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Revisiting a 16-Year-Old USC football Win Over UCLA

Why November 17, 2001 is my favorite moment in USC history, and it might be Pete Carroll’s, too.

Antuan Simmons #6
Antuan Simmons: The Hero We Needed

If I may quote (generously, and somewhat inaccurately) from Workaholics, “If your favorite USC sports memory isn’t a win over UCLA – that’s fine. But you’re wrong and I hate you.”

My family has had season tickets for USC Trojans football for generations. Some of my earliest, and most of my fondest, memories were made in Section 10 of the Coliseum. But as a kid going to games, none of those memories included a win over UCLA. Until 1999, USC had won just once in my lifetime – in 1990, when I was a year old. The streak finally ended in ‘99, at home, but in a cruel twist of fate I had a football game of my own that day and didn’t get to go. My parents elected to go to the Coliseum that day instead of my Irvine Chargers football game, a decision I didn’t fault them for then and certainly don’t hold against them now. Everybody needs to have priorities.

USC won again the next year, and then the following season a hotshot (read: middling NFL coach) by the name of Pete Carroll got hired to replace fan-favorite Paul Hackett (citation needed). Divine providence led me to break my leg early in my own football season, meaning I’d be in attendance to see Pete’s debut in the rivalry.

In the parking lot that day, you could tell that something special was about to happen. As my best friend (and quarterback) Travis and I took on all comers in touch football, a handful of UCLA students had made their way to the top of a nearby building where they rained down a chorus of “take off that red shirt” whenever a USC fan walked by below. The crowd was electric and we couldn’t wait for kickoff.

An early Palmer-to-Colbert touchdown got the Trojans off to a great start, but we knew it was our night when this happened:

I consider myself extremely lucky to have seen some of the most iconic USC games, plays, and players in person over the last 25 years – Reggie, Adoree, Carson, Leinart and Smith rewriting the record books – but nothing has stuck with me quite like Antuan Simmons pinning an interception against his leg and high-stepping into the end zone right below me. Technically, three more quarters of football were played that night, but the game was over from the second Simmons danced across the goal line. The Victory Bell was staying where it belonged, and for the first time in my life I could say “I was there.”

After years of trying to break “the streak,” USC scraped together first one, then a second, close victory over the hated Bruins. The 27-0 win in 2001 wasn’t just the third straight win over UCLA; it was an emphatic declaration that USC was ready for its own long streak of dominance in the rivalry. I think anyone who looks back and says they knew what the future held for the Las Vegas Bowl-bound Trojans of ‘01 is being a bit generous to themselves, but walking out of the Coliseum that day we knew that UCLA wasn’t beating USC anytime soon. After years of futility, it was finally time for us to revel in endless choruses of “Tusk” and know the Trojans’ play on the field wouldn’t make us eat our words after the game. Pete Carroll was on his way to building a team that dominated its rivals and competed for BCS bowl wins and national championships. While I certainly loved those years, too, I will forever be grateful for the memories of November 17, 2001 – surrounded by family and friends, finally watching USC beat UCLA in person for the first time.

Fight On Forever.