|One of many big screen TVs at Charlie's Italian in Redondo Beach.|
Heard you missed me; well, I'm back.
On Saturday, I had the good fortune to watch the USC-UCLA game with Son #1 in a sports bar filled with fans of both teams, in Redondo Beach. It had been so long since I'd watched a game with such a large group of people that I'd forgotten how much fun it could be. Needless to say the UCLA fans left a very happy bunch, but throughout the game fans on both sides made their fair share of noise.
This has been an amazing season for both teams, for very different reasons. USC began the season as the #1 team in AP's preseason poll, and with one game left - against top-ranked Notre Dame - they are out of the Top 25, with four losses. Matt Barkley, who was the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy before the season began, won't be making the trip to New York City at all, and if he does it's only because the Heisman folks are being charitable and want to honor him for returning to finish his final season. Lane Kiffin, excoriated for leaving Tennessee in the lurch, was finally beginning to garner some respect for his results with the Trojans, and for all intents and purposes it appeared that the team was poised to give Oregon a run for their money.
Meanwhile, UCLA began the season with a new coach, Jim Mora, and if anyone was touting him as the savior of a team that has disappointed its fans for too many years to count, then I must have missed it. The Bruins got off to a good start, but following consecutive losses - including a blowout in Berkeley against Cal - it appeared that another .500 season was in the offing.
As the old cliche goes, there is a reason that they play the games. And now, also with one regular season game left on the schedule, UCLA finds itself with an outside shot to finish in a BCS bowl, and certainly has a shot at winning the Pac-12 Championship. Even if it does neither, Bruin fans will long remember this season as what could be looked upon in years to come as the start of something really big.
On the field Saturday - for the first time in 51 years, it would rain during the game - UCLA looked like the team with more overall talent, looked like the team with more motivation, and looked like the team that was better coached - by a wide margin. And even though the Trojans put up a valiant battle after falling behind 24-0, in the end it wasn't enough, and for only the second time in 14 years, the Bruins are the kings of Los Angeles football.
Not to be overly dramatic, but it's hard to put into words how disastrous this season has been for USC. Athletic Director Pat Haden gave his vote of confidence to Kiffin on Sunday, but frankly I think Haden is lying - and if he isn't, he should be. With Barkley out, it doesn't seem likely that the Trojans can beat the Irish next week, and even if they do win, an 8-4 season is not what the faithful had in mind back in August. 8-4 is a successful season for many teams, including my own alma mater, Cal. 8-4 is a disaster when you enter the season ranked at #1 with the nation's leading Heisman candidate.
Was Saturday the harbinger of a new era for L.A. football? Only time will tell. But right now, it sure looks like Jim Mora is doing for UCLA what Pete Carroll did for USC a decade ago. And if that happens, it would be a seismic shift of historic proportions.