This series is supported by Muscle Milk
At USC, Saturdays in the fall are synonymous with college football. Six times a year, the Trojan faithful flock to campus to watch the Men of Troy and experience one of the better scenes in the nation. Normally, the first wave of tailgates arrive at 6 AM, regardless of the time the game starts.
However, October 30 presented a unique opportunity for fans, with ESPN’s College GameDay filming across the street in Exposition Park, homecoming festivities taking place, and the Trojans hosting the top ranked Oregon Ducks. With campus expected to be even more crowded than usual (USC president C.L. Max Nikias estimated 100,000 were on campus to revel in homecoming), the first tailgaters arrived around 4:15 AM to stake out a prime position. Under the pouring rain, they set up camp and prepared for hours of tailgating. By 9 AM, the campus was covered with canopies, grills, and people. The festivities stretched from the main stretch of campus onto the main quad. With so many on hand, it was hard to navigate through the crowds.
Every basic tailgate has refreshments, as well as food. While some go with traditional staples such as hamburgers and hot dogs, others went with tri-tip and chicken. Some clever fans embraced the opponent and roasted duck to appease their appetites. Others find the need for entertainment to make it through the day of tailgating. “When you are here for 10 hours, you need something to help pass the time,” one fan told me. It is common to see tailgates with at least one television. Tailgaters gather around to catch action from around the country and see how the rest of the games fair. Meanwhile, other people bring speakers and play music to entertain them.
One fan grills up some chicken at around noon.
About two hours before kickoff, the Spirit of Troy–USC’s renowned marching band–makes its way to Trousdale Parkway just north of Tommy Trojan. Fans line the way as the band appears and plays the traditional fight song as well as other tunes affiliated with USC, such as Tusk. Once they are done playing, fans usually make their way to the Coliseum. The pilgrimage to the Coliseum takes fans down Trousdale. At the end of the strip, there is a set of flag poles. On the way to the Coliseum, USC fans kick the bottom of the flag pole for good luck. With good luck on their side, fans continue on their way to the stadium and find their seats. The man in costume pictured below stated, “I dress up in costume because I feel it’s the best way to support my team.”
A fan in costume makes his way down Trousdale.
Inside the Coliseum
With general admission student seating, students must arrive at least an hour and a half before kickoff to secure a prime seat. Roughly thirty minutes before the start of the game, the Spirit of Troy lines up on the opposing team’s sideline and prepares to take the field. As the student section rises, the drum major, clad in Trojan armor and bearing a sword, marches to midfield. There, he maneuvers his sword and tosses it up in the air. Catching it deftly, the drum major stabs the center of the field with the crowd roaring. After that, the band takes the field and plays USC’s fight songs. Tribute to Troy comes first. When it plays, students form a V for victory with their fingers and salute with there right hand repeatedly. Next, Fight On is played. In the middle, the band quiets down and the fans sing the words praising their alma mater. Finally, collegiate football’s greatest battle cry plays. Once again, students salute with the V and yell out “BEAT THE (OPPOSING TEAM MASCOT)!” at the beginning of it.
Saturday’s game presented the most energetic atmosphere I had seen inside the Coliseum. For starters, nearly every USC fan in the Coliseum participated in the “Red Out the Coli” movement in which USC fans were encouraged to wear cardinal to show solidarity. Each play Oregon was on offense, the students were jumping up and down and even caused the stadium to shake a little bit. In crucial situations, every USC supporter of the 88,726 came to its feet to urge the defense on.
With USC winning the toss, they elected to receive. The Trojans managed a field goal on their first drive, but Oregon answered with a touchdown and a two point conversion to take an 8-3 lead. While offense dominated some drives, both defense came up with stops to shut down momentum. At one point, USC held a 17-15 lead and had the ball inside of Duck territory. The crowd was deafening as they anticipated an upset of the country’s top team. Then, USC’s bumbled snap was recovered by the Ducks, who threw a long touchdown pass on the very next play. Unfortunately, the play sucked the air out of Trojan fans, who became noticeably quieter. Heading into the half, USC appeared doomed trailing 29-17 against a team known for its dominating second half performances.
At halftime, the Spirit of Troy took the field, along with alumni band members, for an inspired set. At the end, the band played the fight song and the 800-member group came together in a formation that spelled USC.
Coming out of the half, USC used a turnover and a defensive stop to take a 3 point lead. The student section swayed and chanted along as the band belted out their rendition of the White Stripes “Seven Nation Army.” For the first three quarters, the Coliseum was rocking and rolling. It appeared to be such a hostile environment that Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “I can’t imagine the crowd there being nastier than Saturday night’s.”
Unfortunately, USC lost its lead, and eventually the game. After such a long day, one photo summed up the emotions of Trojan players and fans alike.
Photo courtesy of Shotgun Spratling