In the Pac-12, there's a rivalry that's far from the oldest or most played in college football history. But what the clash between the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins may lack in history makes up for with an abundance of something better: pranks.
Even the most diehard of fans out west know of the Victory Bell the two teams play for each season, but they may not know the story of how it came to be more than 80 years ago. Back then, no jokes were off limits, and the bell all but started an all-out prank war between these two student bodies.
When USC Stole the Victory Bell
Rivalry trophies are super common every November. There are platypus trophies, iron skillets, boots, old brass spittoons, and whatever the hell a jeweled shillelagh is on the line. The winning team usually keeps these for a whole season.
The same is said for the Victory Bell, the 295-pound bell that USC and UCLA play for. It originally sat atop a Southern Pacific Railroad car. The bell was a gift in 1939 from the UCLA Alumni Association and UCLA cheerleaders and students would ring the bell after any point was scored. They did this for two seasons before it the object was bell-napped.
During UCLA's 1941 season opener against Washington State, a group of USC students made their way into the UCLA student section. After the game, the Trojans pulled off their own opposite Trojan Horse move. The plan? To steal the bell.
"After the game, they helped Bruin students load the bell onto a waiting truck bound for Westwood. But then, one Trojan quietly removed the key to the truck, and while the Bruins went to get a replacement, the Trojans drove off with the bell," reads an article on USC's website.
The Trojan students kept the bell hidden for more than a year. It collected dust in a fraternity basement. It was shipped off to Hollywood Hills and Santa Ana. It even was buried in a haystack.
UCLA students were pissed, but they forgot about the incident—until a USC magazine called "The Wampus" ran a photo of it. The war was on. USC's Tommy Trojan statue was defaced. USC students would burn their school letters into UCLA lawns. UCLA students even threatened to kidnap USC's student body president. According to USC, the school's president at the time, Dr. Rufus B. von KleinSmid, had to threaten to cancel the rivalry game to get the two schools to stop.
It wasn't until 1942 that the two student body presidents came to an agreement. That's when it was determined the winner of the annual matchup would hold on to the Victory Bell for the next year. USC paid $150 for half of the bell. Since then, it's been passed back and forth and painted each team's colors numerous times.
The Prank War Didn't Stop There
These two teams are rivals, and college kids are as petty and immature as they come, especially after a few beers. So naturally, the animosity continued through the years. According to a Daily Bruin article from 2000 and an article from the Los Angeles Times, here's just a short list of some of the incidents:
USC's mascot, a dog named George Tirebiter, was kidnapped. He was returned before kickoff with "UCLA" shaved into his fur.
- 1943: UCLA students dognapped USC's mascot dog, George Tirebiter. When George was returned before kickoff, he had the letters "UCLA" shaved in him.
- 1957: A Trojan infiltrated UCLA's fan section that holds large cards to spur cheering. He put the USC logo on them, which confused Bruins fans and led to cheers from USC fans.
- 1958: Before the two teams faced off, USC sent 100 "guards" to protect the Tommy Trojan statue in the middle of campus. In the boldest move ever, a few UCLA students RENTED OUT A HELICOPTER and DUMPED MANURE on him. And not just a few bags of poop—500 pounds! This was likely in retaliation to when a group of USC students broke into the Daily Bruin's office and printed pro-USC stories that same year. The newspaper tradition continued in the following decades.
- 1962: Three USC pranksters were caught and given haircuts that read 'U-C-L-A' in their heads before being tied to a flagpole for a night.
- 1979: This time three UCLA students were caught and subjected a tar-and-feathering before being caged and marched down a main campus street for all to see.
- 1989: USC students made their way into a UCLA library during exam week and let loose 20,000 crickets. The Daily Bruin even reported that dead crickets are still found in books throughout the library.
It might not be ethical, or even legal, but none of that matters when it comes to college football rivalries.
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