We are halfway through the 2012 season and the USC Trojans football fan base still seems to be divided on their progress. For some, the Trojans are doomed and fans can’t possibly understand why USC is “doing this to them.” For others, the Trojans are playing lights out defense and building offensive momentum as they head into the toughest part of their schedule. Either way, Trojan fans have had no shortage of opinions to voice on the progress of their team. With the way some fans have been carrying on, it’s almost as though “Unfinished Business” has taken on the life of an actual business contract. It’s sad to say that the fans, it seems, have forgotten how to have fun with this team.
January 6th, 2012 marked the five-year anniversary of Mario Danelo’s death. Danelo was a placekicker with the Trojans from 2005-2007, with his final game being the 2007 Rose Bowl. He was found dead at the bottom of a cliff in San Pedro, California in a death that was a shock to the players and fans.The University of Southern California immediately began plans to honor Danelo at the first game of the 2007 season and that memory still lives on today.
Why bring this up? Because Danelo’s beliefs about life and what it meant to be a Trojan are something that USC fans need to be reminded of now more than ever.
In a season that has been filled with fans screaming for Kiffin’s head and fans criticizing players on the team, people have forgotten that Danelo considering playing for USC to be “Livin’ the Dream.” Mario’s philosophy became so important to the team that they had it placed on the helmets and the goalpost, where it remains to this day, as seen below.
As mentioned earlier, this 2012 team adopted the “Unfinished Business” slogan after Barkley’s December press conference to announce his return to USC for his senior season. But, until last Saturday, the Trojans rarely looked like they were having any fun at work. Judging by the reactions on Twitter, many of the fans haven’t been having too much fun, either. People forgot how to have fun.
For those who have forgotten, or just weren’t a fan of the team yet (you know some of you are reading this), Mario Danelo came from athletics. His father, Joe, was a kicker at Washington State before having a 10 year NFL career spent mostly with the New York Giants. He taught his son the art of kicking and Mario because the first San Pedro High graduate to play for the Trojans in 30 years. The funny thing is, Mario was a linebacker in high school and his father knew he would be too small to get any attention, so he taught him how to kick.
He might have taught him too well. Danelo straight crushed it with the Trojans, as he was 26 of 28 during field goal tries, 127 of 134 on PAT’s, and set NCAA single season records with 83 extra points and 86 attempts.
In sum, Mario was a bad dude when it came to kicking the ball and as good as they came in the collegiate business of kicking field goals.
The players loved him, the coaches loved him, and the fans loved him. And so Danelo’s legacy was honored during the Trojans’ first game of the 2007 season. After the Trojans scored their first touchdown, the kicking team took the field, but without a kicker.
This was Pete Carroll’s way of honoring the life and legacy of Mario Danelo. Pete believed in having fun and winning and Danelo lived this philosophy to the fullest.
That may have been the first notable honor, but USC still honors Danelo to this day with the aforementioned memorial to Danelo being placed at the Coliseum. Additionally, every year the Mario Danelo Scholarship Fund picks out a high school student-athlete to receive money towards their four-year education. As long as the student remains in good standing and continues “Livin’ the Dream,” they receive money towards the cost of their books.
The mission of the Mario Danelo Scholarship is simple. It is their mission to “encourage athletes to continue their goals and lofty ambitions and to pursue even higher levels of success throughout their lifetime.” Mario’s family and friends believe that his greatest legacy was the one he inspired in others.
In an article for ESPN, Sam Anno, a former graduate assistant with USC, was quoted saying, “We always say a lot of things. I thought he was messing with me, [saying], ‘living the dream. I finally believed that. He owned that in his bones. I really didn’t know it at first. I finally understood he felt like he really was living the dream. He knew what he had in the present moment.”
That moment is now. Every week, Trojan fans fill Twitter with the hashtag “#BE7IEVE.” Yet, with the amount of concern and worry being thrown around, you actually begin to wonder if anyone actually believes. A loss at Stanford and some people have resigned the Trojans to the Alamo or Holiday Bowl.
Maybe it’s time for people to “Believe in the Dream.”
I’ll admit, there have been times this season where I have wondered if it might not be USC’s year. So many fans have fallen down that same rabbit hole and forgotten what this game is all about. Then I saw a friend of mine, Ed O’Donnell, post this gorgeous photo of Danelo’s tribute on the field goal post. Almost instantly, I felt as though I had forgotten what makes USC so special.
Just ask former USC kicker David Buehler, who was once quoted as saying, “Those last two years at USC, and now with the Cowboys, I’ve tried to represent and honor Mario and his parents in the manner they deserve. That’s the drive that pushes me every day to be successful.”
That’s the same drive that should push all of us. Taking care of “Unfinished Business” is fine, but not if it gets in the way of enjoying what could be the final season for several of the greatest Trojans to ever play in the Coliseum.
Mario Danelo never forgot that, why should we?