Nothing unusual stood out about the newspaper delivery driver, aside from looking unfamiliar.
Dressed in a workman’s tan shirt and slacks, he pulled up to the UCLA entrance just like any other morning. Stacks of the Daily Bruin were bundled in the back of his truck.
He handed the UCLA security guard a copy of the day’s paper to read, explaining that the regular driver was sick. The guard waved him through.
The driver stopped first at the Daily Bruin office. He handed the staff copies from the top of the stack. The paper’s headline read “Beat SC!!!” Then he headed back out. No one paid much attention to the truck as it dutifully dropped off newspapers across the Westwood campus — or so it seemed.
In fact, Trojan conspirators had been covertly watching the truck’s progress all morning. By the time UCLA students realized that fake copies of the Daily Bruin were all over campus, it was too late. The driver — a USC student — was already headed back downtown, armed with a story destined for Trojan Family lore.
All the Rivalry That’s Fit to Print
When it comes to USC-UCLA pranks, autumn 1958 holds an infamous place in the record books. As Trojans plotted the sabotage of the Daily Bruin, UCLA fans paid a helicopter pilot to drop manure on Tommy Trojan. (Legend has it that most of it blew back onto them or toward Exposition Park, no doubt a boon for the rose garden.)
The USC-UCLA prank wars cooled off over the years, and students keep an eye out for trouble. But the masterminds behind the Daily Bruin caper still share good laughs about the adventure.
“My dad loved telling the story,” says Steve Short ’91, who fondly remembers hearing the tale throughout childhood. “Anytime he would bump into people at football games or at Half Century Trojan events and things like that, he was sure to find some way to work it into the conversation.”
His late father, Garry Short ’59, the sports editor of the Daily Trojan in 1958, pulled off the prank with several fellow colluders, including the late Joe Jares ’59, Daily Trojan managing editor, and Larry Lichty ’59, a student senator. Lichty’s roommate, Ken Ballard ’60, JD ’67, posed as the delivery driver, and 25 Trojan Squires — students aspiring to become Trojan Knights — stationed themselves around the UCLA campus in case trouble arose.
The idea came to them a few weeks before the 1958 USC-UCLA football game. They drew inspiration from the previous year, when the Squires secretly swapped out UCLA’s stunt cards at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. During the game, the UCLA fans flashed their cards, only to realize something was wrong when the Trojan roars got louder and louder. They had unknowingly displayed pro-USC messages, and the trick earned the Trojans a “Prank of the Year” nod from Sports Illustrated.
“We wondered, how could we ever do a stunt as good as that?” Lichty says.
A Plot that Would Make Headlines
Their breakthrough came when they found out that the Daily Trojan and the Daily Bruin used the same printer.
Even better, the facility happened to be across the street from the University Park Campus.
The Trojan tricksters set their carefully crafted plan in motion, with Lichty roping in Ballard to drive the delivery truck. “He made it clear that if I didn’t do it, no one else would be dumb enough,” Ballard jokes. “I thought it was a pretty good idea and I figured, why not?” The two staked out the printer. When the UCLA driver arrived in a green pickup truck, they followed him to memorize his delivery route.
Meanwhile, Jares and Short went to work writing up fake news for the phony paper, with Lichty pitching in on some articles. Headlines on the front page included “Highly Spirited SC Rates Wide Choice,” “Trojans Get Slight Nod in Bruin Poll” and “Student Quits School in Huff Over Facilities.” In the classifieds section, one ad astutely noted “Lost: Today’s copy of the Daily Bruin.” The back page exalted a superior Trojan football team, with the UCLA coach proclaiming he “couldn’t see any hope” and a Bruin player wishing someone on his team understood the game.
They included a Daily Bruin masthead copied from the real thing as the finishing touch. Lichty borrowed $200 from his father to cover the cost of 10,000 copies, swearing innocent reasons for needing the loan.
An Elaborate USC-UCLA Prank Unfolds
At about 6 a.m. on Nov. 21, 1958, the UCLA delivery driver arrived to pick up his papers. A group of Squires intercepted him just as he pulled away from the loading dock.
“We didn’t want to be accused of kidnapping, but it was clear to the driver that the 20 or so people surrounding him felt really strongly that he should have a good meal before setting out on a crosstown journey,” Lichty says.
Authentic copies were strategically placed on top of each stack to disguise the phony editions.
As the Squires commandeered his truck and escorted him to a hearty breakfast at Coffee Dan’s, one of them grabbed copies of the real Daily Bruins. Authentic copies were strategically placed on top of each stack to disguise the phony editions. Then, satisfied with their decoys, the Squires loaded a rental truck and Ballard headed to Westwood with the special delivery.
“I was the fall guy. If I was caught, I would have been the sucker who would have his hair all cut off” by Bruins, Ballard says with a laugh. If the ruse fell apart, he planned to drive through campus and toss the stacks out of the truck. The Squires would be ready to cut open the bundles and distribute the papers.
Luckily for the USC students, the deliveries went off unhindered. Lichty served as lookout at the last stop — the student union — and watched as Ballard filled a wooden kiosk with the final bundle. As his conspirator drove off undetected, Lichty remembers with glee seeing their bogus papers thrown into a trash can by an angry Bruin, only to be retrieved by two students who passed them out to a curious crowd.
“Thank you credit goes to Ken Ballard,” Lichty says. “He did the good work.”
“Nobody chased me,” Ballard remembers. “I heard later that some who realized they were duped were looking for me, but it went smoothly.”
The papers went fast. By the time the news spread across town, many USC students couldn’t get their hands on any to see their compatriots’ handiwork.
“We bragged that after the card stunts in 1957, it was the second-best USC-versus-UCLA stunt ever,” Lichty says.
Pranks for the Memories
The following Monday, Daily Trojan writer and future USC journalism professor Joe Saltzman ’61 wrote a jubilant account of the caper. It included a quote from Dean of Students Robert Gordon admitting, “Even students and administration at UCLA agree that this was a real coup. It is in the realm of creative college buffoonery.”
The pranksters handed the authentic copies of the Daily Bruin back to UCLA (they had advertisers to please). Delighted Trojan benefactors chipped in so Lichty could repay his father. Several national media outlets went on to pick up the story.
“After the prank, a few people said we should be more serious and spend our efforts on better things,” Lichty says. “And yes, if we got caught or sued or arrested, it would have been awful. But I think we just loved a good joke.”
The only disappointment that year might have been the result of the football game itself: a 15-15 tie.