Saturday, November 20, 1993.
It was, as usually the case, a pretty big day for those in the greater Los Angeles area who were students, fans, or alumni of the two biggest colleges in town – UCLA and the University of Southern California – because for the 63rd time, the football teams from those schools would play a game to determine who would participate in one of college football’s most prestigious prizes: The Rose Bowl.
John Robinson had returned to USC after a stint coaching the then-Los Angeles Rams to try and get the Trojans back on track, while Terry Donahue was in his 18th season in Westwood.
93,458 fans showed up to the newly-remodeled Coliseum to watch this showdown that bright and clear fall afternoon.
I know this because I was one of them, getting to go at almost literally the last minute when a friend had to attend a funeral and gave me his ticket at 11:00 the night before the game.
As a UCLA alum and a former member of the Bruin Marching Band, I had not been to the Coliseum since the 10-10 tie in 1989, when Alfredo Velasco’s would-have-been game-winning kick bounced off the crossbar.
I wasn’t expecting to go to the game, so I was excited but careful around that Coliseum area as Trojan fans – at least to Bruins – were (and still are) notoriously nasty, comparable to Oakland Raider fans, only with larger bank accounts in many cases.
It was fortunate that the only pre-game taunt I got was a “Get another hat, buddy!” from some alum, to which I replied, “Get a new shirt!”
I remember looking forward to being among my fellow Bruins, so you can imagine my surprise when I arrived at my seat in the upper reaches of the Coliseum, at around the 40-yard line, and found ‘SC folks sitting in the area.
It had turned out that I was in a Trojan section, and I prepared to endure a lot of taunting and other bad treatment from the fans sitting around me and the girl – not a date, by the way – that my friend was going to go to the game with as she had bought the tickets.
Indeed, I saw people who were obviously USC students drinking hard liquor that they had snuck in behind me, so I was hoping that me and my new acquaintance (I had just met this girl that morning) wouldn’t go through too much torture.
And for the game’s first 30 minutes, we didn’t as the Bruins scored two touchdowns and a field goals, completely shutting down the Trojan attack and going into the locker room with a 17-0 lead.
Which quieted the Trojans sitting around me.
Unlike the average fan, however, I was smart enough to not get too happy as I expected ‘SC to make a comeback, hearing one guy say as the Trojans came out of the tunnel, “17 points is nothing!”
That cardinal-and-gold bunch proved me right in the second half, getting two quick touchdowns to bring them to within three points before UCLA’s quarterback, Wayne Cook, threw a TD pass to Stokes.
USC then got another score, while the Bruins added a field goal to make the score 27-21.
That’s when the drama happened…
With about three minutes left Rob Johnson, who had been having a great year for the Trojans at quarterback, completed passes of 33 yards to Morton and 43 yards to Ken Grace to get his team to the two yard line real quick.
I was the only one in my section who wasn’t standing up, my head on my lap with my eyes closed as I was already figuring out how much time UCLA had to kick a field goal and win, everybody knowing that USC was going to score.
Besides, I figured the extremely loud noise coming from the Trojan faithful would give me the bad news, so I didn’t feel that I needed to see that most-likely final dagger.
A couple of minutes or so later, I noticed my acquaintance jumping up and down and screaming for joy while everyone not wearing blue and gold was very silent.
“What happened?” I asked, thinking that Johnson threw an incomplete pass or something like that.
“We intercepted the ball!!” she exclaimed.
“WHAT?!!!” I yelled, opening my eyes to see a bunch of white-jerseyed Bruins going crazy on the sideline; then I looked at the video screen to get the confirmation.
When I saw Marvin Goodwin step up in front of Tyler Cashman to pick Johnson off, like every other UCLA person I was one happy Bruin, hugging my acquaintance and immediately yelling at Cook, who was taking a series of knees to run out the clock, “Stay down! Stay down!”
As ecstatic as I was when the clock hit three zeroes, I kept it in mind to do no in-your-face trash talking whatsoever, as I was on Trojan turf and had no desire to get beaten up; I made sure that I shook hands with all the ‘SC folks in my section and say, “Good game,” feeling quite proud of my sense of good sportsmanship as the Bruins won their third in what would become a record eight-game win streak over their rivals.
The lone exception to that, I must confess, was when the video screen showed a white sweatered USC Song Girl on the sideline crying her eyes out. I yelled at the screen, “Come on, all I see is a couple of tears! Let’s see a real cry!”
I also remember running into an ex-bandmate of mine, who enthusiastically suggested that “We gotta get back in!” the UCLA band for the Rose Parade / Bowl that we just made – which of course we didn’t – and seeing a high school football player I knew who was checking out the game and considering USC for his college choice.
I said to him, in light of what had just happened on that Coliseum gridiron, ”You’re going to come to UCLA now, aren’t you?!”
Like everybody else affliated with UCLA in some form, I felt a sense of happiness and contentment as I got into my acquaintance’s car, wearing my shiny powder blue UCLA Starter jacket, and took off west on the 10 freeway toward home.
I never saw that young lady again, nor have I been to the Coliseum since that game, but two decades later – I still have the sports headlines from the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Breeze proclaiming the Bruin triumph to this day – despite the ‘SC dominance that would come later, I smile when I recall that fall afternoon.
And speaking as a Bruin alumnus, it’s my hope that history will repeat itself this coming Saturday.