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Top 10 UCLA football vs. USC rivalry moments through the years

Pictured are print editions of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 2021 (top left), 1988 (top right), 1990 (bottom left) and 2006 (bottom right). The Trojans lead the all-time series against the Bruins, but the blue and gold earned a 62-33 victory a season ago. (Daily Bruin archive)

By Sam Settleman and Jon Christon

Nov. 17, 2022 11:37 p.m.

No. 16 UCLA football (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) will square off against No. 7 USC (9-1, 7-1) in a battle of Pac-12 powerhouses Saturday at the Rose Bowl, marking the 92nd edition of the historic rivalry. The Trojans lead the all-time head-to-head, but the Bruins represent the reigning victors after a 62-33 win in 2021. In anticipation of Saturday’s matchup, Sports Editor Sam Settleman and senior staff writer Jon Christon pick the top 10 moments in the history of the crosstown rivalry – presented in chronological order.

Dec. 9, 1939: UCLA 0, USC 0

Pictured is a Daily Bruin print edition (Daily Bruin archive)
Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1939. (Daily Bruin archive)

Perhaps no game on this list had more stakes.

With USC entering as the Pacific Coast Conference’s top dog at 5-0-1 and UCLA close behind with a 4-0-2 record, the winner of the rivalry bash was set to become the conference champion and earn an invite to the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day.

The only problem? There was no winner.

In the lowest scoring edition of the rivalry, the Bruins and Trojans tied 0-0.

With an estimated 103,000 spectators on hand, the largest crowd in “football history” at the time watched on as the offenses failed to produce any points. The massive audience did not leave empty-handed, though.

UCLA – led by two pioneering figures in Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington – was on the brink of its first victory over USC in program history.

But, with its final drive stalling at the Trojans’ two-yard line, UCLA inexplicably bypassed a field goal on fourth down. Instead, Washington heaved a pass into the corner of the end zone that was easily knocked down.

With no team outright sealing the Rose Bowl invitation, the result of the Pacific Coast Conference crown was voted on by the “conference moguls.” USC won the vote, and UCLA would have to wait until 1943 before it earned its first trip to Pasadena. – Jon Christon

Nov. 18, 1967: USC 21, UCLA 20

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin's UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1967. (Daily Bruin archive)
Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1967. (Daily Bruin archive)

Only one game in this rivalry has been dubbed “The Game of the Century.”

No. 1 versus No. 2. A Rose Bowl berth on the line. A pair of Heisman Trophy candidates going head-to-head.

In November 1967, UCLA quarterback Gary Beban was pitted against USC running back O.J. Simpson in what would become a defining moment in the history of the rivalry.

Beban, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy that year, threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to put the visiting Bruins up 20-14 after a back-and-forth battle through three quarters.

But Simpson – who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy the following season – had other plans.

Simpson took the handoff from quarterback Toby Page and burst through the hole, breaking a couple of tackles before racing down the sideline. A cut back across the middle of the field put Simpson in open space, who outran the UCLA defense en route to a 64-yard score.

The extra point split the uprights as Simpson and the Trojans rode off into the sunset. – Sam Settleman

Nov. 22, 1969: USC 14, UCLA 12

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin's UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1969. (Daily Bruin archive)
Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1969. (Daily Bruin archive)

1969 was a year of controversy in American history.

The UCLA-USC game that year only added to that description.

With yet another Rose Bowl berth on the line, it was a matchup of unbeatens at the Coliseum – and the Bruins seemingly had the advantage.

UCLA took control late in the low-scoring contest, with a touchdown putting the blue and gold up 12-7 with just over three minutes left. The Bruins had practically blanked the potent Trojan offense, with quarterback Jimmy Jones completing just 1-of-13 passes to that point.

Then came the controversy.

Though the ball sailed at least 10 feet over his head, Trojan wide receiver Sam Dickerson induced a pass interference call that put USC in favorable field position for the ensuing possession. Dickerson parlayed the penalty into the game-winning touchdown on the next play, an improbable snag in the deep corner of the end zone.

To some, Dickerson was too deep. They argue that the catch was impossible without at least some part of his body being out of bounds.

The referees, however, saw it otherwise, and USC made its fourth straight Rose Bowl game. – JC

Nov. 28, 1975: UCLA 25, USC 22

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin's UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1975. (Daily Bruin archive)
Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1975. (Daily Bruin archive)

Somehow, some way, the Bruins managed to come out on top in this pivotal battle, despite fumbling 11 times.

UCLA stood one victory away from the Rose Bowl, with a loss guaranteeing that California would get the berth and a win sending the Bruins to the big stage.

Squaring off against one of the top defenses in the nation, UCLA had little room for error on the offensive side of the ball – or so one would have thought. But despite 11 fumbles, eight of which USC recovered, the blue and gold managed to drop 414 yards of offense in a 25-22 win.

“If we fumbled the ball 11 times and still won, we must be the best team,” said UCLA quarterback John Sciarra after the game.

The victory propelled the Bruins to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 10 years, where a rematch awaited with an Ohio State team that had beat UCLA 41-20 earlier that season. The Bruins eventually got their revenge over the Buckeyes, with their win over the Trojans to thank. – SS

Nov. 19, 1988: USC 31, UCLA 22

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1988. (Daily Bruin archive)

Michael Jordan had the “Flu Game.”

Rodney Peete, on the other hand, had the “Measles Game.”

Nobody expected the USC quarterback, and eventual Heisman Trophy runner-up, to play. He was hospitalized the week leading up to the game with Rubeola and did not practice the days before. Some say Peete was so ill he couldn’t even converse with his teammates – with his doctor saying he would get “creamed” if he played.

This made it all the more exciting when Peete stepped on the Coliseum turf for the Trojans’ first possession.

But Peete did more than step on the field. He went head-to-head with UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman, ultimately besting the Bruin legend to win 32-21. The victory preserved USC’s national championship hopes and set up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown with Notre Dame the following week.

Peete’s numbers may not jump off the page, but nobody could have replicated what he did on that field.

“It was a superhuman effort,” said USC coach Larry Smith. – JC

Nov. 17, 1990: USC 45, UCLA 42

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin's UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1990. (Daily Bruin archive)
Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1990. (Daily Bruin archive)

With less than a minute to play, UCLA held a 42-38 lead.

In their regular-season finale, the 5-5 Bruins had one last chance to make a statement in an otherwise lost season. But the 7-2-1 Trojans stood in their way.

UCLA quarterback Tommy Maddox had seemingly made the statement, throwing for a then-program-best 409 yards as the Bruins had put up 21 points in the fourth quarter to reclaim the lead over USC.

But Maddox’s potential game-winning drive had left over a minute on the clock for USC and quarterback Todd Marinovich. Marching down the field, Marinovich set up the Trojans in striking distance with 26 seconds to play.

Marinovich dropped back to pass as a UCLA rusher closed in on him, but the USC quarterback just barely fired a strike past the Bruin defender. Just like that, a diving grab by wide receiver Johnnie Morton in the end zone had officially put the Trojans back on top.

The Coliseum fell into pandemonium as USC claimed its last win before UCLA rattled off eight consecutive victories in the rivalry. – SS

Nov. 23, 1996: UCLA 48, USC 41

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin's UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1996. (Daily Bruin archive)
Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 1996. (Daily Bruin archive)

In the context of this rivalry, the 1996 showdown was relatively low stakes.

There were no undefeated records. No Heisman Trophy winners. No Rose Bowls on the line. In fact, neither team finished the season with a record above .500.

But the fact that each team was so thoroughly underwhelming made for a relatively even matchup between the two schools.

In what is still the only overtime contest in the history of the rivalry, UCLA overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 48-41 in double overtime.

Running back Skip Hicks, still the Bruins’ all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, capped off the three-score comeback with an 11-yard touchdown with less than a minute remaining. The score punctuated 17 straight points for UCLA and forced an extra period.

Hicks once again played hero on the first play of the second extra period, finding paydirt on a 25-yard run that ultimately won the game for the Bruins.

Though little was at stake, the game was the most dramatic in a long history of drama between the two Los Angeles schools. – JC

Dec. 3, 2005: USC 66, UCLA 19

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin's UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 2005. (Daily Bruin archive)
Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 2005. (Daily Bruin archive)

Vacated or not, the 2005 bout between the Bruins and Trojans was among the most-anticipated matchups ever between the crosstown rivals.

USC was 11-0 and one win away from playing for a second consecutive national championship, but in its way was a formidable UCLA squad that entered the afternoon sporting a 10-1 record of its own.

Unfortunately for the 92,000 fans who packed the Coliseum that Saturday afternoon in 2005, this one didn’t live up to its billing.

The Bruins were blanked in the first quarter as the Trojans jumped out to a 10-0 lead. By halftime, USC had built a 31-6 advantage. And by the time the third quarter came to a close, the home team led 52-6.

Heisman Trophy winner running back Reggie Bush, who had won two national championships with the Trojans in his first two years, led the charge for USC. Bush wound up running for 260 yards on nearly 11 yards per carry as the Trojans dominated in all aspects of the game.

Ultimately, the Trojans’ title in 2004 and all of its wins in 2005 would be vacated because Bush received improper benefits during his time with USC. But there’s no erasing what the Trojans did to the Bruins that year. – SS

Dec. 2, 2006: UCLA 13, USC 9

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin's UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 2006. (Daily Bruin archive)
Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 2006. (Daily Bruin archive)

USC was out for revenge in 2006.

Coming off one of the most heartbreaking national championship losses in modern history, the Trojans reached the rivalry matchup the next season with a 10-1 record and a 19.1-point average margin of victory in their wins.

The only thing stopping USC from another crack at a BCS title was a lowly 6-5 UCLA team, which was riding a seven-game losing streak to the Trojans and sporting a backup quarterback.

Suffice to say, people were already penning a No. 2 USC vs. No. 1 Ohio State championship matchup.

But, emulating the great Lee Corso, the Bruins had a message for their crosstown rivals: “Not so fast!”

In arguably the greatest upset in the history of the rivalry, UCLA took down USC 13-9. After giving up 66 points the prior year in a near 50-point loss, the Bruins’ defense stifled a potent Pete Carroll offense led by quarterback John David Booty. UCLA’s backup signal-caller Patrick Cowan outdueled the future NFL quarterback, with Booty throwing a game-ending interception to seal his team’s fate late in the fourth quarter.

While the Rose Bowl historically has been the end goal for the two rivals, the “Granddaddy of Them All” was merely a consolation prize for the Trojans in 2006. – JC

Nov. 20, 2021: UCLA 62, USC 33

Pictured is a print edition of the Daily Bruin’s UCLA vs. USC football coverage from 2021. (Daily Bruin archive)

Unlike most of the matchups on this list, the 2021 edition of the crosstown rivalry was more for bragging rights than anything else.

The 6-4 Bruins and the 4-5 Trojans, who fired their coach during this season, had little to play for. But the right to take home the Victory Bell proved to be motivation enough.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, in three years with the program, had never beaten USC. The Bruins had conquered the Trojans during his freshman season in 2018, but the signal-caller didn’t suit up for that bout.

So in 2021, with nothing to play for except pride, Thompson-Robinson gave UCLA fans every reason to be proud.

A hurdle into the end zone highlighted a six-touchdown day at the Coliseum for the veteran quarterback, who left no doubt as to who ran LA that year.

The 62 points put up by the Bruins marked the most ever by UCLA in the history of the rivalry.

“It means everything to this program (and) to everyone in the Bruin community,” said defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight. “We celebrated this like never before.” – SS

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Sam Settleman | Sports editor
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Settleman is currently the Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and gymnastics beats. He was previously an assistant editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.
Jon Christon | Sports senior staff
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
Christon is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously the Sports editor on the men's basketball and football beats and the assistant Sports editor on the women's basketball, softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats. Christon was previously a contributor on the women's basketball and softball beats.
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