James Snook-US PRESSWIRE
Much ado has been made of the antics surrounding Saturday's rivalry game between USC and UCLA. It's fun for the fans, but the respective schools need to keep it about football.
At this point, you're familiar with the formal request set forth by the UCLA Athletic Department heard and responded to by the USC Marching Band's director, Arthur C. Bartner. The request asked that the drum major not stab his Trojan sword into mid-field - as he does prior to every game, home or away, since the ‘70s - at Saturday's Pac-12 South deciding bout. Bartner and USC obliged the request. The Rose Bowl field will not be stabbed Saturday morning.
What's that they say on Sunday Countdown? Right, ComeOnMan!
UCLA has asked for a break from tradition days prior to the biggest game their program has played - don't try and make an argument for last year's championship game - since arguably their 2005 tilt with USC. Also during the week, UCLA coach, Jim Mora, conducted an entire press conference surrounding Saturday's game without once using the words "USC" or "Trojans," instead referring to the weekend's "opponent." UCLA covered their new statue of John Wooden outside of new Pauley.
And I get it, this is gamesmanship. A classic little brother tactic used to get inside the dome of your opponent; distracting the opposition from the task at hand - in this case football - and insinuating worry surrounding drum majors and respect. A part of me wants to support it; subtly giving daps to Bruin brass for meddling in Trojan business.
Not going to do it.
There's no place for this maneuver right now. Not when you're in the midst of a surprisingly sound season with the end game of redefining your program as a winner. This is brand management and UCLA isn't managing their brand all too well acting petulantly.
You do you. Take care of X's and O's and blocking and catching and running. Let us, the fans, squabble and bicker about swords in grass, painting inanimate objects, or lighting up dorms. Sometimes we're good at it and sometimes, well, Roll. Damn. Tide.
And USC isn't exempt in all of this. Kiffin can be about as petty as they get. The jersey swapping mystery was dismissively petulant for an elite program and - while it indeed appears to be a rogue action - the ball deflation debacle did happen.
But here's what it all boils down to whether these teams get gimmicky or just duke it out on the field: the winner will be in the driver's seat for the Pac-12 South. UCLA should be focusing on avenging 50-0 while USC clings to a fleeting season. No matter what traditions are suspended or upheld, one thing is for certain: there will be a winner and there will be a loser.
Who's that going to be?