While the Giants try to beat L.A. (actually Anaheim, but I'm sure you catch my drift), there's another NoCal-SoCal matchup that I'm infinitely more interested in. This weekend Stanford faces the UCLA Bruins in the Card's annual trek down south.
Yes, it's time once again for Cardinalmaniacs to weave through the windmills of the Altamont Pass, hook a right onto I-5, pass through some interesting burghs like Los Banos, Buttonwillow, and Shafter, ascend through the Grapevine, and descend through the San Gabriels and into that city of angels, Los Angeles.
Ahh, yes. Los Angeles. It's one of my least favorite cities on the planet, right down there with Houston, Miami, and Del City, Oklahoma. If you're flying into town, the tone is set as soon as you start descending through that big, brown cloud on your way into LAX. And when you pass over the Coliseum, that U$C song pops into your head and you can't get it out no matter how hard you try, even when the landing tries to jolt you back to sanity.
You spend an ungodly amount of time sitting on the 405, also known as the world's longest parking lot. Or the 10, which is also known as the Road to Nowhere. Or on Wilshire, on which it is apparently illegal to not talk on your cell phone while driving. Or on Crenshaw, which is also known as Oh-My-God-I-Need-To-Get-Out-Of-South-Central-Before-Someone-Tries-To-Carjack-Me-Where's-The-Nearest-Freeway Boulevard. I look forward to driving in L.A. like I'm looking forward to reporting for jury duty next week.
But just because I can't stand Los Angeles, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy myself when I'm there. I look at L.A. like I look at Las Vegas and New Orleans; I have a great time when I'm there, but I'm never sorry to leave (speaking of New Orleans, I know how unlikely this would be, but can I please see Stanford in the Sugar Bowl just once before I die?). A trip to the Big Easy is an assault on the liver (and the nose…have you ever smelled that town?), and after 48 hours of Vegas I can't stand to hear the incessant ding-ding-ding-ding-ding of the slot machines. Great places to visit. For about two days.
And just because I loathe L.A., that doesn't mean that there isn't anything recommendable about the place. In fact, if I had to make up a short visitor's guide to Los Angeles, it would look like this…
IF YOU'RE DRIVING…
…hands on the wheel at two and ten, first of all. Second, make a pit stop at the A&W Root Beer restaurant which is hidden in a truck stop in Buttonwillow. Third, do not get caught doing 115 down I-5. It's not worth it.
IF YOU'RE FLYING…
…fly into LAX. It's big and it can be messy, but it's the best way to go. Oh sure, you could fly into Burbank, but I wouldn't recommend it at all. Since the airport is in the middle of the city and surrounded by mountain ranges on all four sides, your airplane has to nosedive its way into the final approach. And since it is late October, that means it is prime Santa Ana wind time. This was the scenario that faced us on the Stanford football charter to the UCLA game in 1996, and I'll just say that while I'm not afraid to fly at all, I did think a lot about life on that descent into Burbank. Turbulent nosedives are not my idea of a good time in the friendly skies. And then when you land in Burbank, you notice that right at the end of the runway and across the street is a Chevron station. What the…?
Just fly into LAX. Trust me.
PLACES TO SEE
The Rose Bowl. Really there should be only one must-see place on your schedule this weekend, and that's the Rose Bowl at 3:30p this Saturday. There's something about the Rose Bowl that makes every game played there a little bit more special. And why not, with all the history in that place? 80 Rose Bowl games. Five Super Bowls. A host of big U$C-UCLA matchups. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of a Sun Devil Stadium or an Autzen Stadium, but it doesn't really need any of them. There may be better facilities, but the Rose Bowl is the best stadium in the Pac-10. Period.
NEIGHBORHOODS TO HANG OUT IN
Westwood. UCLA's home turf is actually a very likable neighborhood that would make for a very nice college town if it wasn't in the middle of one of the biggest metropolises on the planet. But I noticed the oddest thing…for some reason a few years ago it was a bit difficult to find handicapped parking spots anywhere in the area…
Marina del Rey. Great location right by the airport and right by the beach. A huge shopping center that seems to get bigger every time I go down there. Great weather every day. One of the few pockets of L.A. that I can actually stand…
Pasadena. A nice little suburban town with a lively old-school style downtown. Nice houses, beautiful scenery. Plus, it's the home of the aforementioned Rose Bowl. 'Nuff said.
South Central. Umm….no. Just keep driving. The only time you'll see me in South Central is if Stanford's playing U$C. And trust me, as soon as the game is over, I'm making a quick exit. The only reason you should end up in this area this weekend is if you're heading up the 110 to Pasadena.
THINGS TO WATCH/LISTEN TO
LA TV news coverage. It's so bad it's good. Or, at the very least, entertaining. The latest celebrity plastic surgeries are reported side by side with the latest developments in Iraq. And if you should happen to be in L.A. on a rainy day, make a beeline to the nearest local newscast. Trust me. You will not believe your eyes. While our Bay Area local newscasts won't be confused with "60 Minutes" every night, they certainly won't be confused with "A Current Affair," either. Can't say the same down in La-La Land.
"Hacksaw" Hamilton. Yes, XTRA 690 is a San Diego station, but their sphere of influence extends throughout Southern California as the region's biggest sportsradio station. And the centerpiece of their programming is the Hacksaw himself, Lee Hamilton. The former play-by-play voice of the U$C Trojans, Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers, and Minnesota Vikings handles afternoon drive. It's an interesting listen, to say the least. "SHOW ME YOUR LIGHTNING BOLT!!! THE CHARGERS ARE 6-1 AND LOOKING REAL GOOD…EL CAJON, REACT TO ME!!! IS THERE A CHARGER FAN IN IRVINE?? THE TROJANS HAVE A HUGE GAME IN EUGENE THIS WEEKEND…LONG BEACH, WHERE ARE YOU?? ARE THE PHONES WORKING IN INGLEWOOD?? HAVE I GIVEN YOU ENOUGH TOPICS ON THE TABLE TO TALK ABOUT???" And so it goes.
PLACES TO EAT
Fatburger. No trip to Southern California is complete without a trip to the best burger chain in America. McDonald's? Please. Burger King? No contest. In ‘N Out? Better. There's nothing on the planet like a bacon and cheese Fatburger with chili cheese fries and a strawberry shake. When they brought my tray of food to my table during my last Fatburger experience, a woman sitting at the table next to ours looked at my feast and audibly gasped out, "Oh my God!" Indeed. If you're in Southern California, Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Seattle, there's a Fatburger near you. If you're here in the Bay Area, all you can do for now is dream about your next visit…
Roscoe's Chicken 'n Waffles. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't know, you better ask somebody. Like me. The day their Oakland location shut down was one of the saddest days in East Bay history. Chicken fried to absolute perfection and the best waffles on the planet. You'll probably be able to catch me at their Pasadena location at about 9:00 on Saturday evening chowing down on a #3 (half a chicken with two waffles on the side). I know the combination might sound strange, but trust me. Try it once. If you like it, you're sold for life. If you don't, then you're weird. End of discussion.
El Cholo. Fine, fine Mexican fare here. And, this being L.A. of course, you don't really have a restaurant unless you have celebrities frequenting the joint. The day after Stanford got bounced out of March Madness down in Anaheim, a couple friends and I stopped at their Santa Monica location before hitting the road back to the Bay Area. We were kicking back watching U$C-Duke on the big screen when my buddy Ray suddenly says, "Hey, Troy…is that who I think it is sitting behind us?" So I turn around to take a peek and there he is lounging on a couch with a beverage in one hand and a female companion under his other arm…it's Steve Lavin! Holy smoke! Coach apparently was a regular there, and UCLA had been eliminated a few days before, so I guess he had nothing better to do.
By the way, my friends and I always undergo the Triple Crown Challenge: visits to Fatburger, El Cholo, and Roscoe's all within a 36-hour time period. And, if we really want to raise the stakes, we throw Tommy's hamburgers on the itinerary as well. It's not really a competition, because we all win!
So there you have it. Print out a copy and stick this in your glove compartment before you make the drive to L.A. Or, if you have some other suggestions either for this weekend's trip or for when men's hoops heads down in February, e-mail me and we can compare notes next week!
Los Angeles. I can't wait to get down there. And I can't wait to leave.
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
31-of-53 for 536 yards and four touchdowns. At Autzen. Against sixth-ranked Oregon. Wow. Andrew Walter couldn't have picked a better time and place to stage a coming-out party…
Think that was a long drive back to Portland for Ducks fans last Saturday?
While it was a great win for Arizona State, and one of the great games in recent Pac-10 history (anybody catch the replay on the YES Network?), those results couldn't have been met with much happiness at the Pac-10's offices in Walnut Creek…
Quote of the week, courtesy of Rick "Who, Me?" Neuheisel on UW's slide to brink of Pac-10 contention…"We are seeing how the other half lives." Can't say I'm too broken-hearted about the developments up in Seattle…
If I had to nitpick on something about Stanford's game against Arizona last week, it is this: Stanford's red-zone mistakes prevented the Card from knocking out the Wildcats earlier. Stanford committed just four penalties all game long (the good news), but three of those whistles came in the red zone (the bad news)…
Hard times in Westwood. Cory Paus was lost for the season when he almost got Theismanned against cal, Drew Olson was dismissed with a separated shoulder, and John Sciarra (no, not that John Sciarra, but it is his son) laid an egg in the fourth quarter. As I type this, Bob Toledo is seriously thinking about starting true freshman Matt Moore this weekend against Stanford. Four quarterbacks in one week? Not good…
Does UCLA's situation sound familiar? It should…it happened last year! When Stanford submarined the Bruins' season last year, UCLA's third-string QB was taking the snaps by game's end. They never recovered from that. Can they recover from this?
The thing I like about cal (boy it pains me to type that phrase) is that they combine unpredictability with intelligence. You never know quite what they're going to do, but you know it's going to be the smart thing. Case in point: their unconventional intentional safety that ended the game. The Bruins had blocked a punt earlier in the fourth quarter, and cal couldn't risk another miscue with a seven-point lead and five seconds to go. So, on fourth down, Kyle Boller whirled around and threw the ball back to Johnathan Makonnen, who was standing in the end zone. Makonnen ran around in the end zone, bled down the clock, and took the intentional safety. It was a 38-yard loss, but cal didn't risk another blocked punt or losing Boller to injury if they had just had him take the snap and try to run around for five seconds. Again, unconventional, but smart. That has been cal football this year…
OK, I'll be honest with you. I don't know a whole lot about this against-the-spread stuff. I'm so ignorant of how this whole thing works that I had no idea how I ended up going 4-0 against the spread while going 3-1 straight-up. So I called my aforementioned buddy Ray who knows about these things (one of his many nicknames is Mr. Vegas). He explained that since I picked Oregon to beat ASU by 10, and the Ducks were 11-point favorites, and ASU ended up winning by just three, I still won since Oregon didn't cover the spread. Ummm, OK. Good enough for me!
Stanford @ UCLA. When Stanford has been at its best, it hasn't been the "Fun ‘n Gun", it's been the "Fun ‘n Run." Both wins have come via the running game, and even in their losses Stanford has been able to pick up yards on the ground. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see that commitment to running the football continue this weekend. It also wouldn't surprise me to see a couple other new wrinkles from the Stanford offense as well. I like Stanford by 7.
U$C @ Oregon. The marquee game of the week in the Pac-10, and suddenly this game is infinitely more important for the Ducks. This will be Jason Fife's greatest test yet. I can't wait to see if Onterrio Smith can pound the U$C defense. One question for Oregon: where has Keenan Howry been? I don't know. Another question: can the Ducks match the Trojans? Sure. Will they? I don't know. It's hard to envision the Ducks losing two games at Autzen in the same year, much less two in a row, but... I like U$C by 4.
cal @ Oregon State. The Beavers are coming off a much-needed bye week. The Bears are coming off a big win. I think the Bears are a better team than the Beavers, but OSU's Steven Jackson could give cal more than they can handle. I want to pick cal here. I really do. But for some reason, I like Oregon State by 8.
Washington State @ Arizona. On paper, this is a mismatch. How can the Wildcats possibly have an answer for Jason Gesser, the best quarterback in the Pac-10? How can the Wildcats put a dent in the Cougs defense without a running game to speak of? I dunno…this has the potential to be an ambush game. A team that's sitting on top against a team with only one way to go. This could be a catfight. I like Wazzu by 10, but I don't think this is a blowout by any stretch.
Washington @ Arizona State. Given that UW's secondary has been shredded all year, and given that Andrew Walter is coming off of a legend-making performance, how much sleep do you think Washington defensive coordinator Tim Hundley is going to get this week? Not much! I like Arizona State by 73.
Last week (straight up): 3-1, (against the spread): 4-0.
This year (straight up): 10-6, (against the spread): 12-4.
Got a thought on Stanford sports? Have any random Pac-10 thoughts of your own? Wanna have your thoughts end up in next week's column? E-mail me!
Troy Clardy hosts Stanford football postgame call-in shows, as well as Stanford football road pregame shows, Stanford basketball pregame shows, the Buddy Teevens Show, the Mike Montgomery Show, and the Stanford Profile on Stanford radio network flagship station KTCT ("The Ticket 1050") in San Francisco. The Stanford Profile airs every Thursday evening at 7:00p and the Buddy Teevens Show airs every Friday morning at 7:20a on KTCT.