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Friendship born of old rivalry

Former high school opponents now united in classic contest

November 14, 2008|Ben Bolch | Bolch is a Times staff writer.

They didn't know each other in high school and didn't care to in college.

Tommy Lopez and Javier Cid were football rivals in the East Los Angeles Classic in the mid-1980s who went on to play on the same defense at East Los Angeles College. Yet the teammates didn't exactly give it the old college try when it came to forging a friendship.

"I didn't really care to talk to him," recalled Cid, who had been an All-City Section linebacker at Roosevelt High. "He was a Garfield guy."

So it goes in one of the longest, most emotional rivalries in Los Angeles high school sports, one that is expected to draw a crowd of about 25,000 to East L.A. College tonight for the 74th regular-season meeting between the schools' football teams.

Mike Garrett, Roosevelt class of 1961, won a Heisman Trophy as a USC tailback and is now the Trojans' athletic director. He compares the high school game favorably to USC's against crosstown UCLA and to what is generally considered college football's greatest intersectional rivalry, USC versus Notre Dame.

"The teams might both be great or they might both be down, but it's always a big game and extremely important to the fans of each team," Garrett said. "That game is like a season within a season."

For Lopez and Cid, the rivalry took on a new meaning more than a decade after their playing days ended. It wasn't until they became assistants on the same coaching staff that they realized they had more in common than East L.A. roots.

"Once we got on the field and I saw how he coached and how we worked together," Lopez said, "I figured we were kind of the same."

As colleagues, they spent endless nights munching on chicken enchiladas and breaking down film at Lopez's Monrovia home. It was at one of these marathon sessions in 2001, when they were assistants at Los Angeles Cathedral High, when Lopez pulled out a black-and-white photo of his touchdown in the 1983 East L.A. Classic on a blocked field goal.

Cid gazed at the photo and couldn't believe what he saw. Sure enough, there was another familiar figure in the frame -- about five yards behind Lopez giving chase.

"He looks at it," Lopez recalled, "and goes, 'That's me.' "

Funny seeing you there.

"That's a cherished moment he has and I just happened to be in that shot," said Cid, now the head coach at Roosevelt in Boyle Heights. "It's an amazing thing, really, because here we are now."

That the men would be forever linked in that photo makes perfect sense since the rivalry that long divided them now unites them.

Their friendship runs so deep that Lopez, a corrections officer at the Chino state prison, has ceded his loyalties to Garfield (5-4 overall and 4-1 in the Eastern League) this week to help Cid and the Rough Riders (8-1, 5-0) prepare for tonight's East L.A. Classic. Tuesday night was spent poring over film at Lopez's home, and tonight Lopez hopes to don a headset and spot formations and tendencies that could help his longtime friend's team prevail.

Against his alma mater.

So, is he conflicted? "Not until my brothers find out about this," the 1985 Garfield graduate jokingly said of the batch of Bulldogs who preceded him.

Indeed, this game, matching two of the Los Angeles Unified School District's largest high schools located just six miles apart, seems to annually test allegiances. Tonight, for example, two players named Diaz -- no relation to each other but so close as kids that they were thought by some to be brothers -- will be on opposite sidelines.

Jesse Diaz is Roosevelt's quarterback; Franky Diaz is a running back for Garfield. They were nearly inseparable flag football teammates at Stevenson Middle School until split apart as high school freshmen because they lived on different sides of Indiana Street.

"We would say we're brothers from other mothers jokingly, but in reality we are in a way because I consider him my brother," Franky Diaz said. "Sometimes I wish he would be on our team."

Just like Lopez is siding with Roosevelt now, in 1983 he gave his all for Garfield. Consider his effort in the aftermath of that blocked kick:

Garfield was clinging to a narrow lead in the fourth quarter when Roosevelt tried the field goal. Lopez heard a thud as the kick was blocked, found the ball bouncing in front of him, scooped it up and found 73 yards of open field ahead.

"It was like the gates of heaven," Lopez recalled. "I was gone." Cid saw Lopez racing for a touchdown that would essentially put away his team and knew "somebody had to chase him down.

"He had a head start and was probably 20 yards ahead of me," Cid recalled, "but I got within five."

They're even closer now. They became fellow assistants under then-coach Ray Galarze at Garfield in 1999, though initially the development didn't suit Cid.

Cid thought he was in line to become defensive coordinator until Galarze told him he had just hired another assistant.

His name? Tommy Lopez.

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