LOS ANGELES (AP) - California's meeting with USC in 2003 began in sunshine and ended in the gloaming, with the weird luminescence of Memorial Stadium's temporary light fixtures lending a surreal tint to Tyler Fredrickson's triple-overtime field goal that sealed the Golden Bears' biggest win of the decade.
The 2004 game came down to the final minute, when Southern California's defense stopped Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers on four
plays inside the 10 at the Coliseum to finish the Trojans' toughest test of their most recent national title season.
USC rallied from 18 points down to win the 2002 game with help from a still-disputed touchdown catch by Kareem Kelly. The 2007 meeting was played in a miserable nighttime downpour, with the Trojans slogging out a seven-point win.
"It's always something in this game, isn't it?" USC coach Pete Carroll asked.
When the No. 24 Bears host seventh-ranked USC (3-1, 1-1 Pac-10) in Strawberry Canyon on Saturday, such theatrics are always possible again, according to the coaches and players who have turned this instate rivalry into one of the West Coast's best - even if it's tilted in the Trojans' favor.
"We've had some great games with them over the years," Carroll said. "I think it is a good rivalry, and with me being from Northern California as well as some of our players, that certainly lends something special to it."
With both teams ranked for the fifth time in the schools' last six meetings, Cal (3-1, 0-1) will take one more crack at the task of getting back on the winning side of these annual events. Yet the Trojans also have high stakes, with their streak of seven straight Pac-10 titles falling into serious jeopardy with one more conference loss.
"We've only won one game against them, so obviously they've got the better of our matchup," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "But it has been competitive, and they're well-thought games, but we have a lot of respect for what they do in all things. It's a struggle to be successful against them because they are so good on defense, and have so much good play potential on offense. They're a tough group, no question about it."
USC has won five straight against Cal, but that number doesn't capture the tension and excitement of this annual rivalry - particularly when the pedigreed Trojans travel to Berkeley and the dingy confines of Memorial Stadium's comically primitive visitors' locker room, which is up two flights of concrete stairs from the playing field.
"That place is awful, man," USC lineman Jeff Byers said. "It's just the worst."
The atmosphere in Berkeley usually warms up the night before the game, when thousands of visiting USC fans mill up and down historic
Telegraph Avenue, annoying the locals in coffee shops and Amoeba Records while singing the first few bars of "Conquest."
At least the skies above Berkeley should be clear Saturday, unlike during USC's last visit to Berkeley two years ago. The constant beating rain sent fans scurrying for cover - including USC alumnus Will Ferrell, who watched the first half from under the awning covering Memorial Stadium's makeshift press box.
Although Cal has been appropriately deferential in the weeks leading up to the game, the Bears realize what a win would mean. Last week's 42-3 thrashing by Oregon would be forgotten if Cal can win its biggest annual game outside the Big Game against Stanford.
"Growing up, and even still now, you hear a lot about SC," said Cal fullback Brian Holley, a Pomona native. "Getting texts and phone calls all the time, or people saying, 'No matter what happens this whole season, beat SC,' you hear from time to time. It does add a little bit extra to it."
Cal and USC have both been good enough for long enough that many elite California high school players chose between the two - and each of them has a story.
Drew McAllister was a star quarterback in Danville, a tony suburb just over the hills from Cal's campus, who played at Monte Vista High School with Tedford's two sons, Taylor and Quinn. McAllister's father played at Cal in the 1970s, and his mother was a cheerleader.
"I grew up around Cal, going to their games and being in that atmosphere," McAllister said. "That's how I think of college football. I always have that picture in my mind of football."
McAllister even ran track against fellow NorCal native Jahvid Best, who dusted him on the final turn of a 200-meter dash. Tedford recruited him as a quarterback and again as a defensive back, but McAllister chose the Trojans after a passionate pitch from Carroll.
"When you see what USC has to offer, it's hard to pass that up," said McAllister, now a sophomore safety backing up Taylor Mays. "I think I wanted to get out on my own and establish myself away from Cal, and I know guys from SoCal that went the other way. That always makes this game special."