USC/UCLA Rivalry: A History


In Los Angeles, red and blue color lines divide the city, but it has nothing to do with gang affiliation and everything to do with a long, bitter rivalry between to institutions of higher education. The campuses are only 12 miles apart, making it nearly impossible to avoid each other. As a result, the hatred stews a little more every day, when Trojans see Bruins license plate frames on their morning commute, and when Bruins see degrees from USC on their employers’ walls. Because of this closeness in proximity, the USC/UCLA rivalry is one of most intense across the NCAA landscape.

The two schools not only fight for street cred, but they fight for the Lexus Gauntlet and the Victory Bell. Until Lexus pulled out as a sponsor in 2009, the Gauntlet was a competition between the two schools, for the 18 sports that they compete head-to-head in. The team with the most wins won the trophy, which looks like a giant silver glove. UCLA won in 2003, 2005, and 2007, and USC in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009, the first back-to-back win between the schools. 

Now, the Victory Bell has an even more fun history behind it. The bell came from an old Southern Pacific Railroad train, and was given to the UCLA student body by their alumni association. For two years, it was UCLA’s symbol of victory. Then the Trojan Knights, USC’s premiere all-male service and spirit organization, decided since the Bruins aren’t victorious at like, anything, that they had no business possessing a symbol of such things.So in 1941, they straight up stole that sucker.After hiding it and creating a massive prank war the following year, the two schools decided that the Victory Bell would be the trophy given to the winner of the annual football match up. From 1999 to 2010, the Trojan Knights have triumphantly possessed the bell for 11 of 12 years, ringing that bad boy proudly before the team takes the field.Tomorrow, for the 82nd time, the Trojans and Bruins will square off and battle for bragging rights. In honor of that, let’s take a look at this rivalry from its inception until today.Often in the history of the rivalry, the winner of this game has gone on to win the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) conference title. Since 1916, USC has won or shared the title 37 times and UCLA only 17. In 1959, the Pac-10 was formed as the Athletic Association of Western Universities, making it a part of the NCAA. From then until 2007, the two schools have won 33 of 48 conference titles. USC has won 17 outright, shared eight, and has gone to the Rose Bowl or a BCS Bowl 21 times. UCLA on the other hand has won six outright, shared five, and gone to the Rose Bowl eight times.So clearly, USC has always been the big brother of the two.

USC Trojan breaking a gang of Bruin Tackles

In fact, USC was so much better than UCLA in the early days of the rivalry that the series was suspended for five years from 1931 to 1935—just two seasons after it started—so that UCLA could establish itself. So what I’m saying is that UCLA used to suck so much that they had to call a five year time out so that they could suck a little less and still get beat up on by the Trojans regularly.I guess that’s what happens when you bRuin your life.

To their credit though, they did produce some super stars in the 1930s like Kenny Washington, Jackie Robinson (yeah, THAT Jackie Robinson) and Bob Waterfield. UCLA also had a legendary Hall of Fame coach Henry “Red” Sanders who coached UCLA to its one and only national title, in 1954. Regarding the rivalry, Sanders is quoted saying, “Beating USC is not matter of life and death; it’s more important than that.”After Sanders died of suddenly of a massive heart attack, across town, USC was busy getting John McKay to take on the role of head coach for the Trojans. Without Sanders, UCLA stood NO chance against the reign of greatness that was about become USC football.Under McKay, the Trojans won eight conference titles, five Rose Bowls, and three national titles, produced two Heisman Trophy winners in Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson, and posted a 10-5 record against UCLA between 1960 and 1975.To be fair, it should be noted that during this time UCLA was pretty good at football, just not against the Trojans. From the mid-60s to the end of the ‘70s, both schools were West Coast powerhouses, with USC usually claiming the top spot. In the 15 Rose Bowls from 1960 to 1988, the Trojans or the Bruins played in 12 of them.

Trojans and Bruins rumble before kickoff

In the 1990s, UCLA got extremely lucky as this time period featured some of the worst years in USC history, and went on an unprecedented eight-game winning streak. But then, just UCLA thought the clouds were breaking and that God was on their side, the Trojans landed Pete Carroll as their head coach, and the rest is history.USC was virtually unbeatable during this time period, except for a fluke lost in 2006 to the Bruins, 13-9. This loss had to be the most painful in the history of the rivalry, as it was the last game in the regular season, and the last game before USC would undoubtedly go on to play in and win the national title. The Bruins decided to be clutch for once in their lives at the most inopportune moment—to the Trojans anyway—and shattered USC’s title hopes. They went on to win the Rose Bowl, but I don’t think there is a single Trojan fan out there that still isn’t bitter about that loss. So that brings us to today, where the Bruins remembered that they suck, and are even less than the poor man’s USC. To call them that would be giving the program too much credit. They have been all kinds of synonyms for God-awful under Nueheisel, which has turned the rivalry from something that used to be competitive into something that is another excuse for USC students to claim superiority over Bruins.


To go along with the rivalry, students have gotten creative with their insults. Here are a few of my personal favorites:“Don’t bRUIN your life!”“You can’t spell S-U-C-K without U-S-C!”“You can’t spell U-N-A-T-H-L-E-T-I-C without U-C-L-A!”UCLA students like to spell USC like “U$C”, a nod to the university’s pricey tuition, to which the Trojan students respond, “U¢LA: You get what you pay for.”Both schools also like to play off the other school’s letters to come up with things like, “University of Spoiled Children”, “University of Saving Criminals” (a nod to O.J. Simpson), “University of Second Choice”, and “U Can’t Learn Anything (a nod to the fact that one is not guaranteed classes at UCLA, which is a state-funded school), and “U Chumps Lost Again.”So come Saturday night after trading insults and jabs about bowl bans, the Trojans and Bruins will put on another great show for their fans. In the Coliseum—where insults count for nothing—the only thing that will matter is what the scoreboard reads when the final second ticks of the clock in the fourth quarter.When it does, the Trojan Knights will hold on to the Victory Bell once more and it will sound throughout all of Los Angeles, reminding everyone that at least for another year that when asked the question, “Who runs this town?”, the answer is, “the USC Trojans.”

For me, this game has even more significance because it is not only my last rivalry game, but it is also my last USC game as a student. As sad as I am to see the sun set on my college football years, I cannot wait to see the Trojans wax the floor with the Bruins to record a 4-0 record for my time at SC.

It’s gonna be GREAT.