In 2002, the USC Trojans met the UCLA Bruins with high stakes for both teams.
It was the first time both teams had been ranked for their meeting since 1993. The No. 7 Trojans were 8-2 with a five-game winning streak while the No. 25 Bruins were 7-3 and on a three-game winning streak.
USC had beaten UCLA three years in a row -- including a 27-0 shutout the previous year --- and was attempting to beat the Bruins four years in a row for only the second time in school history. The Trojans were led by quarterback Carson Palmer, who would end up winning the Heisman Trophy that year, and a talented freshman wide receiver in Mike Williams. UCLA countered with a strong running game behind Tyler Ebell, who had put up six straight 100-yard games.
The Trojans were fighting for a potential BCS bowl berth, a remarkable achievement for a program that had finished last in the Pac-10 just two years earlier. The arrival of coach Pete Carroll had changed the dynamic of the team and at that point of the season there was a sense the Trojans were peaking and playing as well as any team in the nation.
In the USC locker room prior to the game, senior cornerback Darrell Rideaux delivered an emotional pre-game speech that was captured on video and represented the spirit of the Trojans at the time.
Rideaux said at the time:
"Look each other in the eye, 'cause when we go out here in a couple minutes, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to each and every one of us to drain every ounce of energy. Don't hold back! If you hold back, you're wrong and you're letting us all down. So go out there and play free, play fast, like we know how to play! Play like men! Play like Trojans!"
The fired-up USC team took the field at the Rose Bowl that day and made quick work of the Bruins. The opening kickoff was fumbled by UCLA's Tab Perry and recovered by USC's Grant Mattos at the Bruins 34-yard line. On the first offensive play, offensive coordinator Norm Chow wasted no time, dialing up a pass play that went for a touchdown from Palmer to Kareem Kelly.
USC would eventually go on to the Orange Bowl, where the Trojans beat Iowa, 38-17, to finish the season ranked No. 4 in the AP poll.
On the 10-year anniversary of that game, the Trojans and Bruins are once again scheduled to meet in the Rose Bowl with a lot on the line for both teams. The matchup has also given Rideaux an opportunity to reflect on what he would say to today's Trojans as they prepare to take part in the special rivalry.
"You are officially challenged by those of us who has paved the way for you to have this stage at this time in your life," Rideaux said. "Set aside all that has happened for it will build callus and make the reward of victory much more enjoyable. Silence the skepticism through preparation by showing a commitment to execute at an optimum level."
On both sides of this rivalry, words like that will be spoken this week, former players reaching out to current players or fans of both teams doing what they can to escalate the rivalry to a fever pitch. It's a rite of passage in this crosstown showdown, especially in those years when there is much at stake for both sides.