Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Game for the Ages


THERE are days when there's nothing finer than to live in Southern California.

0ne of those days was Saturday in Pasadena.

On a sparkling clear day with the San Gabriel Mountains awash in sunlight, on an afternoon of high definition hues and images, UCLA and USC engaged in a football game for the ages.

UCLA won but that's only part of the story.

If you were lucky enough to be there, you participated in one of the great traditions our area has to offer.

The Bruins and Trojans have been engaged in unique combat for more than 75 years. No other city in the U.S. features two major universities a scant 10 miles apart who compete at a championship level.

The fans, athletes, coaches and alums rub elbows throughout the year, ratcheting up the intensity level. Families, friends and neighbors are united. And divided. Bets are made. Barbs are exchanged.

Thousands have participated, millions have lived and died with the result.

For awhile, I feared it might fade away.

USC had assembled a football juggernaut at the same time UCLA was going through a down period.

Last year, USC won by 47 points, their seventh win in a row. So dominating were the Trojans that it appeared their game with the Bruins had become an afterthought. Indeed, many at USC consider Notre Dame their biggest rival.

Over at UCLA, the basketball team has been the dominate force in that sport for years, which tended to cool the rivalry. Football fans in Westwood had become downright fatalistic about their prospects, tired of being a lightweight in a heavyweight fight even though it wasn't too long ago the Bruins had won eight times in a row.

Would success breed failure? Would dominance doom the rivalry?

Those issues were put to rest Saturday with a UCLA win that restored some of the luster to the Bruin program while knocking the Trojans out of the national championship game.

People laughed, people cried. It was theater on a grand scale, played out on the grand stage of the Rose Bowl.

But more importantly, it gave the rivalry a needed shot in the arm. Revenge will do that.

And it's a good thing. Because this is Americana at its best. And because no matter what side you're on, for one afternoon a year, it brings us all together.

Meanwhile, somewhere on Monday, a USC alum found his office filled with blue and gold balloons. Somewhere, an SC alum had to pick up the dinner tab. Somewhere, an SC backer was forced to wear a UCLA shirt after losing a bet. And somewhere, a UCLA fan is ordering Christmas cards inscribed, "UCLA 13, USC 9. Happy Holidays."

Long live the Bruins. Long live the Trojans. And the games they play.

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