Patrick Johnson did not go looking for trouble when he ventured into the Pierce College football equipment room earlier this week.
But he found it.
In the corner, amid the ever-present aroma of athletic ointments and bleached uniforms, it sat upon metal supports that were painted red and white.
A bell. The bell.
“This bell,” said Johnson, resting a finger atop the two-tiered trophy, “has caused a lot of trouble.”
Johnson, a freshman tight end for the Brahmas, and all of the players on the Pierce and Valley football teams will be looking to wreak some havoc and ring a few bells tonight when they renew one of the oldest rivalries in Valley-area sports.
For the 22nd time--the first since 1985 when Pierce dropped its program in the wake of Los Angeles Community College District budget cuts--the teams from opposite ends of the Valley will square off for civic bragging rights and the bell, a clanging symbol of victory that has been instrumental in inspiring much of the pregame noise.
“I was talking with some of my friends who play for Valley,” Pierce receiver Arthur Collins said. “They said they were going to kick my . . ., break my leg, bring my mother down from the stands and stomp on her and take the bell back. But they’re not taking the bell back. That’s our bell.”
For now, anyway.
Pierce, which has a 14-7 edge in the series, gained rights to the bell--introduced by a Valley College booster club in the mid-70s--in 1983 and retained it with wins in 1984 and the last game of the series in 1985, which the Brahmas won, 17-0.
Valley, under ninth-year Coach Chuck Ferrero, is a heavy favorite to defeat the Brahmas, under first-year Coach Bob Enger, in the 7:30 game at Valley. Pierce is 1-6 overall and 1-5 in Western State Conference play. Valley is 5-2, 5-1.
Whatever the outcome, it should only serve to enhance a rivalry that is already rich in history.
Pierce opened its doors first in 1947 on 400 acres of land that the Los Angeles Board of Education had purchased 3 years earlier for $250 an acre. As the population in the area grew, so did the value of the property, which today is worth millions.
The college was called the Clarence W. Pierce School of Agriculture--after a physician, surgeon and mortuary owner who was a member of the Board of Education. The school opened with 70 students--all male--on a campus that consisted of war-surplus, galvanized bungalows. There was no electricity in the classrooms for the first few weeks. When it rained, students entered the campus in war surplus trucks that were used on college farms.
From those humble beginnings sprang a college that is now the largest of the LACCD with 18,415 students.
Valley opened 2 years later to help accommodate the population growth of the San Fernando Valley, which increased 172% between 1940 and 1950. The campus consisted of 5 bungalows situated on an agricultural plot of Van Nuys High and attracted 440 students for the first semester.
By 1951, the campus was moved to its current 105-acre site in Van Nuys and the enrollment was near 1,000. Today, Valley is the second-largest school in the district with 17,924 students.
Pierce and Valley did not play football against each other until 1965. They were scheduled to meet in 1951, but the contest was canceled when Pierce Coach Mike Cirino--as the school newspaper The Roundup described--"was forced to retire the team after it dwindled to 17 players.”
Even though the school’s football teams were not playing each other, the makings of a rivalry were brewing. In 1962, the Valley journalism staff produced a mock edition of the Pierce paper, changing the The Roundup into the The Rankup . The dateline was Hickland Hills, Calif., and the edition featured stories poking fun at Pierce’s cow-town image. Mythical sportswriter Sidney Sweatsock kindled the rivalry by reporting: “All athletic events have been canceled due to an epidemic of hoof-and-mouth disease that is running rampant through the Bulls’ athletic squads.”
By the time the schools finally got around to playing the inaugural game of the series in 1965, it was a highly anticipated event. The contest was televised by Channel 13 and a crowd of 5,500 packed the stands at Valley. The Monarchs scored 3 times in the first quarter and won easily, 26-6.
Thus began a series that has had many highlights, including:
1970. Long before actor Mark Harmon begins making beer commercials and appearances on the cover of People magazine as “The Sexiest Man Alive,” he throws passes as a quarterback for Pierce. Harmon connects with Richard Henderson on a 50-yard pass play for a touchdown that helps the Brahmas earn a 24-14 victory noteworthy for several reasons.
Pierce entered the game down, 5-0, in the series, but the win turns things around and the Brahmas win the next 7 meetings.
The victory is Pierce’s first for first-year Coach Jim Pendleton, ending an 11-game losing streak.
Running back Jim Fenwick, who later will become an assistant and then head coach of the Brahmas, scores on a 2-yard run.
1975. Pierce wins, 53-49, in what longtime observers call the greatest JC game in the history of the Valley and one of the greatest offensive games at any level.
Fenwick, by then an assistant coach, descends from the press box to the field with Pierce ahead with 2 minutes to play.
“I thought the game was over,” said Fenwick, who is now an assistant at Miami (Ohio). “I remember Pendleton yelled at me, ‘What are you doing down here? The game isn’t over!’ It was a good lesson.”
Indeed, in the last 2 minutes, each team scores 2 touchdowns and executes successful onside kicks. Time runs out with Valley on the Pierce 4-yard line.
1977. Valley quarterback Rick Minyard rushes for 128 yards out of a veer offense and leads Valley to a 42-0 rout, a win that produces the largest margin of victory in the history of the series and ends the Monarchs’ 7-game series losing streak.
1978. Minyard leaves the regimented, run-oriented Valley program for a more laid-back, passing approach with the Brahmas, and helps lead his new team to a 28-21 win.
The quarterback, however, suffers a knee injury in the second quarter that forces him out of the game.
“I didn’t leave Valley on beautiful terms,” said Minyard, who is an assistant coach at Pierce. “There were some guys trying to hurt me during the game and they knew I had a knee injury in high school that required surgery. They twisted my knee, but they weren’t smart enough to realize it was the wrong one.”
1980. Ferrero is initiated into the rivalry as a first-year coach at Valley. Ferrero, a former assistant at College of the Canyons, had been given the job late in the spring after a transcript-falsification scandal rocked the Valley athletic department and several other Southern California JCs.
Despite being undermanned, Valley leads, 9-6, at the end of 3 quarters.
With 7:31 to play, Pierce is on its own 22-yard line. Quarterback Babe Laufenberg--a future member of the 1983 Washington Redskins team that lost to the Raiders in the Super Bowl and the San Diego Chargers’ opening-game starter in 1988--connects with Bob Buckner on a 56-yard pass play.
Rather than playing for a tie by attempting a field goal, Pendleton elects to go for the win on fourth and 8 from the Valley 20. The decision proves to be a good one as Laufenberg hooks up with Buckner again--this time in the corner of the end zone, giving the Brahmas a 13-9 win.
“When I left Pierce and went to Indiana, there was a linebacker from Valley named Ralph Caldwell that also went there,” Laufenberg said. “He used to moan about that play all the time. I think it will haunt him for the rest of his life.”
1982. Valley’s 21-20 victory in a game played in the rain gives Ferrero his first win against Pierce.
Valley benefits from 2 failed Pierce attempts for first downs in fourth-down situations.
With 11 seconds to play, Pierce is faced with a fourth and goal from the Valley 11. Fenwick says later that he didn’t want to try a potential game-winning field goal in the rain. Quarterback Kevin Jan pitches to running back Tony Williams, who can’t control the ball. Jan recovers and throws an incomplete pass to end the game.
1985. For the second time in as many years, the Southern California Conference title is on the line.
Valley comes into the game with the top defense in the state, having allowed an average of just 55 yards rushing. Pierce, however, rolls up 384 yards--235 rushing--and proves to have a stingier defensive unit this day. The Brahmas win, 17-0.
That was where the series left off and for the past 3 years, the bell has been stored away at Pierce.
“I told some of my friends that play for Pierce that we’re going to beat them,” Valley defensive back Oshun Pierre said.
Pierce offensive lineman Brent Tarver, who played at Valley in 1986, is eager to keep the bell close to his new home.
“I’m out to prove I’m not a sap like they thought I was,” Tarver said. “This is the main reason I came back--to play against them. To win would be more than sweet, it would be a dream come true. A revenge-type dream.”
Players at Pierce and Valley do agree on one thing--that they will add their own chapter to the rivalry when they’re finished butting heads tonight.
Then, and only then, will they know for whom the bell tolls.