Crosstown football rivals UCLA (7-3) and USC (8-2) will face-off in their 72nd annual battle for city bragging rights at The Rose Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 23. And leading the Bruins are Jewish senior starters Mike Seidman and Mike Saffer.
Tight end Mike Seidman, 21, whose mother is Jewish and father is Catholic, credits his recent success to off-season running, lifting and diet changes. "The hard work really paid off. I came out this year a lot stronger and faster than I was in the past, and I'm using that to help me on the field," said the 6-foot-5-inch, 254-pound Seidman, whose 535 yards rank first among tight ends in the Pac 10 and third among tight ends nationally. The Westlake Village native recognizes that his increased role on the field puts him in the public eye off the field. "You realize that people are watching you. Kids are watching you. So I try to be sure to say the right thing and do the right thing," said Seidman, a sociology major.
The USC Trojans are ranked second in the Pac 10, eighth in the nation and have beaten UCLA for the past three years. Yet Seidman is confident that the Bruins, who are ranked third in the Pac 10, 24th in the nation and are on a three-game winning streak, will prevail.
Senior pre-season All-American right tackle Mike Saffer agrees. "After losing two in a row, and then losing Cory [Paus, the starting quarterback], this team could have easily cashed things in earlier this season," said the 6-foot-5, 304-pound four-year starter. "We've got great attitudes from the freshman, strong leadership from the seniors and the big thing is we're working as a unit. Everyone's gelling," said the offensive lineman, whose father, Don, played on the 1967 NCAA championship Bruin basketball team.
A Tucson, Ariz. native, Saffer attended Hebrew school through his bar mitzvah and still enjoys spending Jewish holidays with his family. "Whenever I'm around my family for the holidays, we always celebrate them. Passover, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Chanukah. And if I'm not able to get home, I celebrate with my uncles or cousins who live here in Los Angeles," Saffer said.
While 23-year-old Saffer cherishes his Judaism, he feels the athletic playing field is level for everyone. "For me, it was never about sticking with it because there aren't a lot of Jewish athletes. It's the same for everyone. If you want to do something, you've got to do it hard and put out your best effort every time you step onto the field or into the classroom," said the history major, who will move to Phoenix after graduating this December to prepare for both the NFL draft and applying to law school.
"Anybody, whether they're Jewish or any other religion, that wants to go to college or become a college football player can," Saffer said. " As long as they're willing to put out the effort, there are always opportunities. If you're willing to give 100 percent every time, good things will happen,"
The game will air this Saturday on ABC.