A Tale of Two Cities

This, is the tale of two cities, or perhaps more accurately, two teams. One nests like a jewel in Los Angeles' most glamorous neighborhood. The other, is in the hood. One has won multiple National Championships and Heisman trophies. The other, hasn't won a thing since the middle of last century. One was told they were king of the city – long live the king. The other read the epitaph written about them, resurrected and stormed the castle.

A tale of two cities and two teams – one in blue, the other Cardinal. As similar as they could be, they are truly nothing alike. One wins its championships through grit, blood and guts, the other keeps posing, hoping somebody might discover them, like a starlit sitting on the stool of a Hollywood drugstore.

As a representative of the two schools' alumni, USC offers John Wayne; Ucla submits Mike Ovitz. Both made their living in the entertainment business and both were considered the best at their chosen professions.

Wayne, who played football for the Trojans, became a bigger hero on the silver screen. Starring in movies like "Rooster Cogburn," "The Flying Leathernecks," "Red River," "Stage Coach," on and on. He also became the ultimate image to the world of who Americans were and what we were made of – heroes, with morals, a conscience and the grit, True Grit, to right all man's wrongs.

Mike Ovitz, was a agent. The term "uber-agent" was coined for Mike. Founder of Creative Artists Agency, Ovitz later ran the house that Mickey built and quickly turned it into, NOT the happiest place on earth. He was paid to leave. However, he was, for a time, the greatest Agent on earth. It should be noted, to reach such heights a human ladder must be climbed – Ovitz devoured every rung.

Yes, as similar as the two schools seem, they are truly nothing alike.

Some of the best stories involving recent college football deal with USC quarterbacks: John Fox proposing to his girlfriend on the coliseum floor, after defeating the Bruins.

Fox was nearly forgotten player for the Trojans. Having been moved from the qb slot, he found himself playing tight end, linebacker and special teams. Never once did he complain or contemplate quitting. And when his team needed him, he answered the call. For those in the stands, seeing the game unfold before them and then to witness on the jumbo screen, Fox drop to a knee and propose… well, it's what true Hollywood type endings are all about.

Never a program to rest on its laurels or legends, the greatest show on earth took college football in to another level with leading man, Carson Palmer. Dubbed "The Golden Child," Palmer suffered through a collection of coaching regimes, only to find himself, with a whole new crew just as his career was coming to an end. What neither Palmer, nor any Trojan could've known, was that his career was just about to go inter-galactic.

Palmer had already shown he had the physical skills to be an NFL hurler but in this, his senior season, he showed the Nation he was college football's best. What this story required was someone to play opposite Palmer's lead – a true arch-villain. Central Casting came up with the Fighting Irish and the rest is history. The Golden Child threw for more yards against Notre Dame than any quarterback, past or present. And on national television, won the hearts of America as well as the Heisman trophy.

The award ceremony, where Palmer was presented the famous stiff-armed sculpture was another box-office bonanza for the Trojans as it announced to the world, USC football was back.

As USC wrapped up its regular season, I had the opportunity to wish Palmer's two backups well with their own chance to become the Trojans' next star. Cassel smiled, as though he knew his time had come – all the hard work and patience would finally pay off. Leinart, standing behind him, looked me in the eye and cracked the smallest, smirk of a smile. He was cool, quiet and I sensed, confident with what the future would hold. Accurate or not, that was the feeling he left me.

Leinart went on to write his own SC story, by taking the reigns of the Trojans and driving his team straight through college football's best. Snubbed by the BCS, despite being a unanimous Number One in both the Writers' and Coaches' polls, the Trojans still managed to win a share of their first National Championship for the Men of Troy in over 20 years.

Not enough, he repeated the fete the next season, destroying a supposed "better" club in the OU Sooners and capped it with a second Heisman for his school in the last three years. Now that's a block-buster and a heck of a tale but what of that other Matt – Leinart's stand-in?

Cassel launched his own campaign for an Oscar by doing the unthinkable – he got drafted by Superbowl champs, the New England Patriots. Never, as a fan and supporter could I imagine a more spectacular way to have this story unfold. And then, to make that perfect ending even better, Cassel won a backup spot to arguably the best quarterback in the history of the NFL.

Palmer, Leinart, Cassel, Fox…all fantastic Hollywood stories. Leinart's is still being written as he wraps his college career with one last home game against the cross-town rival and then a BCS bowl game. And this is where the story just gets interesting, for another story is unfolding simultaneously – that of Ucla quarterback Drew Olson.

I said some of the best college football stories involved quarterbacks and Olson's belongs with the best of them.

Olson's career at Ucla hasn't been one worthy of anything much more than the local Drive-in-theatre - until this season. On the road to Las Vegas, the wheels came off Olson's wagon when his team went down with a loss and the quarterback went with them, with what looked to be a potential career ending injury.

Most Bruin fans barely blinked as the Bruins had just inked a deal with 5-star quarterback, Ben "no relation to Drew" Olson. But before the team's managers could take Drew Olson's name off his dressing-room door, the senior signal caller pitched himself to star in one more season. And like Clint Eastwood in "Pale Rider" Olson ignored his epitaph, strapped on a knee-brace instead of holster, and through nearly every game this season, gunned down the competition.

Olson's story is a great one and even as a Trojan fan, I couldn't be happier for his success but this is where this fairytale gets dark.

Perhaps it's the need to give this year's game enough conflict to make it's telling interesting, but a select few critics have gone too far to get their names on the 2005 Trojan vs Bruin movie poster by saying that Drew Olson is the best quarterback in Los Angeles.

Drew's had a magnificent senior campaign and has probably played himself into the second day of the NFL draft but Matt Leinart is the one who's earned star-billing. He's the one people line up to see and he's the one who, game after big game, bowl after major bowl, national championship after national championship, delivers the box office grosses.

When the Trojans faced fourth and nine against Notre Dame, Matt Leinart defined himself with one perfectly thrown ball to USC wideout, Dwayne Jarrett. With that completion, the Trojan signal caller became the best person to ever play that position in college football.

This season Leinart becomes just the second USC player ever to be a three-time All-American first teamer, joining linebacker Richard Wood (1972-74). Leinart also won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, as the nation's top senior quarterback for his work in 2005.

In his time at USC, Leinart has won two National Championships, three bowl games and a Heisman trophy. All that combined makes it difficult to hear people say Drew Olson is the superior quarterback.

One season does not a qb make. Just ask Akili Smith, or Kyle Boller. Now before someone points out that Palmer had just one great season – think again. Palmer demolished every passing record in the Pac Ten – most of which was set by the legend John Elway. Palmer couldn't have accomplished all that in just one year.

As great a story as it is, in a town filled with stars, Olson is molded more like a B-actor than leading man, but it is still as good as it can get for a guy who, in August, was just asking to see a copy of the script.

Again, as similar as these two teams could be, they are nothing alike.

Pete Carroll has, once again, been honored as Pac-Ten Coach of the year. Somehow, however, cross-town rival Karl Dorrell has been asked to join the dais with Carroll and share the award. I realize the Bruins aren't as talent laden as the Trojans and I realize it's been a while since Ucla has had more than 7 wins in a season, but that does not, in my mind, equal the accomplishments of Pete Carroll and company.

Carroll owns the nation and has, for two, arguably three years running and will, as soon as he's done with the co-coach of the year, own it for four. Dorrell doesn't even own Los Angeles. I don't even know if he owns his house. Carroll puts together the best recruiting classes, year after year, in America. Dorrell's Bruins feed off Trojan crumbs. Carroll takes on all comers, scheduling a last minute game against WAC champ, nationally ranked, Fresno State. Dorrell plays Rice and hasn't faced a ranked team all season.

It could go on and on. Karl Dorrell, for one year, has taken the place of much revered Cal coach, Jeff Tedford.

Tedford, in my opinion, won coach of the year because of his good work with the Cal football team but also because he managed to beat Carroll once and get close another time. Tedford literally built his program on that campaign.

See Karl Dorrell and the Ucla Bruins. In last season's rivalry game, as the Trojans looked ahead to their national championship match with the Oklahoma Sooners, the Bruins managed to keep things close. Never did they lead and never did they really threaten, but their effort somehow convinced the second city, their team, its coaches and the local newspaper that this was a sign the gap was closing.

Fast forward to 2005 and the Bruins, after 9 difficult wins, find themselves ranked in the nation's top 15 and playing for a share of the Pac Ten crown. For some reason, the citizens of that second city have connected all the above together and determined that the two programs stand side by side. I'm here to inform them, they do not.

Hit rewind and let's take a look into Bruin/Trojan past when it comes to common opponents:

1. Stanford: Ucla fights back from a 21 point deficit to win in overtime. SC beats the Cardinal like a red-headed you know what.

2. Arizona: Ucla loses, giving up 50. SC wins, scoring 50.

3. Cal: Ucla gives up 330 yards on the ground but manages a victory in overtime, at home. SC goes on the road, doesn't give up 300 yards total and wins easily.

4. WSU: Ucla gives up another 330 yards on the ground but again manages to win in overtime. SC wins the game in the first half and never looks back.

5. UW: Ucla squeaks out a four point win and barely mounts any offense. SC mounts the Huskies like a… female dog and puts up more points in one quarter against UW, than the Bruins did in the whole game.

6. ASU: Ucla got a back up quarterback and won, in a shootout. SC pummeled the ASU's best signal caller and coasted to victory with the backups playing the fourth quarter.

Again, as similar as the two should be, they are truly nothing alike. So, what about talent?

Maurice Drew is a very special football player, who will play at the next level, primarily due to his special teams' expertise. That said, he is not Lendale White or Reggie Bush and at USC he would play...after them.

Joe Cowan and Brandon Brazeal are nice receivers but they are not the dynamic duo of the Trojans', alias Smith and Jarrett.

Marcedes Lewis is considered the top pass catching tight end in the nation. I put to you, that if all Matt Leinart had to throw to were his tight ends, Byrd and Davis would have that many catches, too.

(Amazing to think the Heisman ceremony could feature two Trojans, one Bruin, a Domer and one Texan. If Maurice Drew had a little more productive season as a running back it could have been an all-rival show.)

And finally, not one player from Ucla's offensive or defensive lines would make USC's two deep. But combined, Olson, Lewis, Drew, Cowan, Havner, both lines, etc… make up the gutty little Bruins.

And all you have to say is "John Barnes" and every Trojan knows when it comes to the rivalry, the story always has a few twists, turns and cliff hangers to make the ending a bombshell.

All the above, all the pre-game fan hysteria is smack talk. What makes this game special is the players - and really, the seniors. Getting to play Division 1 football is a fantastic accomplishment for any young man. Take that up another notch and getting to play for either one of these two schools is an absolute honor.

So as the Trojan seniors walk down the tunnel remember all they have given to this program. In that group will be one Heisman winner and perhaps after tomorrow, two. A large majority of the Pac Ten's first team will be wearing Cardinal and Gold. Academic All-Americans, First Round Draft Choices, Degree holders…and most amazingly there will be 90 plus men who haven't lost a game in nearly three years.

It's been a magnificent tale of two cities where if you look closely is really just one and despite the smoke and mirrors, is all Trojan.

Prediction: In the 75th meeting between the two teams, history will rule.

USC 63 Ucla 35


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