Crossing town and crossing family ties

LOS ANGELES -- As the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins prepare for the 83rd renewal of college football’s greatest crosstown rivalry, there are reminders everywhere that coming from a “split family” can test the house-divided patience of even the most tightknit family circle.

Take it from someone that has been there. My family at one time reveled in rivalry week to its fullest, as my UCLA father and his twin USC brother would have at it for days leading up to kickoff. The not so unusual thing about it is that neither, like so many others in Southern California, ever even attended the university of their support.

Not that the family didn’t have actual alumni. Uncle Eddie was so cardinal and gold that he would take me during his bachelor days to Trojans games dating back to 1962, John McKay’s first national championship. Yeah, Uncle Eddie sure picked a good year to introduce a 12-year-old boy to what the tradition and spirit of college football was all about.

Not to be outdone, my father had season tickets to UCLA games dating back to 1965, and I got to witness his excitement when the Bruins threw those two late fourth-quarter touchdown passes by sophomore Gary Beban to Dick Witcher and Kurt Altenberg, respectively, to beat the Trojans in the final quarter, 20-16. Dad was in blue heaven on that one and Uncle Eddie and Uncle Bob were in despair for an entire year.

So why did dad like the Bruins? Well, because his brother Jack was a UCLA graduate and once dated a USC coed named Rosalind Weiner, who later became known as Rosalind Wyman, who eventually was elected to the L.A. City Council and helped bring the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles.

Now you ask, how did my dad’s brother come to be a USC fan? Well, his wife, Betty, was a Trojans alumnus. For years they attended USC games until declining health got in the way and those “legendary” tailgate parties became a part of the lore.

I do think that my late mother became a Trojans fan not just because of her brother, Eddie, but she did it to bug the living daylights out of my dad. When the USC-UCLA game was played and they had to watch it on the tube, it would get to be quite a spectacle. Seeing mom get so involved and emotional just irked my dad to no end. She seemed to really enjoy the gamesmanship of being dad’s antagonist.

Heck, even my own son, Greg Jr., grew up a staunch USC fan and even as a youth once traveled to watch the Trojans at Notre Dame and Washington, but wouldn’t you know it, he eventually ended up attending UCLA and playing in the Bruins Marching Band, which, of course, put his UCLA grandpa in Westwood heaven.

You see, in Southern California, the beauty is that almost the entire region is either for USC or UCLA. Even ask a student at Cal State Long Beach or Concordia College whom they want to win this Saturday, and you’ll probably get an answer and an additional explanation. And because both universities are literally a short freeway drive apart, it jacks up the intensity immensely.

How big is this SoCal college sports rivalry?

It has been said that if these two proud universities were playing tiddlywinks, somebody would seriously ask, “Who’s starting at left tidily?”

Over the years, the USC-UCLA rivalry in football has not just divided households in general, but there have been specific occasions when actual brothers have played on opposing sides. In the mid-1970s, one such family was the McNeil family. Brother Rodney was a Trojans tailback while linebacker brother Fred was a Bruin. In 1973, they faced each other with the Trojans prevailing 23-13.

In more recent times, there was the football playing McDonalds. Sons of former USC All-America Tim McDonald, Tim Jr. played for the Trojans while brother Tuvin was a Bruin. Talk about Tim Sr. having to play a neutral parent.

There seem to be family connections everywhere in the rivalry. This season, it’s Trojans offensive lineman Abe Markowitz and his father, Barry, who lettered as a linebacker at UCLA in 1974. To add a little bit more luster, Abe’s great grandfather, Richard Love, played basketball and tennis at UCLA in the 1920s and his cousin Frank Manumaleuga played football at UCLA in 1974.

Just to add a little bit more family spice to this season’s rivalry game, there is UCLA safety Brandon Sermon, who is the brother of former Trojans running back Rodney Sermons (1994-97).

This USC versus UCLA family issue even dips deep down into the current recruiting wars.

Defensive end recruit Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) feels the tug of war between the Trojans and Bruins. Tuioti-Mariner, a USC fan, recently told WeAreSC.com, “Half of my family has grown up rooting for UCLA and half rooting for USC.”

And think about this one: UCLA head coach Jim Mora’s father received a master’s degree from USC and his mother graduated a Trojan, so you talk about a “house divided.”

Of course, it’s pretty well understood that blood is thicker than water, so you kind of know whom the Mora parents will be rooting.

Then again, you never know with this rivalry.