A young Jeff Fisher slumped in front of his locker, head down.

The USC defensive back had just let an interception slip away, into the hands of UCLA running back Freeman McNeil, for a long touchdown that gave the Bruins a 20-17 victory in the 1980 game.

Fisher was disconsolate, so the school's sports information director, Tim Tessalone, approached him carefully.

"Jeff, you don't have to do this," Tessalone said. "But all the media want to talk to you."

As the buffer between Trojans athletes and reporters for almost three decades, Tessalone has experienced all sorts of moments -- good and bad -- surrounding USC-UCLA games. Same goes for his counterpart, Marc Dellins, the Bruins' longtime spokesman.

"You work with these coaches, with the student-athletes," Dellins said. "There's joy when you win. You see the pain that losing causes."

Both Tessalone and Dellins graduated from the schools where they now work, so to some degree they are fans. But their jobs, as well as their inside access, give them a distinctive insight into the crosstown rivalry.

The Good

So many stars have played in the annual game, a litany of Heisman Trophy winners that stretches from Mike Garrett and Gary Beban to Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Yet, when Tessalone and Dellins are asked for their favorite football recollections, they mention two lesser-known names.

For Dellins, it was John Barnes.

The year was 1992 and the Bruins had run through pretty much all of their quarterbacks, losing Wayne Cook, Rob Walker and Ryan Fien to injury. They were down to a fourth-string senior.

"He wasn't even on the team the previous year," Dellins said. "Coach [Terry] Donahue let him walk on."

Barnes responded with a magical night against the Trojans, throwing for 385 yards and three touchdowns. When 15th-ranked USC failed on a two-point conversion with less than a minute remaining, UCLA had a 38-37 upset victory.

Dellins loved that a no-name could, in the course of a few hours, become a star. He also liked the way Barnes responded afterward. The quarterback, known to live in a realm of his own, did not consider his Cinderella performance a big deal.

Interviewed on television after the game, he was asked what might have happened if USC had taken the lead on that conversion.

"Well," he responded plainly, "we'd have gone down the field and scored again."

Tessalone's favorite story dates to 1979, his first year on the job. The fourth-ranked Trojans, on their way to an undefeated season, held a big lead against UCLA as he made his way from the press box to the field.

Walking down the stadium stairs, he watched little-used USC tailback Michael Hayes run for a late touchdown. It was a meaningless score in a 49-14 victory, but Tessalone was struck by Hayes' sheer joy.

"I remember him making this great run, somersaulting in the end zone," Tessalone said. "Here's a guy who labored in the shadows of Charlie White and he got his little moment."