Battle for Los Angeles
There's a sign sitting outside the Los Angeles Coliseum that quite frankly tells UCLA fans to go back to Westwood. And in case the strongly worded sign didn't give them a hint, there's a UCLA fan propped up against a tree, holding a piece of construction paper labeled "resume" and a sign labeled "will work for food." And if the point is still lost in translation, just a few tailgates away there is a bruin pinata, carefully constructed with a knife through its head.
This side of Los Angeles is clearly Trojan territory.
"It's a city championship," a USC fan named Geoff tells me. He and his friends then launch into an explanation citing the fact that a mere 14 miles separate the two schools--something I've heard over and over and over--as reason enough for why the rivalry matters. "We're taking back the city. It's a brawl--a backyard brawl."
And to a certain extent, that's why the fans were out tailgating at 6 a.m. There are no two other football teams located within such close proximity to one another that play each other so frequently and with such ferocity. Every year, bragging rights and the chance to ring the Victory Bell--the 300 pound trophy exchanged between the two--are on the line, and sometimes there's a little bit more. Today USC was fighting to claim its second consecutive Rose Bowl berth and the Pac 10 conference title.
Geoff and his party were the latecomers of their tailgating row. They rolled into the parking lot at 8:30 a.m. and although their bratwursts, Italian sausages, hot dogs, chips, dip and cookies were nothing to sneeze at, their spread paled in comparison to their neighbors. The parking lot was filled with everything associated with tailgates--grills, crimson-colored tents, flags, vegetable platters, plates stacked with meat--but then there were also the DirecTV dishes, the power generators, the chairs arranged in stadium-styled seating.
"People like to get out and party before this game," Geoff says. "The game is all about USC destroying UCLA. We don't need any more motivation than that."
A T.V. on a cart with bright orange cones on the end wheeled by.
"We are expecting a beat down."
Now, before I continue, I should point out that despite the fighting words of many riled up USC fans, UCLA and its fans in baby blue were out in full force--or as full force as a fan base can be when ticket allotments were cut. Pockets of blue stood out in the sea of red and Bruin backers quietly tailgated.
"There's great energy here," Barry, a UCLA fan, tells me.
"So there's a sort of respect between the fan base," I ask. I'm quickly corrected.
"Oh, there's no respect between USC and UCLA," he says. "I wouldn't say things are hostile, but let me just tell you this--each team wants to dominate. No one wants to see the game go down to the wire. Each fan wants to see his team win 54 to nothing. It's a matter of pure pride. You want to be the champ of L.A."
"Anyone who tells you that they want to see a game that goes back and forth is lying," a USC fan back at Geoff's tailgate says matter-of-factly. "They want to see USC destroy UCLA by 100 points. The best game we ever saw was when USC won 66-19."
I nodded my head as if I understood and bit into a bratwurst. It was time to scoot off and see how the tension was going to play out on the field instead of in the parking lot. And if a beat down of the highest order was scheduled to start in one hour, I wanted to be there for every minute.