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San Diego Sportscene / Dave Distel

USD Becomes 'Overdog' in City Rivalry

December 18, 1985|DAVE DISTEL

In a city developing a reputation for its coolness to basketball of any description, it is understandable that the Mayor's Trophy should change hands with hardly a whimper or whisper of recognition.

Indeed, it is probably indicative of the University of San Diego's plight hereabouts that it should win such a trophy at a time when the city was without a mayor to present it.

With the exception of one hectic week in the spring of 1984, when USD won the West Coast Athletic Conference championship and advanced to the NCAA playoffs, it has always been relegated to the back seat in America's Finest City.

This would not be too bad if the Toreros were located some place like Chicago or Washington, where the guys in the front were national powers, but it was embarrassing in San Diego.

USD's basketball team, you see, was perennially in the shadow of San Diego State. The Aztecs themselves are not exactly the hottest of items locally, playing to vast prairies of empty seats in the best of years.

When these teams held their annual get-together, San Diego State was inevitably heavily favored--and it would inevitably win. But it would always struggle as if it was more an occasion to be survived rather than celebrated. It treated the game more like it was an imposition than a contest.

It was almost a case of reverse-haughtiness, the academically oriented private university being looked down upon by the plebian masses at the state university.

In the first six games these two teams played at the Division 1 level, The Big Guys beat USD by 9, 8, 5, 2, 14 and 2 points. USD yawned at the setbacks, suggesting that there was more to collegiate life than basketball.

A couple of years after one of those games, I ran into a USD player and asked him about the rivalry.

"One team wins," he said, "and the other gets its diplomas."

I have to concede there is considerable snobbishness in such a presumption of academic superiority, but the remark underscores the perspective these universities take into their annual clash.

And so it was that San Diego State continued to win the game it did not particularly want to play and USD continued to take solace in its own perceived academic superiority.

However, this intra-city rivalry did an about-face over the weekend. It was as if the heretofore mousy librarian took off her glasses, let down her hair and went out and won a beauty contest. USD thoroughly battered its local adversary, 81-64, in the most one-sided game since these two universities have both been at the Division 1 level.

Admittedly, this is not one of San Diego State's better teams. The combination of injuries and ineffective recruiting have left the Aztecs with a shortage of tall players, normally a recommended commodity for playing the game of basketball. The winless Aztecs could probably play their home games in Horton Plaza and not overflow the park benches with their fans.

Regardless, USD owns the town, as they say in the aftermath of these intra-city showdowns.

Does anybody care? That is the question.

USD's students, caught up in final examinations, did not pour out of their dormitories and into the streets for a celebration. What's more, they were put off by the fact that San Diego State, the home team, charged the full $7 for USD student admissions, probably figuring that all the future lawyers and business moguls could afford it. San Diego State students were admitted free.

"San Diego State's always the home team," said Hank Egan, USD's coach, "and I don't know why."

The theory, I am sure, is that San Diego State has the largest arena. It plays in the Sports Arena (capacity 13,000) and USD plays in its on-campus Sports Center (capacity 2,500). However, San Diego State's normal crowds fit in the Sports Arena about like Twiggy would fit in William Perry's trousers.

For last Saturday night's showdown, attendance was 2,941. This obviously is not an intra-city rivalry which has captured the interest of the multitudes.

And Egan, in his second year as coach, is perplexed.

"When I got here last year," he said, "I expected more of a buzz from the community when the two Division 1 teams met. There was a little bit last year because we were unbeaten and they were unbeaten, but not what I expected."

Interest was undoubtedly dampened this year by the fact that San Diego State was winless.

Thus, USD whupped its neighbor in relative solitude, its own students discouraged by the high cost of playing a road game five minutes from campus.

Indeed, most of USD's early season games are being played in such faraway places as New Mexico, Montana and Texas. When and if the Toreros ever get back to the coziness of their own gym, their followers will likely be pleased by what they see.

The problem here is that USD does not have that many followers. It suffers from under-exposure and lack of respect.

"Society used to root for the underdog," Egan said, "but that's changed in my lifetime. Now society roots for the winner. The only thing you can do to get recognition and support is win."

USD did just that against San Diego State. It won and it won big. In a town without frenzy, the underdog has become the overdog.

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