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Beano Cook

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Wednesday, September 26, 2001
Longstanding West Coast rivalry
By Beano Cook
Special to

When the late John McKay was the head coach at USC, he of course wanted to beat UCLA, but he always said that Stanford drove him nuts. Many people thought Stanford acted with an air of superiority. They were the only private schools in the old Pacific Coast Conference, but Stanford always had the appearance of looking down on USC. The old saying went, "USC has Stanford prices, but you still only get a USC education." The feeling was that Stanford was a bunch of elitists and Southern Cal was a bunch of hard-knock guys.

J.K. McKay
John McKay, second from left, at the 10th annual induction to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

All of those misconceptions amounted to not much more than what the kids today call "trash-talking." Whether the sentiments were real or perceived, they made for a great rivalry. From 1933 to 1935 Stanford's team was called the "Vow Boys." When they were freshman, the class of '33 team made a vow to never lose to USC, and they didn't. Not only did they beat USC three straight years, they went to the Rose Bowl after all three of those seasons. They lost the '34 and '35 Rose Bowl (to Columbia and Alabama, respectively) and won the '36 Rose Bowl, a 7-0 victory over Southern Methodist.

USC leads the all-time series (53-23-3), and they've had more Heisman Trophy winners (4 to 1), but there have been some memorable Stanford victories. One of the biggest wins in Stanford history was a 45-20 beating of USC at home in 1970. USC was a three point favorite, but Jim Plunkett led Stanford to the victory which ultimately sent the Cardinal on their way to the Rose Bowl.

Another famous game was in 1951 when Stanford beat USC 27-20, led by Bob Mathias, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown. If the name Mathias sounds familiar, it should -- he won the decathlon in the 1948 Olympics, and again in 1952. Somehow, no one ever seems to agree with me when I say that Mathias' biggest accomplishment might have been being a classmate of mine in prep school -- the same prep school that Harry Stuhldreher, one of the Four Horseman, attended.

For USC, the big game is UCLA. For Stanford, their big game is Cal. But for both Stanford and Cal, their second biggest game is USC. A Stanford grad once told me, "We want to beat Cal more than anything else, but it's USC that we really hate."

Following closely behind their main rival, USC is the team everyone wants to beat. Washington wants to beat Washington State, but then they want to beat USC. Oregon wants to beat Oregon State, but then they want to beat USC. Everyone guns for USC because the Trojans are the West Coast team with the most Heisman trophy winners, the most national championships, and the most famous games. The Trojans also hold the records for most Rose Bowl appearances (28) and wins (20).

With their bitter rivalry and Southern Cal's success, it's no surprise Stanford also wants to knock off USC. After all, Stanford counts among their alumni Fred Savage of the Wonder Years and Chelsea Clinton. But John Wayne played for USC.

Beano Cook is a college football historian for ESPN. Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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