One of the Cal fans I sat with at USC's win up in Berkeley had some parting words for me: "My advice to you," he screamed, jabbing his finger in my direction, "is this -- don't dismiss Fresno!"
Unfortunately, the USC football team was not around to witness what in hindsight turned out to be very sage advice.
Saturday's game against Fresno State was quite a nail-biter, but luckily the Trojans stayed undefeated with a bit of help from Reggie Bush.
Or a lot. Heisman anyone?
So, keeping that narrow 50-42 victory in mind, it's time to look toward the upcoming game with UCLA on Dec. 3. Both schools' fans can get pretty rowdy; it looks like quite a rumble is going to go down here in South Central.
Hall of Famer Red Sanders, a former coach at UCLA, said these immortal words when referring to Los Angeles' infamous crosstown rivalry: "It's not a matter of life and death, it's more important than that."
And legend seems to support that statement.
Back in 1939, the bell of a Southern Pacific locomotive was given to UCLA by its alumni association. It was rung once by the school's cheerleaders for every point the Bruins scored, much to the annoyance of their rivals.
That little tradition lasted all of two years.
In 1941, the boys of Sigma Phi Epsilon earned a place in history -- and, to this day, a place in the hearts of USC fans everywhere -- when a few of the frat boys helped pack the bell after the game and, when no one was looking, took the key from the truck. While the Bruins ran to get another key, the Trojans took off. For a year, the fraternity took on the huge responsibility of hiding the bell in places ranging from the basement of their frat house to the Hollywood Hills.
And, for some reason, some UCLA supporters got their panties in a bunch. Several members of the UCLA student body immediately responded by attacking our baby, our pride and joy, the very symbol of USC: Tommy Trojan. Our beloved bronze statue of a Trojan warrior with sword and shield was bespattered and besmeared with blue and yellow paint.
Eventually, a meeting ensued, and it was agreed that the Victory Bell would serve as a trophy the victor would keep until the following game. Of course, our beloved bronze statue is still vulnerable, but I believe we figured out how to watch his back.
Next Monday marks the start of Troy Week at USC. The Monday before the game, Tommy Trojan will be sealed off from his faithful worshippers with heavy-duty gray plastic. Our famous statue of a Trojan warrior will go from looking lofty and noble up on his pedestal to the spitting image of a deformed mummy. And just in case that's not sufficient, Tommy will have company -- a guard stationed 24 hours a day to protect him from the enemy.
And now, emboldened by my rising fame and growing international recognition, I'm going to come clean.
Here's my skeleton: My parents are Bruins.
Yes, both of them. And I've got to hand it to them, they did their best to brainwash me. Not a year went by when I wasn't brought to UCLA's campus, and if you check their cars, you'll be sure to find an alumni license-plate frame. My dad gets a euphoric smile when Pauley Pavilion is mentioned, and Westwood makes my mom glow with happiness.
And while I'm exposing my own background, I might as well expose theirs.
They weren't always model Bruins. Back in the '70s, they were both fine-arts majors, had long hair and worshipped The Clash. We have a huge stack of my parents' artwork from "the time of their lives" in our garage. They've always said the reason they don't display their pieces throughout the house is that they don't complement our home decor.
I have reasons to suspect otherwise.
When I first announced that I was applying to USC, they didn't believe me. Later, when I asked for a check for my application, things got interesting. My dad took the classic path, telling me about his amazing undergrad experience with renewed fervor. My mom was a bit more irked, muttering something about how 18 hours of screaming obscenities at an innocent doctor hadn't been worth it.
I got the check on the last day possible.
When I was accepted at USC and then decided to attend, I watched with amusement their inner struggle. Ever the supportive parents, they tried to understand and be enthusiastic, despite my mother's announcement that it hurt her heart to pay tuition to "that school."
A year and half later, I have pretty much lured them over to the dark side. To date, they have attended two football games and get a kick out of yelling "Fight On!" as a greeting to me. They are still wary of Trojan gear, though, resolutely refusing to wear clothing labeled "USC DAD" or "USC MOM."
However, they did watch every second of the game against Fresno State and called me right after.
The elation in their voices almost made me cry.
With a mere 12 miles separating the two schools, tensions are bound to result in strife. But I think we can all be mature enough to admit one thing: In the most secret recesses of our cardinal-and-gold or blue-and-yellow hearts, we cherish the secret hope that maybe someday we'll turn someone to our side.
I figure I'm ahead of the game. At 19, I've already got two at least partially under my belt.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Erica Lucero, a sophomore at Southern California, is writing updates from campus this season as the Trojans attempt to win their third consecutive national championship.