UCLA and USC had retreated to neutral corners. The Bruins came out swinging. The Trojans came out with a letter.
UCLA put an end to a tradition — the pregame ritual of the USC drum major stabbing the turf with a sword — then went wild at its own annual event.
A bonfire rally at UCLA Thursday night brought out some of the rivalry's rancor.
"We hate those dudes across town," senior fullback David Allen told the crowd. "We're taking it back this year."
Meanwhile, across town, there was displeasure with UCLA not allowing the drum major to stab the field.
Keith Yoerg, the drum major who most recently has been applying the coup de grace to the sod, released a statement admonishing UCLA for preventing what he said was a USC band tradition played out in every stadium "for 40 years, including [at] Stanford, Cal, Notre Dame, UCLA and bowl games."
UCLA officials threatened to ban the band from performing at halftime if the drum major stabbed the field. Athletic department officials have refused to comment, but privately they have questioned whether it demonstrated good sportsmanship.
At the bonfire, UCLA Coach Jim Mora asked students to show sportsmanship at the game. But he also said, "We need to make that Rose Bowl the most uninviting place for a Trojan to come into in his life."
In his letter, Yoerg said that the stabbing of the sword was not meant to be disrespectful but signals the beginning of the band's pregame show. "Eliminating it misrepresents what the tradition stands for."
Yoerg said, "It is one of the most iconic moments in all of college sports. … "It is a moment that gives Trojan fans a chance to voice their support for the team and cheer, as much as it gives opposing fans a chance to boo," Yoerg said.
Back in Westwood, a match was being lighted as part of a Bruin tradition.
USC has won 12 of the last 13 football games in the series, including the last five. The Bruins told students that streak would end.
"Paint the Rose Bowl blue," safety Andrew Abbott said. "We're bringing it back this year."