The Coliseum here is symbolic of what the Utah Utes will attempt to achieve on Friday night against the USC Trojans. It is an old structure, one with all kinds of history bolted to it, but it is new, too, having just undergone a $315 million renovation, a re-do that required engineers to preserve the bones and the facade of a National Historic Landmark while altering it, updating it for modern usage.
The Utes will attempt to alter, modernize, renovate their own history in the building, where they have never won, failing in four previous attempts as members of the Pac-12. Their first reach for victory in the league occurred here in 2011, an attempt that was within grasp, but somehow escaped them, just as subsequent tries have slipped away.
For them, it’s as though ghosts swirl from behind the classic 24-column peristyle, out of the Olympic cauldron at the 96-year-old stadium to haunt and torment.
Utah has beaten the Trojans in memorable wins at Rice-Eccles, in the shadow of its own Olympic cauldron, but victory would be oh-so-much sweeter here, in a place where so many past champions of sports and industry and entertainment and politics and even religion have reached up and reigned, particularly in a season where the Utes have so much to gain, not the least of which is a shot at playing in a bowl game at another historic landmark 17 miles up the road in Pasadena.
They must take it, though, one historic building at a time.
Other than a Utah football win over USC, the L.A. Memorial Coliseum has pretty much seen everything — two Olympics (with a third coming in 2028), two Super Bowls, including the first one, a World Series, countless college and pro football games, presidential and papal visits, concerts, and religious revivals.
Artists from the Rolling Stones to Guns N’ Roses to Van Halen to Metallica to Bruce Springsteen to U2 to Sting have performed there. There have been events ranging from World Cup qualifiers to Monster Truck rallies to Lingerie Bowls to Evel Knievel jumps over a stack of cars from one end of the stadium to the other. Billy Graham holds the all-time attendance record for the place, drawing a remarkable 134,254 people for his crusade in 1963, when attendees filled the stands and seats across the field. After the renovation, seating capacity for a football game is down from 93,000 to 77,500. For a long stretch, since the Coliseum was opened in 1923, its capacity hovered around 100,000.
Although the Utes lost by just one point in 2017, when Kyle Whittingham boldly chose to go for a two-point conversion instead of playing for overtime with a routine PAT at the end of regulation, Friday night presents Utah’s best chance at victory.
The reason is simple — the Utes are better than Southern Cal. They are four-point favorites coming in, but … since history and home field favor the Trojans, it’s an iffy deal.
USC struggled on defense, at times, against BYU last week, allowing 131 rushing yards to the Cougars. That must be inviting to Zack Moss, who is likely to run for more yardage by himself. And freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, while able to lead the Trojans to a win over Stanford at the Coliseum in his first start two weeks back, had a tough time finding the small windows made available to him by BYU’s defense. Often the Cougars dropped eight players into coverage, and Slovis tried to force the ball to his gifted receivers, suffering three interceptions, one of which led to a BYU touchdown, another to a field goal. The last one sealed a win for the Cougars in overtime.
There’s always the possibility of an upset. But based on what BYU was able to do against USC, and on the Utes’ strengths, it appears that Utah can finally add its own bit of successful history to the grand old building in Exposition Park that has been so unfriendly in the past.
If Billy Graham and Evel Knievel and JFK and the Pope and the L.A. Rams and Mick Jagger and Guns N’ Roses and a hundred gold medalists can win there, why can’t the Utes?
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.