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Throwback Thursday: Current events coupled with UCLA-USC football game mirror 1968 state of affairs

(Daily Bruin archive)

By Landon Goldberg

November 14, 2018 11:04 pm

Throwback Thursdays are our chance to reflect on past events on or near campus and relate them to the present day. Each week, we showcase and analyze an old article from the Daily Bruin archives in an effort to chronicle the campus’ history.

In 1968, Vietnam War protests were in full swing. For months, the Daily Bruin’s front pages were almost exclusively dedicated to covering the war and the anti-war rallies springing up on college campuses across the country.

The Nov. 20, 1968 issue of The Bruin was no different than any of the other Vietnam-focused editions of the paper at the time – except that week also happened to be Bruin Week and the lead-up to the biggest football game of the year: UCLA versus USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Fifty years later, the fall 2018 news cycle has been dominated by stories of contested midterm elections, controversial Supreme Court nominations and national tragedies, like the shooting in Thousand Oaks and the Southern California wildfires desecrating people’s homes and lives. When the UCLA-USC game kicks off Saturday, the turbulence caused by events locally and nationally will be on the minds of everyone at the Rose Bowl.

Things were much the same half a century ago. The 1968 coverage of the game included a quote by then-UCLA coach Tommy Prothro about his team’s less-than-favorable prospects against the Trojans.

“We’re not banking on an upset. … We’re going to need two things if we are going to beat ‘SC,” Prothro said. “We’ve got to have a real defense, and we’ve got to move the ball.”

The game and the spirit week leading up to it was, for the most part, overshadowed by news of the war and the violent clashes occurring between police and protesters. The front page of the Daily Bruin on Nov. 20, 1968 featured an article detailing the escalating censorship of student newspapers across the country under the guise of a crackdown on “obscenity.” In reality, it was a crackdown on students’ left-leaning politics. On the same day, the Daily Bruin Editorial Board called for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.

This year’s lead-up to the UCLA-USC game is also littered with controversies involving freedom of the press and freedom of speech. In this past week, the White House has come under fire for sharing a doctored video of an incident between CNN reporter Jim Acosta and a White House intern to support the removal of Acosta’s White House press credentials. The Daily Bruin also published an editorial this week weighing the differences between hate speech and free speech in the midst of controversial speakers visiting college campuses in the past several years and inciting protests.

The 1968 article itself mentions the 1941 game between UCLA and USC, which occurred a day before Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor. The article details how many players who participated in that game days later enlisted in the U.S. military to fight in World War II. It also stated at the 1942 game, “The Bruins beat USC 14-7. War bonds totaling $1,823,000 were sold in connection with the game.”

Bruin Week traditions remain the same from 1941 to today, with the Beat ‘SC Tailgate and Rally, which will be held Nov. 15 this year, originating in 1927 as a festive event the week leading up to the game against USC. The Victory Bell, awarded to the winner of the game, was originally donated to UCLA in 1939 to commemorate Bruin football victories. A “Blue and Gold Fashion Show” and a dance routine by a student group highlighted the 1968 rally’s festivities.

The game Saturday is sure to see drama in coach Chip Kelly’s first UCLA rivalry game and what media outlets speculate could be USC coach Clay Helton’s last. No matter what happens on the field Saturday, it’s clear the 2018 UCLA-USC game will be coupled with the social and political turbulence of the time – just like in 1968.

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Landon Goldberg
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