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ISSUE 120 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/6/2006

Inside the Lines: Glory after seven years

By Matt Tiano
Sports Editor

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Most laugh. Many suggest I need to get my priorities straight. After experiencing what I did Saturday, I think my priorities are exactly where they need to be.

At 6:30 p.m., I understood exactly what makes me happiest, what produces two fists in the air (with the occasional Tiger Woods fist pump mixed in) and what causes me to forget about the previous 19 years of my life.

On Saturday, the no. 2-ranked USC Trojans were seeking their eighth-consecutive victory over the 6-5 Bruins of UCLA. The heavily favored Trojans had their sights set on Glendale, Ariz., the site of the national championship.

The last seven years saw frustration, disappointment and a sense that my UCLA Bruins would always be seen as a cross-town inferior that would be subjected to fist pumps, chest banging and ridicule on the part of the USC Trojans.

After Saturday’'s emotional, improbable and gut-checked performance (a 13-9 victory) from the Bruins, seven years of disappointment quickly disintegrated into the frigid Minnesota air.

Apparently, Bruin players felt the same way.

"“The Bruins were probably tired of hearing seven years worth of stuff from people,"” said USC's Ryan Kalil. "“So they took it all out on us."”

On Saturday before kickoff, I recalled the previous seven tries, where I watched each game and with whom. Following each loss, I pondered my meaning and longevity in the world of sports, specifically for my beloved Bruins.

The 2006 Bruins had already been invited to a bowl game; therefore a victory would not provide them with a chance for a more prestigious bowl.

But boy, did the Bruins ever have something to play for: a chance at knocking their storied rival out of the BCS title game. They displayed what every sports team should: pride, emotion and passion, regardless of playoff implications.

Rivalry games are what make college sports so special. We crave the passion and tradition, whether two top-tier teams give battle, or in this case, a perennial national powerhouse squaring off against a team searching for answers.

During one media timeout, UCLA was fired up on the sideline, looking like a cadre of restless tigers waiting to break free. Soon enough, the Trojans joined in, clearing benches and provoking off-setting unsportsmanlike penalties.

I disagree. That type of passion and excitement should be what a rivalry is all about. That was the essence of “sportsmanlike.”

On any given Saturday, anything can happen. The team that has the heart and desire to win typically does, regardless of sportswriters'’ prognostications or BCS consequences.

Who could argue with the writers for unanimously picking USC? One moment, the Trojans had scored at least 20 points in a national-record 63 consecutive games. The next moment, they were being labeled overconfident quitters after scoring an all-time Pete Carroll-era-low nine points.

When asked about the meaning of the win, cornerback Eric McNeal, who had the clinching interception, put it perfectly.

"“The streak is over,"” he said. “"We answered our critics. We shut them down when nobody thought we could."”

Trojan cheerleaders were bawling on national television. Footage of the marching band showed dejected faces, shocked by what had just occured. And then there were the Bruins jumping, hopping and celebrating the completion of what was previously considered impossible, high-fiving fans and riding each other into the locker room.

I say this to any sports fan who to this day, feels that he or she has not experienced joy in the following of his or her respective team. Stay around for the ride. When it is your time, the moment will be that much sweeter. Do not be discouraged by predictions or over-analysis. The players decide the game. ESPN is not pressuring the quarterback or making open field tackles.

As much as I’'d like it to be, this isn’'t about USC-UCLA. It'’s about cheering like it’'s the final game you will ever see. It’'s about the special place reserved for your team in your heart.

As the Bruins interrupted USC'’s final drive with a memorable and acrobatic interception (not only of John David Booty’'s pass , but of national-title dreams), I found myself exuberantly jumping with excitement, perhaps acting as if I had just kicked the winning field goal at the Rose Bowl. Laughter arose from the Norwegian-sweatered peanut gallery in the jam-packed Pause, not because of Brett Musberger'’s commentary, but in response to my ebullient performance.

The Christmas Festival patrons undoubtedly felt I had to get my priorities straight. But after Saturday, I'’m even more convinced they'’re exactly where they need to be.

Maybe now you understand.

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