UCLA is more about its current state than rivalry with California

The last time UCLA visited Berkeley to play Cal, quarterback Brett Hundley and the Bruins lost, 43-17.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

There is no one left on the UCLA roster who has heard the words of the late Elvin C. “Ducky” Drake.

The last time Drake’s sentiments were uttered on the Westwood campus was 2009, when former Bruins lineman Ed Kezirian channeled Drake’s speech about how the people in Berkeley treated the Bruins like poor relations.

Drake, who spent more than 60 years as a student, coach and trainer at UCLA, raged about it before UCLA-Cal football games from 1972-88.


Drake might be appalled at the current state of the rivalry between the schools. When the teams play in Berkeley on Saturday, the focus will be on the Bruins trying to right a foundering ship and the Bears trying to finish above sea level.

Both teams have 4-2 overall records. UCLA, the preseason pick to win the Pac-12 South, has a 1-2 record in conference play. California, picked to finish last in the North Division, is 2-2.

Beyond that are only murky ideas about why their forefathers waged such angry battles.

“It’s definitely a little rivalry to us,” California quarterback Jared Goff said.

Asked why, he replied, “I don’t know. It might be that both have a bear mascot or that we both have the same colors or that we’re both in UC schools.”

UCLA center Jake Brendel painted with equally broad strokes.

“It has something to do with them considering us their little child,” Brendel said. “I guess it’s not that big anymore. With us, it’s all about USC.”


Somewhere, Drake must be shaking his head.

“I think a little bit of it has been lost,” Kezirian said. “Coaches, players, support staff, change.”

The Bears have other things on their minds. They are looking for respect after posting a record of 1-11 in 2013. And a 4-1 start this season was tempered by a 31-7 loss to Washington last week.

The Bruins have their own issues. They were ranked eighth in the nation before back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon at the Rose Bowl.

“We have to get this fixed immediately,” receiver Jordan Payton said. “It’s urgent.”

There was once urgency just because it was a football game between UCLA and Cal.

UCLA won 18 consecutive games over Cal from 1972 to 1989.

“We were all wearing T-shirts that said, ‘The streak stops today,’ ” recalled Brian Treggs, a receiver for Cal in the 1990 game.

Cal Coach Bruce Snyder had his team enter the stadium through the student section.

“The only thing I was worried about was tripping on the steps going down,” said Mike Pawlawski, the Bears’ quarterback in 1990.

UCLA enters this game having lost seven straight in Berkeley. However, no one has given a call to arms. This is Coach Jim Mora’s second visit to Memorial Stadium. In 2012, the Bruins were routed, 43-17, by a 3-9 California team that later fired its coach.

Asked about that game this week, Mora said, “I don’t look back on games that are 2 years old.”

As for Saturday’s game, “This is a game we need to win,” Mora said. And that’s about it.

“I have learned more about the USC-UCLA rivalry because it is right here,” Mora said. “I don’t involve myself in a lot of that because it is really irrelevant to us at this moment in time. Now, I understand the relevance to everybody else.”

Pawlawski laughed at that, pointing out where Mora went to college.

“He’s a Washington guy, what do you want?” Pawlawski said, noting the Apple Cup game between Washington and Washington State “is a big deal to them, but it’s not a big deal to me.”

UCLA, Pawlawski said, was a big deal.

Cal was founded in 1868. UCLA opened in 1919. When Cal was becoming a football power, UCLA lost its first game to Manual Arts High, 74-0.

“They stole our fight song and they stole our colors,” Pawlawski said. “We had bold blue and strong gold and they made it powder blue and … yellow.”

Drake’s annual speech to UCLA players began after the Bears defeated the Bruins, 31-24, in 1971.

“Ducky always felt that Cal was jealous and wanted to keep UCLA down,” Kezirian said. “He felt the decision was made to keep their thumbs on the Bruins.”

UCLA won in 1972, and Drake continued the ritual until his death in 1988. The following year, Rose Drake, his widow, gave the talk. UCLA won again.

No one gave the speech in 1990, which started a five-game California winning streak in the series.

Kezirian stepped in in 1995, ushering in a win, and has performed the task periodically since.

Kezirian said the rivalry will be back, even if he’s not. “These things go in cycles,” he said. “This will heat up again.”

Twitter: @cfosterlatimes