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UCLA won last year on assistant coach Bob Toledo's
trick play; USC's Brian Kelly has had to live with
the consequnces


USC: "There hasn't been a day when I haven't thought about it," said Trojan safety Kelly.


Trojans around the world grieved a year ago, after learning that UCLA had beaten USC in football for the fifth consecutive year.

You picture some Trojan scientist, assigned to some research station in Antarctica, kicking his shortwave radio across the lab after hearing UCLA run out the clock on Nov. 18, 1995, ensuring another Bruin victory in the series.

But you wouldn't need to poke around Antarctica to find the guy who took last year's USC loss the hardest. Moments after the game, he could be found in the Coliseum locker room. You can find him today on USC's practice field.

And you will be able to find him Saturday at the Rose Bowl, starting at free safety for USC.

He wears No. 42 and his name is Brian Kelly.

One of USC's leading defensive players, Kelly was an unlikely candidate to be the fall guy on a UCLA trick play.

But fall for it he did. UCLA got its third touchdown on the 35-yard play and it turned out to be the difference in a 24-20 Bruin victory.

He was asked Monday, "No one on this football team wants to beat UCLA more than you, correct?"

His answer: "You got that right."

What's it like, to carry around for a year the burden of being the guy who blew the key play in the USC-UCLA game?

It's painful, he said, but in time the pain becomes instructive.

"There hasn't been a day when I haven't thought about it," said Kelly, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior.

"It was hard to watch it on tape at first, but after a while I found myself watching and learning from it. Once I accepted that it had happened, and that I accepted full responsibility for it, it became instructive.

"But at first, I was really hurting. I was in shock after the game. My parents were here from Colorado, I was lucky to have them to lean on. We went out to eat that night, I remember.

"The thing that hurt me so bad was that I'd been a guy who just once had given up big plays like that. In my freshman year [1994], I gave up two touchdown passes in the Arizona game. Other than that, even in high school, I had never given up big plays."

So he went through a "Why me?" period.

Before and since that pass off a reverse, he's been one of the most reliable mainstays of a good, young Trojan defense.

"He handled it fine, because he used that experience to learn from it," said Keith Burns, USC's defensive coordinator.

"I told him in a way it was a tribute to his ability, that they knew they couldn't beat him straight-up, they needed a trick play to beat him."

What did he learn, watching the play repeatedly on film, almost memorizing every detail?

"I learned how fast something bad can happen to you in a game, how alert you have to be, especially anyone playing my position," Kelly said.

He said he doesn't get upset anymore watching the play, but added he will never forget the sinking feeling.

"When I ran up, playing the run all the way, and then saw [Jim] McElroy pull up and bring the ball up to pass--well, it felt like my stomach had just dropped out of me."

Kelly said the receiver on the play, Kevin Jordan, fooled two Trojans on the play.

"He sold [safety] Sammy Knight and I that he was coming downfield to block Sammy out of a run play," he said. "So when I saw McElroy pull up, I knew exactly what had happened."

After the game, he said there were long phone conversations with his older brother, Patrick, who had played football at Eastern New Mexico.

"He told me to learn from it, that it happened for a reason," Kelly said.

Kelly, his brother and two sisters were Air Force brats. Their father, Isaac Kelly, retired in 1992 after 21 years in the Air Force. His children had grown up on bases in Germany, Texas and Colorado.

Brian played at Overland High in Aurora, Colo., then came to USC in 1992, spurning the University of Colorado.

"I had so many friends going to Colorado, I felt like it wouldn't have been a new experience to go there," he said.

"Besides, I liked Coach [John] Robinson's presentation, when he visited my home. Other coaches came and told me they were going to do this and that . . . but Coach kind of challenged me. He kept asking me if I felt I could become good enough to play on a national championship team. I liked that."

Kelly's high school coach, Tony Manfredi, calls him a natural.

"Brian came to us as a natural leader, the kind of kid you get from a great family," he said.

Kelly was asked about the team's disappointing 5-5 season.

"It's a shock," he said.

"I mean, when you look at the guys on this team, the talent. We're just not putting it together.

"We had a players-only meeting last week. We talked for an hour, got a lot of stuff out there. I stood up and said some players were taking criticism too personally, that we should think in terms of winning or losing as a team, not as individuals.

"Another thing I liked about it [the meeting] was, no one was talking about next year. We only talked about how we could fight our way out of this thing and win these last two games.

"I came out of it thinking we have a sharp focus on beating UCLA."

A year ago, he said, his coaches feared he lacked that focus in the UCLA game.

"After the reverse play, I went to the bench and talked to coach [Dennis] Thurman [USC secondary coach] and he told me he was yanking me," Kelly said.

"He told me, 'You're not in this game right now, you're not focused.'

"Coach Robinson didn't say anything to me then, but in the first week of the Rose Bowl practices, he said to me, 'Make sure you refocus before the Rose Bowl game.' "

Kelly acknowledges that he might have been slightly out of focus a year ago.

The reason? Impending fatherhood.

Kelly and his girlfriend, Lisa Green, had a baby boy last April 6 and named him Brilan.



* Site: Rose Bowl, 12:30 p.m.

* TV: Channel 7

* Radio: KLSX-FM (97.1), XTRA (690)

* Records: USC 5-5 overall, 3-4 Pac-10; UCLA 4-6, 3-4

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