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The Inside Track | Mike Penner / SOUND AND VISION

Papadakis, Stevens Put Color in Rivalry Week

November 19, 2003|Mike Penner

Between taking a stroll down the Third Street Promenade with a cardboard cutout of Karl Dorrell and making an appointment to get his hair dyed blue, a guy can work up quite an appetite.

So by the time he walked into the family restaurant in San Pedro on Monday night, Petros Papadakis was ready to do some damage.

And while he did, he also enjoyed a 16-ounce steak and a Newcastle ale.

"I'm watching Paul Hackett all over again," Papadakis said as he dug in once more with his knife. "He's wearing a UCLA outfit, but he has a meaner expression on his face. He looks overmatched. He looks freaked-out."

Papadakis was talking about Dorrell, the first-year UCLA football coach who has provided Papadakis a bottomless barrel of material for his morning radio show on 1540 AM and evening sparring sessions with Matt Stevens on Fox Sports Net's "Southern California Sports Report."

Earlier in the day, Papadakis had parodied Dorrell's bland public persona by parading a life-sized cardboard replica around Santa Monica in front of the Fox cameras. At the same time, Stevens was taking a sledgehammer to a wrecked car that was supposed to represent USC and its football program.

This is how some old Trojans and Bruins deal with their demons during USC-UCLA week. It is not pretty. By nightfall, former USC running back Papadakis and ex-UCLA quarterback Stevens found common ground at Papadakis Taverna, breaking bread and hummus with a few local writers while debating Saturday's big game at the Coliseum.

Papadakis was already stewing about having to dye his hair Bruin blue because he'd lost his season-long Pac-10 prediction contest with Stevens. But a cold beer helped to improve his mood. So did Saturday's point spread: USC by 22.

"It's rough to be Stevens this year," Papadakis said. "I don't envy his position. It's a tough year. But he was fundamental in the hiring of Karl Dorrell. So he has nobody but himself to blame.

"All the ghosts of the 1980s UCLA football teams that were successful ... they all went to [UCLA Athletic Director Dan] Guerrero and said, 'You've got to hire Dorrell! He's a Bruin! He'll really bring back that Bruin feel! We need tradition!'

"They did all that. So he has nobody to blame but himself."

Papadakis said he was "fundamentally against" the hiring of Dorrell.

"I thought it was an injustice to Bruin fans," he said. "Because he's a guy who was a coordinator for [Rick] Neuheisel, which means he never called a play. And then Neuheisel pushed him out after one year and he went to be a wide receiver coach in the NFL, which is where coaches go to die. I mean, who was he?

"They could have had Mike Riley, or the Mike Stoops of the world, if they were willing to spend a little money. People say, 'Well, he's feeling his way.' UCLA deserves better than somebody who's feeling his way. They had 14 returning starters, they were an 8-5 team, they won a bowl game. Their seniors deserve better than somebody who's feeling his way. They're better than that."

Stevens said "the guys on the team sure like [Dorrell], though." He noted that if Dorrell finished his first season 6-6, he would equal Pete Carroll's first-year record at USC.

Papadakis: "Yeah, but, see, SC improved as the year went on. UCLA is crumbling in November, like they have every year since 1998. November has not been kind to you guys. Especially in this new century."

Stevens: "I will give you that. [But] let's not forget, Karl Dorrell has shouldered all the blame for everything that's going on there."

Papadakis: "What's he supposed to do? Act like [Bob] Toledo? It's his fault. He's the guy that wanted to put in that offense. That horrid offense."

Stevens and Papadakis argued the merits of UCLA's West Coast offense. Papadakis called it a flawed system that is nothing more than "coaching hubris. I saw it destroy many careers at USC. Including my own." Stevens said the system was fine but questioned the Bruins' play-calling.

"UCLA is USC of 1998," said Papadakis, who played for the Trojans from 1996 to 2000. "They won early in the year because they were happy to have a new coach.... We were happy that Paul Hackett took over for [John] Robinson, if you can believe that. There was a time we were happy about Hackett.

"So Hackett came in and what did we do? We were inspired, we played [angry] football. We won with defense and special teams. Just like Notre Dame last year, when [Tyrone] Willingham showed up.

"But with the West Coast offense -- Willingham, Hackett, Dorrell -- it all starts to crumble after a while. Because you can't win with defense and special teams forever. The offense is inept, the defense gets tired and beat to hell, and you start to fall apart. And it never gets better.

"I feel very badly for a lot of those seniors at UCLA. Because they should have had a better chance to win."

Playing the role of Good Alum, Stevens announced that UCLA would upset USC, 21-19. It's a good thing he clinched the Pac-10 prediction contest a week early.

Pressed as to how UCLA was going to manage to score three touchdowns, Stevens suggested, "A defensive turnover, they run back a kick ... "

Papadakis: "And a paratrooper comes down and knocks out the USC quarterback."

Dropping the name John Barnes into the conversation, Stevens grinned and shot back, "It could happen, Petros. It could happen."

Papadakis looked amused.

"Stevens is showing a good sense of humor this week," he said.

It's a good thing to have when the alma mater is a 22-point underdog to the archrival. Humor helps. Religion does too.

As Stevens put it, outlining his personal game plan for Saturday, "I am just going to pray and pray and pray."

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