Nothing said gameday like Dennis Packer’s voice booming through the Coliseum speakers and seranding the bowl as the Spirit of Troy took the field under Dr. Arthur C. Bartner. His voice was as synomonmous with USC football was Pete Carroll’s, John McKay’s and Tom Kelly’s. College football season began this weekend, yet on Saturday, in the first game since USC removed Packer from public address duties, there was a disappointing void with the Trojans’ newly retooled game presentation.
There was no Packer, more Spirit Leaders, more artificial amplification of the band and a lack of creativity on the Aundrey Walker-sized video board atop of the closed end of the Coliseum.
Eric Smith took over the public address duties for Packer, and while he brings plenty of experience from being the voice of Dodger Stadium, he leaves plenty of space in the shoes Packer left behind to be filled. He’s sterile and crisp sounding, while Packer’s classic and simplistic style of public address was comforting and dramatic. Plus, Smith had a number of miscues on the night calling out players and his delivery was seemingly ill-timed throughout the game.
While it was originally thought that Packer would stay on as the voice of the Spirit of Troy, he was absent during the pregame and halftime shows. In his place was a much softer, jovial voice, more akin to the preppy voices of the Stanford or Cal band, than Packer’s ‘Voice of God’ approach. It was awful.
In addition to the failures in public address, give credit to USC for persistence in terms of sticking with their idea that the Spirit Leaders are valuable. The group of leaders responsible for the closed end of the Coliseum now have a larger sound system, causing more poorly-timed cheers and a situation where the sound of the student leading the cheers was louder than the thirty thousand fans sitting in front of him.
Since the Yell Leaders disappeared a half decade ago, the student section has blossomed into a real cohesive unit, but the involvement of the fans outside of the student section has been shoddy at best. An amplified band drowns them out, and the lack of effective communication between Spirit Leaders on different sides of the Coliseum leads to confusion from the stands.
At one point before kickoff on Saturday, the Spirit Leader in the west endzone was trying to start a cheer in the midst of the band’s pre-kickoff playing of ‘Fight On’. The band won and no one cheered.
In the days of the Yell Leaders, the “Go!…Trojans!” chant worked. Two or three of the sweater-wearing Yell Leaders would run over to the tunnel side of the Coliseum to hold up the ‘Trojans’ sign, while the rest coereced the student section to bark ‘Go!’. Ninety-eight percent of the time it energized the Coliseum and yet now, with the amplified Spirit Leaders, the chant has turned into one leader simply saying ‘Trojans’, in reply to thousands of students starting the chat with ‘Go’.
It’s a far cry from the powerful ‘Go Trojans’ chant from opposite sides of the Rose Bowl during the 2002 USC-UCLA game, and it will never be that way again. At least not until the spirit groups can find a way to work harmoniously. So, why not bring back the Yell Leaders?
Lastly, USC’s efforts to the game presentation curiously didn’t include anything visual, as the Trojans took the field to the same exact pregame intro as last season. Yes, Nickell Robey gets the student section to scream, but it’s all kinds of awkward seeing Matt Khalil, Chris Galippo and Shane Horton in the video, when they’re not longer playing at USC.
Needless to say, while the Trojans improve on the field, the Coliseum game atmosphere continues to regress. Then again, perhaps the athletic department and the Coliseum management should look more into getting fans to stay after halftime, regardless of the score.