In run-up to UCLA-USC matchup, iconic rivalry week traditions bring thrills
Joe and Josie Bruin stand at the back of the end zone before a game. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Nov. 15, 2023 2:26 p.m.
In the days leading up to the crosstown rivalry game, many traditions manifest themselves – ones that have been deep-rooted into the histories of UCLA and USC.
From the Victory Bell to the home jerseys worn by both teams to the taping off of iconic statues to prevent student vandalism, the intense clash between the institutions runs far beyond the 60 minutes on the field.
For many players on the field, the rivalry and all that comes with it is something that has existed in their minds for much longer than their time in the jersey. Redshirt senior wide receiver Josiah Norwood – who is heading into his sixth rivalry matchup – said he recalls watching the games while growing up.
“I’ve been to a lot of USC-UCLA games growing up, so this is – it’s really surreal for me,” Norwood said. “Just growing throughout the years, going back and forth with them. It’s been awesome.”
Saturday itself brings excitement and anticipation alike, but it’s the surrounding history – cemented in decades worth of rivalry contests, traded bells and prank battles – that also contributes to the allure of the week.
Senior linebacker Kain Medrano said beyond the traditions, this game in particular is bigger for the team.
“It’s for something,” Medrano said. “It’s for the city of LA, and that’s what we’re playing for right now.”
The rivalry matchup – which is sometimes referred to as the “Battle for Los Angeles” – doesn’t give out a trophy, but there is a certain prize won by the victor that is a large tradition between the two programs: the Victory Bell.
The bell, which was gifted by the UCLA Alumni Association in 1939, quickly became a source of bragging rights for the school, as the cheer squad would ring it after scoring.
That is, until the Trojans stole the bell from the Bruins in 1941.
Thus began the famous tradition of the bell swapping between the winner of the rivalry contest. The bell would subsequently be painted with the winning school’s iconic primary color and remain in its custody until the other university mustered the ability to win it back.
USC currently holds the bell, having stolen it back from UCLA in 2022.
Redshirt senior defensive lineman Carl Jones Jr. said the team has its eyes on the prize, which to him is both the victory this week and returning the symbolic bell to its original resting place.
“It’s, once again, the team across town,” Jones said. “They got the bell, so we’ll get that bell back.”
Typically at a college football game, the home opponents wear their dominant school color and the opposing side wears white.
But for the USC-UCLA rivalry, the two schools have a longstanding trend of each wearing their home jerseys, regardless of where the game is played. For the Bruins, it’s the classic blue and gold, and for the Trojans, it’s the stark cardinal and gold.
The tradition originally began when the two schools shared the LA Memorial Coliseum for their football games and therefore both wore their respective home jerseys.
The tradition dissipated when UCLA began competing in the Rose Bowl in 1982, and USC wore its white jerseys for the game. In the ensuing decades, a new NCAA rule came to be that mandated white jerseys must be worn by the visiting team.
Once then-USC head coach Pete Carroll got word of this history in 2008, he decided to go against the rule, and, with UCLA’s permission, both teams wore their home jerseys. Carroll was subsequently required to forfeit a timeout for wearing the wrong jersey, to which then-UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel voluntarily called a timeout of his own.
In 2009, the rule was changed to allow both schools to wear their home uniforms, and the tradition has persisted ever since, allowing the Bruins and the Trojans to go head-to-head on the field each year.
Since the famous heist of the Victory Bell in 1941, many pranks have been exchanged between the two schools amid rivalry week.
In two specific instances – 2009 and 2014 – USC students snuck onto UCLA’s campus to paint the Bruin Bear statue in Bruin Plaza. Since these events, and the subsequent pricy cleanup, UCLA has elected to cover the statues during the week, most times with a box that surrounds the entire bear.
This year, however, throughout the course of the weeks leading up to the game, UCLA has placed both tape and bubble wrap all around the iconic structure, protecting the sanctity of the mascot.
Norwood said the dynamic of the entire week that persists beyond the gridiron drives the team.
“It’s just always great to play that team and the energy that brings for that week and everything that comes with it,” Norwood said. “They beat us last year, obviously, so we’re trying to get the bell back this week and just handle our business.”