Front page phot credit: Lori Shepler
Back when I was a drunken college student making poor life choices, I had it in my head that I was going to go to law school. I decided on a whim at some point in October of 2006 that I would take the LSAT in December, mostly because I drastically overestimated a high LSAT score's ability to offset my then-2.47 GPA as a History major when it came to law school admissions.
Obviously, as an erstwhile Daily Bruin reporter, I noticed the date conflict. The LSAT was scheduled for December 2nd, the same day as the USC game. If I recall correctly, the TV time was not set at the time of registration, but the expectation was that it would be a mid-day game, so I anticipated that I would miss part of it. With the way that season was shaping up, though, and the awful 66-19 beatdown the previous year in the Coliseum, I didn't consider it a huge loss, despite it potentially being the first time I'd miss a UCLA-USC game in person since 2000.
The season leading up to the game didn't change my outlook much. UCLA had just suffered through an abysmal October that put Karl Dorrell on the hot seat (I've actually never come so close to crying at a sporting event as I did at the end of the Notre Dame game), and then squeaked out a couple of wins over decent Oregon State and Arizona State teams. The defense, though, had started to look pretty good in the last two games, and there was some talk that Dewayne Walker's familiarity with USC coaching staff could help to keep the game respectable. I remember telling my roommates that UCLA would win, but I'm fairly certain I said that every year.
Anyway, the day rolled around and I woke up at 6:30 to drive down to Southwestern for the test. The LSAT was scheduled to be over by 1, which was, I believe, a half hour before game time, and if everything broke correctly, I'd be at the game by midway through the first quarter. I made my way through the test, not even really knowing how many sections were on it, and each successive break seemed to take longer than the last. After a seemingly interminable five hours, I was out of the test by 2 and in my car by 2:15.
Turning on the radio, I heard the score: 7-0 Bruins, end of the first quarter. At that point, I had a decision to make. Traffic going north on the 110 looked miserable, and parking at the Rose Bowl would be impossible, so I was probably looking at a 4th quarter arrival, if that. Going home to Westwood, I had a chance of getting to watch the entire second half. With USC scoring on a safety to make it 7-2, I made the decision and drove roughly 97 miles per hour the entire way down the 10 freeway.
I got back about midway through the second quarter, and watched as the Trojans drove methodically down the field, as UCLA missed 27 tackles on a check down pass to C.J. Gable. USC scored the touchdown on a Gable run with about a minute to go in the first half, putting the score at 9-7, and I spent the entire halftime thinking I had jinxed the team by even coming home.
And drinking. I also spent a lot of that halftime drinking.
Then, of course, that magical second half happened. Patrick Cowan led a field goal drive where he made two impossible looking throws to Marcus Everett, running right and throwing across his body. Christian Taylor played the game of his life, combining with Alterraun Verner on the biggest stop of the game, tackling Gable on 4th and 1 for a big loss at the UCLA 35. Cowan took the biggest shot anyone has ever taken from He Who Owns the Police, clearly suffered a major concussion, and got up as if nothing had happened, because apparently that's what you do when you're playing USC.
Then there was the epic stare down at mid field, where I think we all saw a glimpse of the Karl Dorrell we wished had been the reality. Both teams launched onto the field, jumping up and down, and Dorrell was at the center of UCLA's circle, screaming at his team and clearly more fired up than he'd been at any time in his tenure.
Even with all that, I was fully expecting USC to drive down the field and tear my heart out with two minutes to go. John David Booty, who was never very great, led the Trojans on a drive down the field to UCLA's 20 yard line with a little over a minute to go. The Trojan offense moved with such ease that my mind, instead of being full of images or thoughts, was overflowing with barely coherent and anatomically impossible curses.
And then, all was sublime. Eric McNeal, an ex-safety thrust into duty as a linebacker, tipped a Booty pass at the line, pirouetted with grace befitting a ballerina, and made the most important play of the decade for UCLA, intercepting the pass and, at least for one day, making it not such an awful time to be a UCLA football fan. Aaron "The Dagger" Perez then booted a 63 yard punt that was completely out of character at that point in his career, and Booty was left throwing up a duck with seconds to go to seal the game.
I lost my mind. My roommates and I ran out onto Glenrock banging pots and pans like it was New Years' and we were annoying six year olds. A friend of ours broke our spatula, which, for college students, was effectively the same thing as burning our kitchen to the ground, but we didn't care.
I didn't see Bruce Davis' impassioned speech to Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso until later, but I'd imagine he was feeling some similar exultation. I'd imagine they all were. That UCLA team was not a particularly talented one. Christian Taylor, one of my favorite players and a fellow frequenter of Sepi's quarter pint nights, was a walk on who somehow elevated himself to full time starter and somehow starred against the Trojans. McNeal was a fill in who hadn't done much in his career. Heck, Cowan was only playing because Ben Olson had hurt himself near the start of the year, and then hadn't had enough practice time to be ready for the game. This was not a team of world-beaters, and I'm fairly certain that Dohn and Tracy did the math at the beginning of the season and figured that half the roster wasn't even worthy of a scholarship.
What did it all mean? It knocked USC out of the BCS title game, which was significant. It also led to another year of Karl Dorrell which I somehow convinced myself at the time was a good thing, mostly because of how fired up he was during the game. Maybe it was a watershed moment, right?
Of course, it wasn't. UCLA then got its collective butt handed to it by Illinois in the Emerald Nuts to Fight Kraft Hunger Bowl [EDITOR'S NOTE: We realize this is wrong. UCLA actually played Florida State in this game, but all of those no-name bowls blur together in mediocrity] in San Francisco in a largely awful game that ended something like 44-27, but wasn't that close. Instead of heading into the offseason riding the momentum of a USC win, carried through a bowl game, UCLA once again ended the year on a sour note, and Dorrell was once again placed on the hot seat to start the next season, this time permanently.
All of those results, though, pale in significance to this: USC's streak of consecutive victories in the rivalry was ended at seven. Given the last five years, think of it this way: if the Trojans had won, we'd be staring at 13 straight years of USC dominance. Instead, UCLA can still claim the longest winning streak in the history of the rivalry.