USC Trojans Fight On!

University of Southern California Football

By Bernadette Anat

By Bernadette Anat
Unigo Campus Rep at USC

USC CheerWalk through the automatic doors of USC’s nearest Ralph’s, and you’ll find that the chain supermarket is littered with Game Day merchandise in cardinal and gold: USC pom-poms and foam fingers; red-and-yellow Trojan tortilla chips; and, my personal favorite, USC “Tailgate Mustard”.

Trojans have come to expect this kind of fanatical spirit. As senior Amir Ursani puts it, here at USC, “Sports is culture.”

USC boasts an impressive spread of national champion title teams, from women’s soccer to men’s water polo. The school’s athletic program holds more men’s NCAA titles than any university in history. But as most Trojans (and non-Trojans) across the nation would agree, the phrase “USC Trojans” is most often within the same breath as the school’s centerpiece sport: Football.

“Priority is USC football when its football season,” said Janiene Tiu, a freshman at USC. Janiene and a friend had already purchased tickets to a Jason Mraz concert, but her friend dropped their plans when he found out it fell on the same day as a USC home football game.

Many say that with the city of Los Angeles lacking an NFL team, Angelenos put their football fervor behind the nationally-ranked Trojan team, as opposed to their cross-town rivals at the University of California, Los Angeles – the UCLA Bruins.

One might think the entire city of Los Angeles shows up for USC game day, as it beckons thousands of students and alumni to tailgate throughout campus as early as 6 a.m. Loud clunks can be heard coming from the flagpoles at the edge of campus, just before crossing the street to the stadium – USC tradition says that kicking these poles ensures good luck for the team.

Trojan football is so heavily supported that celebrities often make appearances on the football field, clad in cardinal and gold. Henry Winkler, aka Happy Days’ “Fonzie”, frequents USC sidelines, as does infamous comedian and USC alum, Will Ferrell. This past season has seen actor Denzel Washington; WNBA star and former Trojan, Lisa Leslie; even the “Governator” himself, California’s own Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Trojans in the Coliseum’s rowdy student section come with the knowledge of a few key rituals for game day. They all know to pump their fists when Traveler, a white Andalusian horse and official mascot of Trojan sports, comes galloping onto the field with a fully-clad Trojan warrior on his back at the beginning of every game. They all know to shake their keys at the opposing team when it looks like a Trojan victory is imminent, as if to say, “Start your cars and go home!”

But the most important ritual every USC student knows is how to “Fight On” – to hold out your right hand with your middle and index finger making an outwards peace sign, or V-shape for “Victory”. The “Fight On” sign is held up on several occasions during football games; particularly, every time the band plays “Conquest”, the school’s famous victory song. “Fight On” is also a signal of encouragement flashed on and off campus, to convey between all Trojans that they are proud to be a part of the tight-knit Trojan family.

USC’s biggest crowds turn up during the season’s hottest rivalry football games. The Fighting Irish from Indiana’s University of Notre Dame is arguably one of USC’s greatest rivals. Trojan fever becomes especially heated as they fight for the Jeweled Shillelagh (pronounced shuh-LAY-lee) – Notre Dame’s Gaelic war club from Ireland.

However, all Trojans would agree that USC’s greatest rival hails from the cross-town public university: the UCLA Bruins. The rivalry began in 1929, but they’ve been fighting over their trophy, UCLA’s Victory Bell, since 1942.

Anti-Bruin festivities begin the week before the game, in a series of events appropriately titled “Conquest”. UCLA has been known to pull several pranks on USC – particularly toward the Tommy Trojan Statue – such as pouring blue and yellow paint on him from a helicopter overhead, or cutting off the sword he holds and re-gluing it in inappropriate places on Tommy himself (however, USC is also known to pull similar stunts on UCLA’s Bruin Bear statue).

 Special measures are taken to protect Tommy Trojan, located at the heart of campus. Two of the school’s community service groups, the Trojan Knights and the Helenes, camp out at Tommy Trojan and rotate for 24 hours a day, every day of the week, ensuring his safety. The Knights also wrap Tommy Trojan in duct tape as an extra precaution to keep him away from Bruin hands.

Tradition doesn’t end there: During the week, students walk around campus dragging stuffed animals of bruins, or baby bears – UCLA’s beloved mascot. Clubs at USC often hold “Westwood Invasions”, where droves of students, covered head-to-toe in USC gear, travel across town to Bruin Territory in Westwood and find entertainment for a night, often grabbing dinner and a movie while braving showers of verbal abuse from angry UCLA fans.

And in the last few days before the game itself, tens of thousands of Trojans attend events such as the large carnival and headlining concert called “CONQUEST: The Ultimate Trojan Experience”, or “Save Tommy Night”, where singing and dancing groups hold a spirit rally in front of the Tommy Trojan statue.

When it comes to sports, USC exchanges major heat between its rivals. But with all students sharing the same target of competition, USC’s sports rivalries fuel the great pride that comes with being a Trojan.
“Even if you’ve never watched football in your life, everyone goes to games,” said Ursani. “Everyone has this close-knit relationship and everyone’s proud to be a Trojan – it’s cardinal and gold all the way.”

Photo Courtesy of HotRodHomepage