Midway through the third quarter of a game that was less artistic than most graffiti you see, the sports editor tapped me on the shoulder and recommended that we fill this column today with white space.
"It's like your mom tells you," he said. "If you can't say anything nice. . . . "
He apparently doesn't know my capacity for writing nice.
There were a number of positive aspects to USC's 17-7 victory over UCLA on Saturday at the Coliseum.
1. Chad Morton, who in August guaranteed a victory over the Bruins, ran a long way toward assuring it. He gained 143 yards--111 in the first half--in a career-high 36 carries and became only the third Trojan running back in the '90s to exceed 1,000 yards for a season.
2. USC's defense, taking advantage of UCLA's inexperienced quarterback and offensive line, had six sacks. Safety David Gibson intercepted two passes, one at the USC two-yard line. Linebacker Zeke Moreno intercepted one, at the USC eight, and recovered a fumble.
3. USC Coach Paul Hackett, who has received a vote of confidence from Athletic Director Mike Garrett and few others, should see his poll numbers rise--70% of respondents to the Daily Trojan were against him last week--by a few points, especially after calling for the fake field goal that led to the Trojans' second touchdown.
4. Sultan McCullough, whose potential has remained largely that throughout the season, had a 48-yard run, the Trojans' longest this season, and another freshman, Kareem Kelly, caught two touchdown passes. With quarterback Carson Palmer also returning for his sophomore season in 2000, the Trojan future appears bright.
5. No World Wars are on the horizon. The last time USC and UCLA entered this game with losing records before Saturday was on Dec. 6, 1941.
I never said the list would be a long one.
The postgame celebration by Trojan fans didn't appear dampened, so happy were they to see the Bruins' eight-game winning streak in the rivalry broken, but, in fact, it was an unmemorable game in an unmemorable season for both teams.
There were 25 penalties, not including the three on one play in the third quarter that canceled each other out.
The referee was the leading ground gainer, walking off 194 yards in penalties. The Trojans committed 16 of them, half for false starts. It looked like their first game of the season, not their 11th.
But the officials were their best friends on Kelly's second touchdown. Although he clearly was out of bounds when he landed, the side judge ruled it a catch. It was a bad call, although not as consequential as the one on Eric Affholter's non-catch that gave USC a 17-13 victory over the Bruins in 1987.
Trojan fans probably believed they deserved this one after a quick whistle in the first quarter aborted the return of a fumble recovery inside the Bruin 10 by linebacker Shamsud-Din Abdul-Shaheed.
UCLA Coach Bob Toledo didn't complain vociferously about the call on Kelly's touchdown.
"That was one play," he said.
There were a couple of others he would like to have back, such as wide receiver Freddie Mitchell's drop of a sure touchdown pass and tailback DeShaun Foster's lost fumble at the USC five in the fourth quarter. If those plays had turned out differently, combined with the Bruins' better-than-expected defensive performance, maybe UCLA would be celebrating nine in a row.
The best thing about this game was that it was only a game.
Shawn Slocum, who coaches USC's linebackers and special teams, was driving on the Harbor Freeway toward campus Thursday morning when he heard the news on the radio about the bonfire accident at Texas A&M that killed 12.
If you are familiar with Texas A&M, you know there is no such thing as a former Aggie. Slocum, who played at Texas A&M and whose father, R.C. Slocum, is the head coach there, was devastated.
"I've been up on that stack, up at the top of those logs," Slocum said Saturday. "The bonfire is symbolic of our burning desire to beat the hell out of the University of Texas, and a lot of emotion goes into building it.
"But something like that happens and you realize that the rivalry USC has with UCLA, like the one Texas A&M has with Texas, you can't get carried away with them. They're football games."
Toledo was an assistant coach at Texas A&M for five seasons before coming to UCLA.
"Twelve young kids gave their lives for something they felt was very important, a football game," he said. "That's a great tradition down there. But I'd take those lives back any day and lose every football game. That puts all this stuff in perspective."
Randy Harvey can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org