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Thursday, June 23, 2011
For former players, L.A. rivalry lives on

By Pedro Moura
Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- On June 6, the Trojan Football Alumni Club hosted its 43rd annual charity golf tournament, conveniently located at the golf course in Pasadena that's famously used as a parking lot for the Rose Bowl during football season.

A number of former Trojans from both recent and long-ago squads participated in the fundraising festivities, including former USC linebacker Keith Rivers, now with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals.

Rivers had an entirely positive experience, save for one thing: Immediately upon stepping into the Brookside clubhouse to sign in on the morning of the tourney, he noticed a commemorative plaque on the walls with a picture of the UCLA football team.

It read, 13-9.

Rivers seethed, remembering the December 2006 night when the unranked Bruins topped then-No. 2 USC by that score at the Rose Bowl in one of the bigger upsets of the past five seasons.

"They took us away from the national championship game," he says now, with not a hint of over-it in his voice.

They sure did. The Trojans were just one touchdown away from meeting Ohio State in the title game that season. Rivers was a junior then, and, in his four seasons at USC, he beat the Bruins three out of four tries. He also lost just five total games as a Trojan, won a national title and earned first-team All-American honors his senior season.

Yet that loss to the Bruins still stands out to him, and that's USC-UCLA for you.

"It's everything," Rivers, 25, said last week of the long-standing rivalry between the two Los Angeles schools located just 15 miles apart. "You throw the records out the door and you just play, no matter the situation."

The history and, indeed, animosity between the schools has developed over the years with memorable moments, including the 1967 "Game of the Century," the 1996 double-overtime thriller and the 1986 fake Hail Mary game. They all contribute to the lore of the annual USC-UCLA game -- as does the fact that the schools are just so darn close to each other, sparking all kinds of inter-rivalry connections.

"Most of these guys grew up playing against each other all their lives," said Rivers, who lived in San Bernardino for part of his childhood but went to high school in a suburb of Orlando, Fla. "Some guys went to USC, some guys went to UCLA. So, yeah, for the next year after the fact, you go to each other's house and you talk crap to each other nonstop."

How does that trash-talking and home-visiting compare to the other ballyhooed rivalries in the country, in Rivers' opinion?

Favorably, he says.

"There's kind of an East Coast bias and it doesn't get the amount of love that it should, but it's definitely up there, if not better than, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, the Florida-Florida State rivalry," Rivers said. "It's just like those teams. It's no holds barred when it comes to USC and UCLA."

No holds barred, meaning that Rivers isn't afraid to call the recent history between the teams "very lopsided," in USC's favor. He does that -- twice -- and smiles big each time, reminding those listening that the Trojans have won 11 of the past 12 matchups.

And, in true Trojans fashion, he brings up the plaque again, indirectly.

"We're two schools that are located less than 20 miles apart," Rivers says. "It's important to own the city of L.A. -- and the Rose Bowl.

"Definitely the Rose Bowl."

Pedro Moura is co-author of the USC blog on ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.