immense pride all game long.  The Bruins needed a win to go to the Rose Bowl but some backup freshman quarterback no one had heard of for USC named Rodney Peete came off the bench and scored a TD with a minute to play to beat UCLA 17-13.  The Bruins made the Rose Bowl anyway through the backdoor when Arizona State lost later in the day.

1986- The Bruins destroyed USC 45-25 at the Rose Bowl.  Gaston Green ran all over the Trojans in a game that was never close.  UCLA led 24-0 right before halftime when Bruin quarterback (and current color analyst) Matt Stevens faked a kneel down and threw a Hail Mary pass that Bruin receiver Karl Dorrell caught to give them a 31-0 halftime lead.  I recorded the game on a VHS tape and watched it so many times the tape eventually got tangled and broke in my VCR.  I was heartbroken for a long time after that.

Nov 28, 2014; Pasadena, CA, USA; Troy Aikman speaks during his jersey retirement ceremony at halftime of the game between the Stanford Cardinal and the UCLA Bruins at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

1987- Still to this day I have never been as devastated about any game ever as I was when the clock hit 0:00.  Maybe the most talented UCLA team they have ever had included Troy Aikman, Gaston Green, Eric Turner, Ken Norton, James Washington, and Carnell Lake.  Two controversial plays happened in this game that I will never forget.  The one everyone remembers is Erik Affholter making a juggling catch on the white part of the end zone also known as OUT OF BOUNDS.  But of course the officials called his non-catch a catch which proved to be the winning score.  The other one happened right before halftime. USC was on the UCLA five yard line when Peete threw an interception.  Turner returned it about 80 yards but Peete chased him down and tackled him as time expired.  However, no one seemed to realize that Peete clearly grabbed Turner’s face mask and yet no penalty was called.  UCLA should have gotten 15 yards and an untimed down to kick a field goal.  See Bruin fans, inept officiating has been going on a long time.  I remember after this game sitting in my living room in a devastated trance staring at my walls for what seemed to be hours.  I still have not gotten over this game.

UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins /

UCLA Bruins

1988- The measles game.  Trojan star quarterback Peete had contracted measles during the week and was questionable to play (he was always going to play).  I remember being in the Rose Bowl and seeing all these Bruin fans that had put on fake red spots all over their faces to troll the USC fans.  A very good Trojan team beat Aikman and the Bruins 31-22.  As we walked out of the stadium I told my dad, “They have the better team but we have the better quarterback.”

1990- The greatest single game I have ever seen in person.  This game had 6 touchdowns and four lead changes in the fourth quarter alone!  Both teams just moved up and down the field with Tommy Maddox and Todd Marinovich carving up the defenses with long passes.  If there ever was an athlete that personified USC football, it was Marinovich (Google him if you don’t know what I’m talking about).  As Marinovich threw the game winning touchdown he was knocked to the turf.  On the cover of the Daily Bruin the Monday after the game there was a huge photo of Maroinovich sitting on the turf after making his TD throw.  A Bruin defender is reaching down to help him off the ground and Marinovich is flipping him the middle finger.  What a perfect illustration of USC football.

2006- One of the most satisfying victories I can remember.  A bad Bruin team beat the 2nd-ranked Trojans 13-9.  After seven straight losses we finally beat them again. I was so frightened we might blow the game I remember shivering in fear the whole 4th quarter.

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I have many more memories of these games, some good and some bad (like losing 50-0 in those hideous white helmets).  And hopefully there are many more good ones to come starting with this Saturday.