There was enough beer in the shower stall of Vince Murone's recreational vehicle to float a rowboat, there was a four-foot "poor boy" sandwich on the kitchen table and the Michigan-Ohio State game was on a portable television set in the lounge.
A couple of hundred yards away, Pasadena's Rose Bowl, under intensely blue skies, was about to unwind the latest reel in, as one fan put it, "the greatest football rivalry in the country": the annual UCLA-USC game.
This, someone said, was "football heaven."
"It's just a fun day for us, a family affair," said Murone, a USC fanatic, guiding a guest through his vehicle with the laid-back grace of a manorial lord. "Here," he said, kicking the pile of beer in the shower stall, "pick your poison."
A friend of Murone stumbled in with a premonition. "I've been right on these things for the past few years," he said. "I think USC is gonna do it. I really do."
Of course, this was a few hours before UCLA tailback Gaston Green turned the USC defensive line into Swiss cheese.
Like most Saturdays when UCLA is playing its home games at the Rose Bowl, much of the pregame talk last Saturday was about who was going to win. But being on the winning side at the tailgate extravaganza was not really the important thing. For the thousands of fans who gathered on the turf around the stadium, some as early as seven hours before kickoff, there was a ritual nature to the festivities.
The idea, apparently, was to drink beer (or other refreshment), eat food and sound off about the superiority of their chosen teams, all the while soaking up sunshine and the spectacle of the event. It was the greatest excuse for a picnic since the Fourth of July.
"It's a tradition," said Jay Kapitz, a UCLA alumnus, standing on the grass with a Bacardi-and-Seven in his hand. "Year after year, you come back."
There were games of three-on-three touch football being played out between the rows of cars, with more skill devoted to the spike after the touchdown--the favorite being the blase over-the-shoulder drop--than to the forward passes. There were signs and balloon displays and people in daffy costumes.
Pat O'Laughlin drifted across the parking area in a perfectly balanced outfit. On his left side, from the shoulder of his T-shirt down to the sneaker on his left foot, he was blue and gold. On his right side, he was cardinal and gold. Spray-painted vertically on the left was "UCLA"; on the right, "USC." Even the zinc-oxide sunscreen on his face was color-balanced.
What are you? he was asked. "Neutral," he replied.
He was a disenchanted USC fan, he
explained. "I drifted away, because of the coach at USC."
Most of the shady area near the stadium's front gate had been seized by home team fans. They laid out their picnic blankets there
and staked out the area with blue-and-gold pompons, as a contingent from the UCLA alumni band, with all the organization and fervor of roving mariachis, serenaded them with marches and fight songs.
The music seemed heavy on spirit but skimpy on finesse. "We did rehearse once," said piccolo player Barbara McDonald, in the band's uniform of blue jeans and yellow T-shirt, "at the beginning of the season, for about an hour."
Later, the entire band of about 100 gathered near the front gate and serenaded the crowd with college songs and tunes from their era such as "Rock Around the Clock." A few couples got up to dance in the grassy area in front of the band, which did a sprightly waltz step to "Stars and Stripes Forever."
One Family's Affair
One small area under a tree was fenced off for the "Rutledge Tailgate Party." These were the family and friends of UCLA strong safety Craig Rutledge, a native of Placentia. "This is the grand finale of the season," said Karen Rutledge, Craig's mother, who has followed her son as far as Oklahoma and Seattle this season. "We've been planning it since about Sept. 1."
It was a civilized affair. Guests, some of them wearing paper leis, were treated to a sumptuous spread of Swedish meatballs, Spanish sausages, spinach salad, seafood croissants, lobster salad and pate. Some late arrivals brought a large paper sign, showing a picture of Rutledge (who later distinguished himself by hauling in the only interception of the game) as "Craig, Bruins' Best."
That was the elegant crowd.
Closer to the gate, the crowd was younger and the food more basic. So were the messages. "This is your typical UCLA party," said blue-eyed, energetic Cindy Ross, who works as a banker. "We've got hamburgers and chips 'n' dip." Emblazoned across the tablecloth on her party's card table was a pattern of block letters, repeating the message, "I HATE USC."
"That's not hate in the vicious sense," said Ross' friend Rick Nusbaum reassuringly.
"It's just that we're so pro-UCLA," Ross added.
"We're biased," Nusbaum said.
"It's not vicious hate," Ross said. "We wouldn't want to hurt them."
" . . . Though the thought has crossed our minds," Nusbaum said.