USC and UCLA Living In the Glory Daze

Chris Dufresne

There have been, obviously, better days, weeks and seasons for football and basketball at USC and UCLA.

W-A-Y better, as in stupendously better--gloriously and euphorically better. Check out circa 1967-68.

Considering the dynastic lineages of USC football and UCLA basketball, dating to the 1920s, it had been heretofore almost impossible to imagine an academic-calendar scenario in which the local flagship universities could go “oh-for-four” in the revenue sports.

But, by god, look, they’re giving it a serious go.

This 2018-19 campaign has a chance to be the worst on record since, well, here’s a hint: war bonds.

The urge to deep-dive into the historical record was prompted by recent double-dribble losses to Utah and Colorado, the most recent add-on casitas to the old Pueblo 10.

UCLA basketball, last Saturday, blew a 22-point lead and lost on a buzzer beater at Pauley Pavilion.

“We’re obviously about as down as you can be right this second,” interim Coach Murry Bartow told the L.A. Times.

Across town, at the Galen Center, late defensive lapses cost USC in a close loss to Colorado.

“We had a tough game tonight,” USC Coach Andy Enfield summarized in an UCLA\Pac 12 companion piece the Times deemed worthy for D7 of the Sunday sports section.

The locals have time to pull out of this maple syrup morass, but neither program is trending positive.

USC is 6-5 in Pac play and 13-11 overall while UCLA dropped to 5-6 and 12-12.

UCLA, a proud program, is becoming a sad read: Tuesdays with Murry?

The Trojans and Bruins continue conference play Wednesday evening in the Bay Area.

USC is No. 96, one spot behind Northeastern, in the new NET rankings being utilized by the NCAA selection committee. UCLA is running a NET fever of 102.

When these programs shoot lately, something is amiss.

Now the nut fact: the combined record for USC and UCLA, in football and basketball, is 33-39 for the season.

This is hard to fathom and frankly unacceptable for the Pac 12’s most historically important national brand names.

The failure of pillars USC (football) and UCLA (hoops) is tough enough to swallow in any academic year and only only made worse when Trojan basketball and Bruin football are added as additional dead weight.

All four teams being woeful, in the same year, is as rare as Haley’s Comet.

Young followers of USC and UCLA sports need to know this is NOT how these guys have traditionally rolled.

USC claims its first football national title in 1928 and UCLA basketball advanced to the Final Four as recently as 2008. That’s 80 years of nearly uninterrupted, one-or-the-other, excellence.

Lest you think this is some grumpy old man piece pining for the good old days of John McKay and John Wooden.

As recently as 2007-08, our local power four combined to go 73-25. Only UCLA football, at 6-7, missed the party.

The fear in early 2019 is that kids will never know how good it was and continue to accept the mediocrity we are witnessing now.

At what point does a fanbase fall loyally in line with Iowa State?

And what we are seeing this year, if this Marina Del Rey yacht isn’t turned around, could end up the worst collective since the early World War II years.

In 1940-41, USC\UCLA went 24-43-2 in football\basketball.

Big trouble was brewing overseas and would soon cloud all sporting concerns.

USC football finished 3-4-2 in the fall of 1940 in what turned out to be Howard Jones’ last year as coach. It was his last year because, sadly, he died the following summer, at age 55, of a heart attack.

UCLA stumbled home at 1-9, but at least it had Jackie Robinson!

The star of 1940-41 was USC basketball at 15-10 (UCLA finished 6-20).

Only a season before, in 1939-40, three of the four fielded sports had stellar campaigns. USC and UCLA, both undefeated, played before a crowd of 103,303 at the Coliseum.

The game ended in a 0-0 tie when USC defender Bob Robertson batted away Kenny Washington’s fourth-down pass in the end zone.

Today, one might consider a field goal to win.

USC basketball followed up, in March of 1940, by finishing T-3 in the second-ever NCAA Tournament.

Only UCLA basketball failed to carry water, finishing 8-17 in the dark years before Wooden‘s arrived.

Things really got dicey in 1941-42 as UCLA and USC struggled again in football and played to a 7-7 tie on Dec. 6, a day before unholy hell broke loose. UCLA hoops under Wilbur Johns careened to 5-18 although USC basketball finished 12-8.

The larger point is this modern-day presentation of USC and UCLA is appallingly rare and is playing competitive limbo with a historical bar.

These are far removed from days when USC and UCLA routinely matched national titles in football and basketball.

The 1967-68 campaign may have been the watershed for the combined sports.

UCLA, led by Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban, was ranked No. 1 when it met USC at the Coliseum in a game now stored on a shelf in college football's pantheon.

The Bruins’ dream season was ruined by O.J. Simpson’s 64-yard run in a 21-20 loss that propelled USC to the national title.

UCLA basketball, led by Lew Alcindor, routed Dean Smith and North Carolina, 78-55, in the 1968 NCAA finals at the L.A. Sports Arena.

USC basketball finished 11-3 in conference in 1967-68 at a time when only conference champions were allowed in the NCAA Tournament. Two of USC’s league losses were to UCLA (the other was by one point to Cal).

The 1972-73 school year wasn’t shabby, either. USC won the national title in football, with one of greatest collegiate teams of all time, while UCLA continued its basketball dominance led by Bill Walton making 21-for-22 shots in the title game win over Memphis.

USC basketball finished 18-10 and UCLA football ended 8-3 under Pepper Rodgers.

And how about 1954, the year UCLA claimed its only football title (half share) under Red Sanders? USC actually went to the Rose Bowl that year (because of the no-repeat rule). UCLA hoops finished 21-5 in 1954-55 while USC was 14-11.

So, go ahead, pick a year—any year. Go find your own worst season and report back to me.

See if you can find one collectively worse than the campaigns USC and UCLA are putting us through now.

UCLA or USC could (technically) still save face by winning the Pac 12 Tournament and claiming conference’s auto-bid into the NCAA field. And then make a surprising run to the round of 16.

Call us, toll free, if that were to actually happen.

To recap, it never used to be like this around here and it seems to me deep-pocketed USC and UCLA people need to care more than they seem to be caring.

Or, at least, care more than a retired newspaper scribe rummaging through the garage on Tuesday, blowing the dust off the records section of an old Pac 10 media guide.

My hindsight prism, based on this year, has been totally thrown out of whack. Steve Lavin is looking more and more like Clair Bee and maybe Ted Tollner deserves a statue at Heritage Hall.

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

What happened to that swag USC football use to have? Time to bring in some of the old school guys with mucho swag like Ronnie Lott!💪


Chris. As soon as I arrived at USC IN ‘73 I detected a sense of entitlement and immediately assumed it given my then recent experiences as a Michigan State Spartan and, worse, Columbia University (NY) Lions Alum. Since John Robinson left it has been mostly hit and miss (mostly miss) until Pete, which was a, possibly Devine (not Dan) accident. The World has changed drastically since 1973 and it’s obvious (to me at least) politically and economically the priorities of both Universities have changed as well. Current expectations for USC FB ( I have little interest in NCAA basketball) are way overblown. USC will not be Alabama-ever. USC Administration has demonstrated it has no interest in being Alabama or Clemson. They want to be Columbia Lions.

Chris Dufresne