LOS ANGELES -- Ask most of the 2014 USC Trojans and they’ll tell you the most intense annual rivalries on the schedule are UCLA and Notre Dame.
However, while the UCLA and Notre Dame rivalries are the measuring stick of success for Trojans teams and coaches, there is a dirty, little underlying secret. When it comes to strong disdain, the rivalry between USC and Stanford, two of the West Coast’s most prestigious private universities, is also on the list.
As combustible as the rivalry is between the Trojans and Cardinal players, there has been a long history of discord and animosity between the head coaches of the respective schools and at times it has gotten, well, pretty nasty.
During the John McKay coaching era, The Silver Fox just hated the “Indians” as they were called back then. McKay’s anger toward Stanford didn’t just surface in defeat. Even after his eventual 1972 national champions beat Stanford, 30-21, McKay said, “I’d like to beat Stanford by 2,000 points. They have no class. They’re the worst winners I’ve ever gone up against.”
To add fuel to the fire regarding McKay’s remarks, former Stanford coach Jack Christiansen replied, “I have no comment on that. I don’t want to get into a urinating contest with a skunk.”
Another former Stanford head coach, John Ralston, also liked to jab it to the Cardinal and Gold. Of course, part of Ralston's angst was that he could never get over Trojans place-kicker Ron Ayala’s 34-yard field goal on the final play of the game to derail the Indians, 26-24, in 1969.
Then there was the reign of Stanford’s legendary Hall of Fame coach, Bill Walsh. With the Trojans struggling during the early 1990s, Walsh made no bones about publicly calling USC “Yesterday U.” It was obviously a remark indicating that USC’s best days were behind them and recruits should turn their attention to Palo Alto.
Move ahead to the new millennium and in comes a brash former Michigan quarterback by the name of Jim Harbaugh, who took Stanford to national elite status and was just the dickens to former USC head coach Pete Carroll.
In 2007, Harbaugh and his 41-point Stanford underdogs upset the Trojans, 24-23, in the Coliseum in one of college football’s most remarkable upsets. To add insult to injury, Harbaugh did it with backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard.
The term “no love lost” manifested itself during the Harbaugh/Carroll competition era.
In 2009, the rivalry between Harbaugh and Carroll reached the boiling point. In the aftermath of Stanford’s 55-21 leveling of the Trojans in the Coliseum, Carroll lost it when Harbaugh’s Cardinal attempted a two-point conversion with the game already in hand. After the game, Carroll confronted Harbaugh and questioned his adversary’s motive with the now famous “What’s your deal?”
Now moving to the present, the head-coaching rivalry continues with Stanford’s third-year coach David Shaw and the Trojans' first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, formerly the head coach at the University of Washington.
After the Cardinal’s 31-28 victory over Sarkisian’s Washington club last season at sold out Stanford Stadium, Sark accused Shaw afterward of having some of his players fake injuries to slow down the frenetic pace of the Huskies' no-huddle offense.
Both coaches claimed during this week’s teleconference it was all in the heat of competition and they’ve moved on.
But have they?
Considering the long history of bitterness between USC and Stanford head football coaches, ESPN’s "College GameDay" analyst Lee Corso might caution before Saturday’s donnybrook, “Not so fast, my friends.”