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Battle for Los Angeles: The Yearlong Experience, Firsthand

I clearly remember 5 years ago, seated on my couch watching “The Sports List”, listing the top 10 college football rivalries. I stared dumbfounded as UCLA vs. USC barely snuck in at number ten.

I accepted the reality that UCLA-USC would not hold the same national regard as yearly matches such as Texas-Oklahoma, Michigan-Ohio State, or Army-Navy. Even today, I continually hear that USC-Notre Dame is a more prestigious competition. But two days ago, I stared in horror at the guide on my television set. My jaw dropped as, for once, I was silenced.

The UCLA-USC game will be on Fox Sports Network.

“Shock” and “disgust” are not strong enough to describe my sentiments. Saying that USC-Notre Dame is the better rivalry is one thing. But to a lifelong fan of the Bruins, this truly is an insult to the tradition of the Cross-town Rivalry. I cannot remember a time when this game was not respected with a slot on national television, but then again it has been a while since NEITHER team was relevant in the BCS bowl picture. Regardless, I can no longer hold in my anger any longer. People reading this in Los Angeles need to be reminded of this game’s importance; people reading elsewhere must be informed about the enormity of the tradition and its unique significance to this city.

Wolverines and Buckeyes, as well as Sooners and Longhorns, may be able to boast the more nationally significant and recognizable competitions. One need only think of Michigan v. Ohio State in 2006 or last year’s Red River Shootout to remember some incredible and significant chapters in each respective rivalry. UCLA vs. USC certainly has not commanded this sort of respect in a while (sans 13-9 in 2006). But despite this, the atmosphere around the Duel for Los Angeles is so intoxicating that I can honestly say I feel bad for those who do not get to enjoy the one-of-a-kind experience.

As anyone who has grown up watching the yearly civil war knows, the Battle for the Victory Bell represents a schism in everyday life: at work, at school, at the market, and even among family. The reason is well-known and clear, yet not fully appreciated but those outside this unique football universe.

“The Big House”-> “The Horseshoe”= 161 miles

University of Texas -> University of Oklahoma= 372 miles

The Rose Bowl-> The Coliseum= 12 miles, give or take.

An outsider unfortunately may never fully grasp the significance of this fact. Michigan fans sit in a bar or at home, conversing and drinking with other Michigan fans about their bold season predictions and their team’s superiority to the lowly Buckeyes, just as OSU fans are doing exactly the same thing 150 miles away. There is little debate, argument, or interaction of any kind between the two schools’ fan bases, except during game day. The same goes for almost all of college football’s most prestigious rivalries.

Now take Los Angeles. Almost every day the debate can arise between fans of Trojans and Bruins. There is always fuel to be thrown on the fire of the UCLA-USC feud. The proximity makes this inevitable. And as a result the rivalry is not limited to one Saturday or even one week, but is a yearlong obsession.

Take the example of a local Bruin dentist and longtime season-ticket holder. He fights for the Bruins daily, in frequent debate among fellow medical personnel, close friends, and even family. On the flip side, a Trojan lawyer, who has bled cardinal and gold his whole life, must contend with the boasts and criticism of Bruin supporters he encounters every day at his law firm. I presume that an Oklahoma fan is not concerned about enduring the jeers of a dozen Longhorn fans during the Monday after a bad loss.

Besides the local fans that argue year-round, each school directly compete for the services of coveted local football prospects. One of the most fertile recruiting markets in the country is a constant battleground between two programs. These athletes endure the schism firsthand. They are likely to be continually bombarded by the divided opinions of family, friends, coaches, and even their own loyalties.

And do not forget the players themselves. 84 of the 111 Trojans and 91 of the 119 Bruins are from California, most from Los Angeles and the larger surrounding area (and for those unfamiliar with Greater Los Angeles, there is A LOT of surrounding area). If it is safe to assume that these players grew up football fans as I did, then they were introduced to the football partitioning of the city early, took sides at a young age, and have bled their team’s colors ever since.

Once athletes officially declare their allegiances on signing day, they can take out their lifelong frustrations one day a year, when facing their arch-nemeses on the gridiron for some of the most passionate and hard-nosed football one is liable to see. And it doesn’t hurt that the game is played in either one of two historic and iconic football stadiums.

The great divide of Los Angeles has another attribute, one that few consider, that no other rivalry can proclaim. Counter intuitively, the Cross-town Rivalry brings Angelinos together. For a city that has astonishingly been deprived of the NFL for the last fifteen years, the UCLA-USC tradition unites deprived Los Angeles footballs fans. While they spend the year arguing, the frequent interaction will inevitably lead to positive relationships among fans. Many opposing supporters become good friends, and some even marry (SAY IT AIN’T SO!). Two of my best and closest friends are Trojans, and unquestionably I am closer with them as a result of our shared, although contrasting, passions.

What makes this unifying effect truly amazing is how strongly it pertains to the Bruin and Trojan athletes themselves. There are an inspiring number of close relations between members of each team, many of whom have competed with and against their opponents for since childhood. When Stafon Johnson was hospitalized due to his unfortunate weight-lifting accident, Bruins Rahim Moore and Johnathan Franklin both rushed to the hospital to pray for and support their former teammate and good friend.

UCLA vs USC is defined by an unmatched passion, by both fans and athletes. It is preceded and followed by enough local analysis and debate to equate it to a Los Angeles Super Bowl. And the bragging rights earned by the fans of one school are enough to sustain the victor’s egos and the loser’s hunger for an entire offseason. In short, this rivalry exemplifies all of the best attributes of football, by both dividing and uniting Los Angeles fans around a one-of-a-kind sports experience.

But for this week, unity takes second fiddle.

Once again, after 51 long weeks of waiting, Angelinos can stop debating for a few moments and gather together to watch as dominance, control, and pride for Los Angeles is decided by 60 minutes of football.

The best 60 minutes of sports all year... but that’s just my opinion.