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THE RIVALRY / No. 2 USC 47, UCLA 22 | Bill Plaschke

Making Amends to the Trojans After Backing the Wrong Horse

November 23, 2003|Bill Plaschke

Westwood Ho!

That was the headline that ran atop the sports page in this newspaper in October 2001.

That's what got this whole sugary business started.

That day, some savant wrote that UCLA had finally claimed neighborhood football rights from USC.

"When it comes to college football," the genius penned, "Los Angeles clearly belongs to the Bruins."

In the wake of Saturday's public defacing of those Bruins at the Coliseum -- a 47-22 USC victory that could have been 147-22 -- the brilliant one must now confess.

That story was a ploy. A veiled attempt to breathe fire into one of this town's great traditions. A covert effort to awaken a sleeping Trojan.

You're welcome, USC, and feel free to buy me dinner in New Orleans.

"This is a Bruin football town, and has been a Bruin football town, and will continue to be a Bruin football town as long as the Bruins continue running the consistent, directed program so lacking across town," wrote the Mensa man.

Since those words, the Trojans have gone 25-4 while the Bruins have gone 15-15.

Since those words, the Trojans have won three consecutive games against the Bruins, outscoring them, 126-43.

Yet since those words, I have been a haunted man, mocked with cries of "Westwood Ho!" in grocery store lines, hotel lobbies and while standing in restrooms.

At least once a week, I see it on the top of a gloating e-mail. I was all of five steps removed from the press box Saturday when I heard it shouted from the stands.

Maybe now everyone will understand?

USC needed a spark, I sacrificed my sterling reputation for objectivity to light one, and Pete Carroll took it from there.

I mean, something happened, right?

One minute, in losing eight consecutive games to them, the Trojans gave the Bruins the aura of Vince Lombardi.

The next minute, the Trojans are turning them into Pop Warner.

Saying Saturday's game wasn't close is like saying Pete Carroll's hair needs a comb.

Said Bruin Matt Clark: "They were all over us."

Said Trojan Kenechi Udeze: "If that's the way it looked, well, we're glad."

The day began, as expected, with Ohio State being publicly tried and convicted of fraud in the Big House of Ann Arbor, Mich.

I, too, proved to be a bit of a loser in my opinion that the Trojans could beat the overblown Buckeyes by two touchdowns.

Make that three touchdowns.

Anyway, USC took the field early Saturday afternoon with, finally, the Jan. 4 national championship game in clear sight.

That made UCLA the gutty little blue bugs on their windshield.

After six possessions, USC had six scores.

After six possessions, UCLA had 26 yards.

Matt Leinart and Mike Williams were like two laughing kids playing catch in the backyard.

Drew Olson and Maurice Drew were like two horrified kids being chased by dogs in the street.

This wasn't a cross-town rivalry, it was a cross-town bus, careening out of control, leaving a trail of broken glass and debris.

Fair fight? This wasn't a fight, period.

By the end of the game, the UCLA section was mostly empty while Karl Dorrell's throat was mostly full.

"Ohhhh," he said, opening his news conference.

Then he stated the obvious, even if he had to invent a word to do it.

"Their team was well-personnelled," he said. "To a large extent, we could not keep up."

And there it is, as plain as the frown on Dorrell's face.

The Trojans simply have better players. Those players are responding to better coaching. And that all points to one man.

"The difference between then and now is obvious: It's Pete Carroll," defensive tackle Shaun Cody said. "The way he inspires you, the way he comes to work each day, you would die for him."

At the time of the "Westwood, Ho!" story, Carroll was struggling in his first year here. He has since turned it around so fast, he even raised the eyebrows of the man who deserves the credit for taking the chance and hiring him.

"This is what we've been trying to do for 10 years, and it's wonderful," said Mike Garrett, the Trojan athletic director. "But I'm really surprised he did it so quickly."

He's doing it constantly, judging by the local high school talent that regularly fills the Trojans' postgame locker room.

"I embrace recruiting as much as anything I do, and we'll keep fighting those battles," Carroll said. "Now, guys who are coming here know who they are coming with."

Indeed, they are coming with a Trojan team that, when it comes to college football, owns this ...

No, no, no. That sort of magical story works only once.

Which reminds me of the time, while boarding an airplane at 5 a.m. in Miami, I was tapped on the shoulder by a stranger.

Security check? Boarding agent? Beggar?

No, Trojan fan.

"Westwood Ho!" he muttered.

It's now Sugar Bowl, Ho! And you're very welcome.

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Keys to the Game

USC

Gary Klein's keys to the game, and how the Trojans measured up:

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