Like last week’s Throwback Thursday, the most dramatic moment between USC and Cal came at USC’s expense, with the Golden Bears besting the Trojans in spectacular fashion. It was a game brimming with action from start to finish that culminated in overtime, and the victory was delivered on the foot of a kicker who had seen his two previous attempts blocked. Probably one of the most clutch moments in California Golden Bears history, the 2003 contest against the then-No. 1 USC Trojans. It’s fitting that USC will face Cal this week in a game that will once again have a hand in determining the Trojans’ postseason fate.
Back in 2003, USC’s Matt Leinart and Cal’s Aaron Rodgers were going about making themselves household names, and they will both likely look back on this game later in life as one of the greatest from their college years. From the get-go, Cal hit USC with its best shot, and the top-ranked Trojans never established a commanding presence in this game. The Bears lead the entire time, even jumping to a 14-point lead in the second quarter. The Trojans came into this game the heavy favorite, but the Bears somehow reduced USC to a completely one-dimensional offense. The Trojans did answer after the Bears scored, scoring twice themselves in the third quarter. The first came courtesy of Lendale While on a six-yard run, and the second—a 26-yard run back to the house when Lofa Tatupu picked off Rodgers—really energized the Trojans and their crowd.
To make matters worse for Cal, the Trojan special teams made themselves the heroes when they blocked kicker Tyler Frederickson’s two game-winning field goal attempts in the fourth quarter. The Trojans remembered who they were, and they forced the game to overtime.
The Bears decided who they were though, and instead of conceding the victory they stole it from USC in triple-overtime. With ice in his veins and the team on his back, Frederickson again took the field tasked with putting the game away. If he faltered, no one would have been surprised. Instead, he entered himself into the League of the Clutch, placed the ball right through the uprights and caused pandemonium at Memorial Stadium.
The unranked California Golden Bears just knocked off the No. 1 Trojans. It was their first victory over a ranked opponent since 1975, when they beat, naturally, the Trojans 28-14. Matt Leinart ended the day 277 yards and three touchdowns, but Aaron Rodgers (217 yards, two touchdowns) and his Bears would be the story of the week.
At the time, it seemed as if all was lost for USC; that the Trojans would crumble miserably after losing to the lowly Bears. We know now that the Trojans won out the season, crushing every other opponent that season by no less than 23 points each contest. They took on Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and beat the Wolverines 28-14. By the end of the season, the Trojans had left no doubt.
It is exactly that mentality that this years’ Trojans need to have after last weeks stunning loss to Stanford. Cal has been less fortunate against ‘SC since 2003, and the Trojans need to do their part to remind the Bears exactly why that is. If this team plays with that anger and fury that Leinart’s team played with, they can use this game to propel themselves back into national title talks. And if they are successful, the 2003 contest will be the only thing the Bears have to talk about when they discuss wins over USC.