Rivalry week has come a little early here in southern California. Most of the west coast intra-state rivalries (Washington vs Washington St., Oregon vs Oregon St., Arizona vs Arizona St.) are having their games next weekend. But here in southern California (and up in the San Francisco bay area where it’s Cal vs Stanford), it’s this Saturday for all the pageantry and tradition of the crosstown rivalry between the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) football. These games are almost always exciting because both teams are playing with so much emotion; it doesn’t matter what their records are in a given year, anything can happen. UCLA can have a very bad year but make everything suddenly okay by beating USC and vice versa. There’s always a lot riding on this one game even when both teams have had losing seasons.
With schools this close together there’s always a good deal of good-natured ribbing going on with neighbors flying opposing flags, husbands and wives wearing differing colors as warring alumni, and sometimes parents all mixed up (like a Bruin sweatshirt and a Trojan cap) with kids at both schools. Even the local supermarket has blue and gold UCLA tortilla chips and crimson and gold USC chips, depending on your allegiance. The week prior is full of rallies, concerts, and amazing stories of former years, and you can be sure both schools are guarding their mascot statues 24/7 from vandalism. And of course there is the victory bell which passes to the winner each year and usually goes with the team the following season, getting rung on the sidelines for inspiration.
One of the special things about this southern California matchup is that the NCAA suspends its rule that the visiting team must wear white jerseys and allows both teams to wear their home colors, making a very colorful playing field of UCLA powder blue against the bright crimson of USC. As far as I know, this is the only time this happens. When you think of it, though they are in the home stadium of one of the teams, they are both playing in their home town.
In a time of extreme polarization in this country over politics and the hot-button issues that can turn any discussion into a battleground with opposing sides quickly turning into ugly shouting matches and even worse, it might be good for everyone to borrow a page from Big Game Rivalry Week about how to hold differing views with civility, respect and good humor. One of the true values of sports is that it gives us an acceptable emotional outlet and a perspective on life from a different angle, and we certainly could all use a lesson in good sportsmanship when it comes to civil discourse in our current society.