UCLA-Cal rivalry more than a battle of the bands


This football fight begins with a fight song.

The “Big C” has been the California Bears’ call to arms since 1913. So when UCLA’s “Sons of Westwood” came along, and the sound was suspiciously familiar, there were years of ethical and legal questions.

A call to the Library of Congress in 1969 cleared up the legal dispute. The song was never copyrighted. To UCLA, that was the only “Big C” that mattered.

So when those at UCLA and California whistle a happy tune about a pleasant “ UC family” rivalry when the teams play in Berkeley on Saturday, it’s good to remember families don’t always get along.


“This game is about UC rights,” Cal quarterback Kevin Riley said.

Even to the bands.

Bob Calonico, Cal’s band director, speaks fondly about the UCLA band … until the subject of the fight song comes up.

“They stole it,” Calonico said.

Game on

UCLA (3-2 overall, 1-1 in Pacific 10 conference play) has three consecutive victories. California (2-2, 0-1) has lost back-to-back games. Both teams need the bounce from a victory.

Still, the sibling rivalry lurks as the important thing.

UCLA and USC play for the “victory bell,” which the Trojans have loaned to the Bruins once in 11 years. Cal and Stanford battle for the “axe,” which the Bears have taken home seven times in eight seasons.

Cal-UCLA lacks a memento, but still has issues.

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said this week, “For the second year in a row, they have an extra week to get ready for us.”

A Cal conspiracy? Neuheisel said, “I don’t have any idea. I just know for two years in a row Cal has been given two weeks to prepare for this game.”

Actually, this is the fourth time in eight seasons the Bears received an extra week before UCLA. But who’s counting?

Speech, speech

“Berkeley kind of always acted superior to us,” former UCLA coach Terry Donahue said.

UCLA claimed superiority in 1975. Both teams finished 6-1 in the Pacific Eight Conference, but the Bruins went to the Rose Bowl. Cal fans know it as the year UCLA backed into the Rose Bowl, even though the tiebreaker was the Bruins beating the Bears.

That was part of an 18-game winning streak against Cal that began with UCLA track coach Elvin C. “Ducky” Drake’s speech in 1972.

“Ducky thought Cal had done everything it could to stunt UCLA’s growth,” said Ed Kezirian, a 1972 team member and former coach and UCLA administrator. The passionate speech implored the Bruins to “line up and whip the man across from you,” Kezirian said.

Drake repeated the speech annually until his death in 1988. Rose Drake, his widow, filled in the following season and the Bruins won.

In 1990, no one talked the talk and the Bears started a five-game winning streak that ended after Kezirian gave the Drake speech.

The song remains the same

UCLA was founded 51 years after Cal, but it’s the song that gets tubas in an uproar around Berkeley.

“Things are very amicable between the bands,” said Katie Fleeman, a sophomore in the Cal band. “They gave us sack lunches when we came to the Rose Bowl last year and we’re doing something similar this year. It’s not like it is USC.”

But ...

“Every year before the game, we’re told the story about the song, how they took it,” Fleeman said.

UCLA’s “version” coincided with Cal’s fall from national football prominence in the 1950s. The Bruins may be Rose Bowl-free since 1999, but the Bears’ last appearance was 1959.

The song was adopted as Cal’s song in 1913. All was well until the late 1940s, when UCLA band director Kelley James, a Cal grad, wrote an arrangement for a joint halftime show.

UCLA continued to use the tune, with its own lyrics. A band feud raged for years until the Library of Congress was consulted. Since then, California has had to grin and bear it.

“When the band goes out of state, and we play our song, people will ask, ‘Why are you playing the UCLA fight song?’ ” Calonico said. “It’s like ‘Ouch.’ ”