The UCLA and USC Bands: A Tale of Crosstown Hatred


For over 80 years, UCLA and the University of Southern California have had one of the most storied rivalries in sports.

Being that the schools are just over 10 miles apart, it’s inevitable that they would be intense foes, and not just on the gridiron or the basketball court.

The real animosity in this crosstown war, however, lies not so much with the athletes, though the battles between the Bruins and the Trojans on the playing fields have often been epic.

If you want to see some real hatred in this rivalry, look no further than the two marching bands, UCLA’s “Solid Gold Sound” and USC’s “Spirit Of Troy.”

Since I am a former member of the Bruin Marching Band, I know firsthand that this tension between the groups is on a level so pronounced, many people find it hard to believe.

It’s a hatred perpetuated mostly by the Trojan Marching Band, or “TMB;” the proverbial bullies on the grade school playground, taking lunch money from five-year-olds and laughing at their sobs.

These Trojan musicians are the wolves to UCLA’s lambs.

The Capulets to UCLA’s Montagues.

The Confederacy to UCLA’s Union.

The Hatfields to UCLA’s McCoys.

If this was Harry Potter’s wizarding world, this sunglasses-wearing, fuzzy-helmeted bunch would be Lord Voldemort’s Death Eaters, with their skirted drum major being the Dark Lord himself.

Perhaps this quote from Jason Mangan, the Trojan band manager in 2000, will paint a clear picture of the TMB’s attitude towards their Bruin counterparts:

“…arrogance is part of the image that we exude. We definitely taunt (the UCLA band) more than they taunt us. We’re very hardcore, and we think they’re big whiners.”

Damien Graham, a USC band assistant in 2003, is more blunt in assessing the Spirit of Troy’s feelings toward UCLA’s marching Bruins:

“There is no interaction. There are no friendships. We don’t like them.”

I’ll say this for him—at least he is honest.

Throughout the decades, nearly every encounter the USC band has had with Westwood’s blue and gold-clad horn players has been punctuated by obscene gestures, vile cursing, and obnoxious taunting. It has truly been a miracle of God that these two bands have never gotten into a full-scale brawl.

Gordon Henderson, UCLA’s band director, and his USC counterpart Arthur C. Bartner, much to their credit, have done much to keep their groups as far away from each other as possible at the annual football game, as well as all other events where the Bruins and Trojans get together.

Otherwise a fight on the level of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart may well ensue.

This hatred particularly manifested itself in an event called the Band Bowl, a flag football game between members of the two bands that was usually played on the Sunday before the main clash.

Broken limbs and noses, torn knees, dirty play and fisticuffs, mostly instigated by USC, were commonplace in this series, which began in the 1950’s.

I should know—I was involved in two of these Band Bowls while a student at UCLA in the late 1980’s. I personally saw drunken Trojan band members scream vile obscenities in our flute players’ faces, and I was once the target of TMB abuse at a women’s basketball game.

Indeed, these marching Trojans revel in their evilness; as one of their members stated, “When we taunt and yell…we are doing it to have fun.”

If that doesn’t illustrate what obnoxious bullies the USC band members are, maybe this incident will…

It happened during the 2000 Band Bowl on USC’s campus, which ultimately killed the series for good.

During the game, UCLA’s instrument and equipment truck, which was parked nearby, was broken into and more than $30,000 worth of instruments, uniforms, and equipment were stolen.

Though most of the stuff was found at an off-campus apartment complex the next day, what was found on a tenor saxophone case was the absolute last straw.

On the instument case, a sticker with Hebrew letters was torn off and a “Stop Hate” Sticker was also ripped. In their place, scrawled in black marker, was the word “Jew.”

The worst part about this hate crime—and that’s what it was, despite the police declaring otherwise—was that Graham, the same band assistant who so blatantly stated his dislike of the Bruin band, claimed that UCLA left their truck unlocked and, “They brought it on themselves.”

Even though there was a broken lock at the scene.

To this day, no one has been arrested for this heinous and bigoted act.

The Band Bowl was cancelled the next year when fearing retaliation, the Trojan band refused to go to the UCLA campus. Considering the bitterness, that was probably a smart move.

Members of the USC band will claim that the taunting is mutual and that UCLA has done its share.

Indeed, Bruin band members, like other Bruin fans, have waved dollar bills and credit cards at the TMB, as well as perform a “Downfall Of Troy” halftime show every four years, depicting the ancient Greeks’ triumph in the Trojan war by outsmarting the people of Troy with that horse.

But compared to the evil deeds of the Spirit Of Troy, what the Solid Gold Sound has done has been akin to fighting bombs, bazookas, and AK-47s with pea shooters.

It is quite sad, really. When Rodney King asked if we can’t all just get along, it was clear that the Trojan Marching Band turned a deaf ear.

I never knew that people could be so proud of being so rude, arrogant, obnoxious, and mean until I joined the UCLA band and encountered that TMB. It’s like once they become Trojan Band members, they are required to forget everything they were taught as kids about sportsmanship, kindness, and goodwill.

As Henderson, the Bruin band director, has said, it is what it is.

This animosity will undoubtedly continue between the UCLA and USC bands, sorry to say.

Largely thanks to the people in charge keeping the groups apart at the football games and not going onto the opposing campus for other sporting events, the interactions have been reduced to a minimum.

Which is a good thing; the hatred between the Bruin and Trojan horn players has become a cold war, one that is probably best for everyone involved.

Here’s hoping that it stays that way.