On a college campus in south central Los Angeles, a crowd of a several thousand was slowly gathering. The quad in the middle of campus had been cleared, a stage set up at one end, a bonfire at the other. Large, four-foot tall, bright orange and yellow letters were propped up against trees and cast an eerie glow over the students sitting around them. By 8 p.m. the crowd had grown considerably in size, and everyone was waiting for something to happen.
All of a sudden, faint chants of "beat the bruins" started working their way toward the students and alumni gathered, and soon, in the dark, between two buildings, the Trojan marching band started filtering onto the field. They marched in to clears and applause and soon the whole crowd was chanting along with them.
It was time for the Conquest.
Only four years old, the Conquest is held every week before the big USC/UCLA game on the USC campus. It technically is supposed to be an event honoring seniors and getting everyone pumped up for Saturday's big game--but judging from the crowd's reaction, it really appeared that humiliating the UCLA Bruins on the football field (or basketball court or on the volleyball court) was all that mattered.
An insult thrown at that other campus, sitting high up in the hills of Westwood and only a mere 14 miles away from campus, was a sure bet to get the crowd cheering. One by one, seniors from the women's basketball team, the men's volleyball team and the women's volleyball team took the stage. They went through the highlights of their seasons, the improvements fans could expect and thanked their supporters--but the crowd only broke out into the raucous applause normally saved for a football team when someone spoke of the season highlight--beating the UCLA Bruins.
Seems everyone at USC has a one-track mind.
By the time Pete Carroll--who looked very Hollywood in a leather jacket and baby blue shirt--and his Trojan football seniors took the stage, the noise and the cheers were deafening. They promised victory. They promised a Rose Bowl. They promised all the sorts of on-the-field annihilation that go with the rivalry territory. And I'm pretty sure that across town, at UCLA's own parade and pep rally, that the Bruin football team was promising the exact same thing.
"Burn the Bruin! Burn the Bruin!" someone decked out in the USC blood red and mustard yellow shouted. "Burn it!"
The crowd quickly turned and headed toward the bonfire piled about 10 feet high at the opposite end of the quad. Sitting atop it was a delightfully cartoonish Bruin bear cub--big eyes, a big black nose and a sly little smile. The time for ceremony was over. In came the flare, up went the flames and into the night air sparks shot high into the night.
And across town, the Bruins were setting up to light their own bonfire.