Saturday, November 26, 2011
USC-UCLA rivalry is beyond compare
By Arash Markazi
LOS ANGELES -- The USC-UCLA rivalry didn't mean much to me 10 years ago. I was attending USC when the Trojans beat the Bruins 27-0 at the Coliseum. It was Pete Carroll's first season at the school, and the victory gave USC a 6-5 record and a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl. The loss dropped UCLA to 6-4 and the Bruins failed to make a bowl.
As I sat in the waiting room at my doctor's office two days later, passing the time by re-reading Sunday's sports section, an older gentleman sat next to me and peeked over at the paper. He asked if I had watched the game. I said I had and mentioned something about the game being boring and not really meaning anything, considering both team's records.
"You don't get it," he said in a thick New York accent. "That game means more than records and bowl berths."
He explained how he had moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn when he was about my age, inspired after watching USC and UCLA play at the Coliseum every November before Thanksgiving. He talked about how the Bruins' blue and gold uniforms and USC's cardinal and gold uniforms radiated on his family's new color television. How happy everyone looked on a 75-degree day in the fall when he would have to shovel snow from the driveway. And how picturesque both palm tree-lined campuses looked during cut-away shots from the game.
He had no ties to the city or to either school, but the game, the scene, the color -- all of it reached out and grabbed him.
He wasn't alone. He has met several other transplants over the years that moved to Los Angeles after watching USC and UCLA play against the iconic backdrop of the Coliseum or Rose Bowl growing up.
It had the same impact on them that Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" had on writers who moved to Paris, or Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" had on hopeless romantics who moved to Rome. It was more than just a football game for them; it represented some kind of unattainable utopia rarely found in sports.
Those who live in Los Angeles understand that the city is far more than a cliché or the punch line of a joke about apathy. The USC-UCLA rivalry isn't simply a game on a warm November or December day competing for attention with a trip to the beach or a drive up to the mountains. It draws 90,000 fans even when the teams aren't playing for a bowl game, as they did last season.
Sure, I could rattle off the names of the Heisman Trophy winners, Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers who have played in this game. I could reminisce about the classic battles that would eventually decide who would go to the Rose Bowl or win a national championship. That would be easy, but it would also fail to explain what makes the USC-UCLA rivalry so special.
It's special for the exact same reason it's probably not special to those who don't live here. It's distinctly Los Angeles, and quite frankly this city isn't for everybody.
It's special because the schools aren't in different states or different cities. With apologies to Texas-Oklahoma, Florida-Georgia and Ohio State-Michigan, we see our rivals every day. We see them at home, we see them at work, we see them at school and we see them while we're stuck in traffic looking at their ugly license-plate frames.
It's the only football rivalry between two major universities in the same city.
These aren't strangers we see once a year and hate because our fathers and our father's father told us we're supposed to; it's a living, breathing rivalry we live every day. USC is less than 12 miles from UCLA and the rivalry often pits family members, friends and old teammates against one another.
If the rivalry doesn't seem as fervent as others do to those who only view it once a year, it's because we live it every day.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLA.com.