The eight years of losing were wearing on Chad Morton. He needed to do something. He couldn’t let UCLA’s winning streak go on any longer.
“I guarantee this year we are not going to lose,” the USC running back said in an August 1999 edition of Sports Illustrated.
The weight of that promise was lifted as soon as the flood of USC fans hoisted Morton onto their shoulders following the running back’s 143-yard performance in USC’s 17-7 victory in 1999 that ended UCLA’s eight-game winning streak in the rivalry. It’s the longest run of success for either team in the series.
“We needed some kind of motivation,” Morton said of his prediction in a phone interview this week. “Just knowing me, it’s like I’m gonna find a way to get it done.”
In a time before social media, the bold statement mostly lived quietly through the season. Morton didn’t hear about it until game week. And then it caught fire. UCLA coach Bob Toledo wrote the guarantee down on a piece of paper to remind himself to share the slight with his team after practice one day.
“They’ve been saying stuff since before the season,” UCLA cornerback Ryan Roques said during the week leading up to the game. “They’ll talk. They’re always going to talk.”
With two losing teams, the week needed some off-field excitement to spice up the rivalry. It was the fourth time in the history of the series that both teams entered below .500. Neither team had its starting quarterback as UCLA’s Cory Paus and USC’s Carson Palmer both sat out with broken collarbones. There weren’t championships on the line. Only bragging rights.
“At that point, anything goes anyway,” Morton said this week.
The Morton family book-ended the Bruins’ winning streak as older brother Johnnie caught the game-winning touchdown in the 1990 USC win and Chad became USC’s third 1,000-yard rusher of the decade during the 1999 victory.
Only two rivalry wins are still not enough for the family, Chad laments, but 20 years later, when asked about his rivalry moment, his first memory is simple.
“That we won,” the current Seattle Seahawks running backs coach said with a laugh.
The rest of the 17-7 game was a string of blunders. USC had 16 penalties. UCLA had five turnovers. The game-sealing touchdown wasn’t really a touchdown: Referee Jim Sprenger admitted after the game that Kareem Kelly’s fourth-quarter catch with 13:02 remaining shouldn’t have counted as the freshman’s first foot came down out of bounds before his second landed in the end zone. This was before officials could review plays on video.
Three of UCLA’s four fourth-quarter drives after the touchdown ended with turnovers. USC’s Zeke Moreno forced and recovered a fumble on UCLA’s final offensive drive, jarring the ball free from receiver Danny Farmer.
Chad, in a victorious euphoria, nearly walked off the field right at that moment. Then coaches reminded him they still had 81 seconds on the clock. He rushed for seven and two yards on the final two plays, his 35th and 36th carries of the game. Instead of walking off, he was carried off by fans who rushed the Coliseum field.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Chad said, “any game, anywhere.”
But in the chaos, the senior’s helmet disappeared. He’s still wondering where it went. He remembers it because it had a special burgundy visor that he got specifically for that game.
“If you put that out there, tell somebody I’m giving them a reward,” Chad said. “No questions asked.”
The rivalry win was one of few highlights for the Trojans that year. They suffered a five-game losing streak during the season and finished at 6-6. UCLA was 4-7.
Chad thinks more about the rivalry now than he did when he was wearing cardinal and gold. As a college student, he was just concerned about the weekly grind: surviving each game healthy, learning the game plan, studying the playbook.
Now as a coach, he expects copious trash talk around the Seahawks training facility. Former UCLA All-American Ken Norton Jr. is the defensive coordinator, former USC coach Pete Carroll is the current Seattle coach and his son Nate, a USC alumnus, is the wide receivers coach.
With 11 years of coaching experience in the NFL, Chad thinks he would curse out any player who made a guarantee like he did. But he’s not completely done with predictions himself.
“Us,” he said of his pick for Saturday. “Of course!”