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Team traditions: UCLA has gone from Cubs to Grizzlies to Bruins

There are myriad bear mascots in college football, varying in color, subspecies and age, among other designations. But when you hear the name Bruins, one school comes immediately to mind: UCLA.

Given that UCLA is the Los Angeles branch of the University of California system, and the bear is on the California state flag, it made sense for UCLA to adopt an ursine mascot. Initially, UCLA teams were known as the “Cubs,” while the University of California at Berkley went by the “Bears,” and later the “Golden Bears.” But students at UCLA resented the little brother status and rejected the Cubs nickname in favor of the fiercer “Grizzlies” nickname.

The Grizzlies moniker lasted just two years. In 1926, UCLA joined the old Pacific Coast Conference, which already had some Grizzlies in the mix -- namely, the University of Montana. UCLA agreed to give up the Grizzlies nickname, and Cal bequeathed UCLA one of the variations on their Bear nickname: “Bruins.”

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The centuries-old Dutch reference stuck, and soon enough live bears stalked the sideline at Bruins games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. They eventually gave way to Joe Bruin, UCLA’s costumed mascot.

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UCLA finally had a mascot of its own, but the team still had a to share a home field. From 1929-1981, the Bruins’ roommates at the Coliseum were their hated rivals, the USC Trojans. Each time the two teams met during those years, they both proudly wore their home jerseys as a way to claim ownership of Los Angeles.

Once UCLA moved home fields to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, both teams still planned to wear their home jerseys. An NCAA rule change put the kibosh on that tradition, as away teams were required to wear white jerseys, but in 2008 the two teams staged a protest. Both USC and UCLA sported their home jerseys in the Rose Bowl, and referees charged USC with a timeout as punishment. UCLA immediately took a timeout to compensate, and by the next season, the rule had changed.

That show of sportsmanship is the exception, not the rule, for one of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in college sports. The USC-UCLA hate is compounded by the fact that the two schools are just 12 miles apart. The close proximity leads to a lot of shenanigans: The poor Bruin statue on UCLA’s campus in the Westwood neighborhood of L.A. is frequently the target of pranks, which have occasionally escalated to “felony vandalism.”

Off the field, there’s plenty of splattered paint and message board rancor. On the field, the two schools first met in 1929 and compete for the Victory Bell trophy. The Trojans are way in front, having won 46 times versus UCLA’s 30 wins and seven ties.

USC dominated the last decade, but UCLA has taken it to the Trojans the last two years under new coach Jim Mora. The Bruins crushed their archrivals last year, 35-14, and for many Bruins fans that was the signature victory of a very successful 10-3 season in which UCLA ranked as high as No. 9 in the AP poll and finished with a 42-12 rout of Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

The new dream for UCLA? A home bowl game -- namely, in the Rose Bowl. UCLA entered 2014 ranked No. 7, their highest preseason ranking since 1998 (which is the last time they appeared in the Rose Bowl game). A Pac-12 title would take the Bruins to the top of Los Angeles, a perch they haven’t held in a long while.