They call it rushing the field, but for me it was more like plodding. We moved at a crawl, not a sprint, carried by a crowd of cardinal and gold-clad fans who simply wanted to soak in the moment.
Soak in the moment we did.
Flashes were bursting from the stands like strobe lights, “Conquest!” was playing on a loop, and when my feet hit earth, the softest, greenest grass I’ve ever tread upon in my life, it all became real.
Say what you will about it, but there is nothing – nothing – in college athletics like celebrating on the field after a big win.
Breathless and elated, it didn’t matter that I had been awake for 17-hours already, it didn’t matter that I was surrounded by strangers, it didn’t matter that I could already picture the scoffing of holier-than-thou commentators judging the merit of an elite program such as USC celebrating in such a manner.
Because, here’s the truth of it, it wasn’t about the upset.
There’s a reason the field was full from endzone to endzone, sideline to sideline. That wasn’t a crowd of drunk fratboys. It was families, old friends, old classmates, every element represented.
It was a celebration of the Trojan Family. It was about homecoming, a word I take literally, coming home on the Coliseum floor. It was about recognizing where we had been, where we are, and where we are going.
It was about all the players who have fought injury this season, playing hurt like Leonard Williams because they knew how thin the Trojan ranks have become.
It was about Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard, Xavier Grimble, Soma Vainuku, Randall Telfer, George Uko and Demetrius Wright, players from USC’s 2010 recruiting class, the one that stuck together despite Pete Carroll’s sudden departure and uncertainty in regards to sanctions. Vainuku’s first career touchdown came in the most important game of his Trojan career, and he thoroughly deserved it. Bailey’s interception changed the game and kept three Cardinal points off the board.
It was about Marqise Lee, Cody Kessler, Buck Allen, Tre Madden, Anthony Sarao, Marcus Martin, J.R. Tavai, Aundrey Walker, Kris Albarado and Andre Heidari, major contributors this season who picked USC despite the fresh sting of sanctions in 2011. Lee and Kessler combined for some of the biggest moments of the game: the two-point conversion and the late fourth-and-two.
It was about Ed Orgeron, a man who has been with USC through thick and thin. It was Orgeron’s decision to go for that fourth down which put the Trojans in position to win the game.
It was about sharing the same patch of earth, breathing the same air. As Orgeron preaches, “one team, one heartbeat.”
The upset gave Trojan fans an opportunity to interact with the team and each other in a way they’ll likely never have again, because the next big victory won’t be like this one. It won’t be the raw explosion of emotion built by sanctions, a four-year losing streak, and a mid-season firing.
As I stood on the field, reveling in the view, a cardinal and gold blur brushed by my shoulder. It was only after the player bear hugged the guy in front of me that I registered the #48 on his back.
It was the goat-turned-hero, Andre Heidari, standing within arm’s length. I patted him on the shoulder pad and said, “Fight On Andre!”
When will I get that chance again, to congratulate the game winner on the field like that? When will any of us, the people who crowded around Orgeron, the kids who snapped pictures with their idols, the fans who got to say thanks to a player who gave them so much joy, get that chance again?
Critics will claim that USC fans should be above such displays, that they should have acted like they’ve been there before. The thing is, we haven’t. No Trojan team has faced the adversity that this team has. Hopefully, no team will ever have to again.
For now, I know that I was part of something special, something more than a win, we all were, and I will remember it for the rest of my life.