The Coliseum crowd was electric.
The fans had not created this kind of atmosphere for a USC home game in a long time. Maybe it was because No. 1 Oregon was in town, the first time a top-ranked team has visited the Coliseum since 1988.
Excitement was in the air. The Trojans, especially the defense, were feeding off this crowd. Every defensive stop garnered a roar from the 88,726 fans in attendance. People were on their feet for every third down, seemingly willing to stand by the Trojans until the end.
That is, until the middle of the third quarter, when the USC crowd fell silent and watched as the Trojans submitted to Oregon’s nation-leading offense.
The crowd looked as fatigued as the Trojans did on the field. The Ducks were so exhausting, they drained the passion right out of the Trojan faithful.
By the fourth quarter, even with USC down only two scores, the stadium began to empty. Never was it more important for Trojan fans to stick by their team; instead, they threw in the towel and headed for the parking lots and the parties.
This doesn’t happen in the Southeastern Conference. It is unheard of for home fans to leave even a mildly close game before the final whistle.
But for some reason at USC, whether it’s a lopsided win or loss or even a close game, it does not matter. The USC stadium is half-empty by the end.
Other fan bases stand up on every play during a big game, not just on third down. I was at the Nebraska-Miami national championship game in 2002 and noticed the Nebraska fans sitting behind me were on their feet for every bit of the action.
I assumed that was because of the stakes of the game but the Nebraska fans assured me that this was normal. No matter who Nebraska was playing, they never sat down while the game was in action.
I couldn’t believe it. As a 13-year-old, I had already been to dozens of home USC games and never did I see that kind of passion. I was used to a stadium of 90,000-plus people, 60,000 of whom were there more to say they’d been there, and maybe only 30,000 total who really cared.
Then last Saturday, I thought I saw it. I had never seen anything like it at the Coliseum, the entire stadium weaving and chanting together, the taste of the upset within its grasp.
But just as soon as it had come, it was gone, as fast as you could say LaMichael James. The Trojans did not quit on the field, but USC fans definitely quit on the Trojans.
Of course, what happens on the field, not in the stands, decides who walks away the winner. The players must sway the momentum so the crowd can feed off it.
But a real home-field advantage occurs when the crowd can build that momentum for itself: when noise translates to support, when 90,000 people can motivate 11 young men by repeatedly reminding them that they believe.
This is not to say that the outcome of the game would have been any different if the crowd had stayed around. By all means, an Oregon victory was assured by the middle of the fourth quarter when sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley threw his second interception.
Most USC fans had decided it more prudent to beat traffic or start the partying by this point.
Maybe the Coliseum is too big a place to expect every person in attendance to be a never-say-die fanatic. Maybe Los Angeles is too much of a happening place to expect people to sit through an entire football game.
Whatever the cause, it is the reason there will never be a true home-field advantage at the Coliseum. The Trojans once won 35 consecutive home games, but that was never about the stadium or the fans. It was always about the Trojans on the field.
Now that sanctions will prevent the Trojans from being what they were last decade, whatever mystique the Coliseum had will evaporate because the crowds that attend USC home games are just not going to stick by a losing team.
No Trojan is going to blame the crowd for the team’s performance, but they must recognize the importance of fan support.
“It seems like [we had a rhythm] only the first quarter and the third quarter, where we were rocking and you could tell the stadium was in it,” sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley said. “Finishing I think is what we didn’t do.”
Neither did the USC crowd.
“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.