When Los Angeles Times writer Owen R. Bird coined the term “Trojans” 100 years ago in a track and field preview, the 25-year-old had no way of knowing that his invention of the nickname would be one of the most timeless images over the past century.
For most schools, a nickname is just that. It’s the face of school pride, a mascot, an easy way to brand merchandise to the masses.
From the Billikens to the Catamounts to the Runnin’ Rebels and the Zips, nicknames have turned universities into laughable caricatures of themselves.
Not so at USC.
To most, the Trojans are remembered as the romanticized figures in Homer’s epic poems, The lliad and The Odyssey. They are remembered as the brave souls who courageously fought to the end, before their city of Troy was seized and burned by the Achaeans during the Trojan War.
But on these grounds, Bird’s poignant term has transcended its initial purpose.
Here, the term Trojans is not a creation of Greek mythology. It’s not even a simple seven-letter word that a crafty journalist conjured up back in 1912.
On this campus, the Trojans represent a sense of belonging, a family and a university built on success in all facets of life.
Whether you’re a parent shelling out tuition money, a student having the time of your life or an educator, we can agree that what it means to be a Trojan cannot be explained in a simple sentence or even a scrapbook of anecdotes.
It’s 90,000 people packed in tightly for a Saturday afternoon of football at the Coliseum. It’s the crisp air on a Friday night at Dedeaux Field, where fastballs and double plays usher in the transition between winter and spring.
It’s 116 team national championships, 363 individual NCAA championships and more Olympic medals — 123 — than any institution in the country.
But more than that, it’s the foundation for a truly unique cultural experience.
While the faces who have donned the cardinal and gold have changed over the past 100 years, the face of this university has withstood the test of time.
It’s a face of champions, both on the field and off. It’s a face of innovation, whether in a research lab or in John McKay’s 1970 backfield. It’s a face that celebrates artistry, whether it’s in the field of cinematic arts or a leaping catch by freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee or a sensational backhand down the line by senior Steve Johnson.
What makes being a Trojan so magical is you don’t have to call the campus home Monday through Friday to take part in the experience. There are thousands of people who wear the cardinal and gold and have never hung a fancy diploma in their office.
And that’s the beauty of Bird’s term.
To be a Trojan, you don’t need to be a student, a faculty member, a parent or even an athlete competing on the field of play, because the experience is about taking part in something bigger than yourself.
If this seems like a glorified portrayal of what it means to truly be a Trojan, I challenge you to walk into any building on any day of the week, be it Heritage Hall, Bovard Auditorium or Seeley Mudd.
Go up to the first person you see and ask them what it means to them to be a Trojan.
Odds are they’ll speak of Tommy Trojan, tailgating on Trousdale, a Matt Barkley touchdown pass, shaking hands with Louis Zamperini for the first time or memories that have shaped who they are today.
Look at the genuine enthusiasm in their eyes, the glowing smile on their face, the unyielding pride bursting out upon every syllable spoken.
The century-old nickname is about more than school spirit, the millions of dollars made on jerseys and memorabilia every year, the championship plaques and Olympic medal celebrations.
The Trojans are not the Beavers, the Cougars, the Cardinal and they’re certainly not the Bruins.
In all honesty, the Trojans are not even on the same playing field, literally and metaphorically. Not just in this city, the state or around the country. I’m talking globally.
In Los Angeles, Stockholm, London or any other metropolitan city around the globe, try walking past a fellow Trojan and getting ignored. It doesn’t happen.
Because 100 years later, each of us, regardless of our age, race, creed, religion or political affiliation, have taken Bird’s black ink on a page and turned it into an illuminating depiction of how powerful the human bond among thousands worldwide can be.
Whether you attended the school 40 years ago, have a rooting interest in the athletic program as a native Angeleno or appreciate the university’s commitment to academics and research, you know there’s nothing mythical about the Trojans.
For all of us and for those who came before us, there’s nothing more real than to be a Trojan. It’s a part of us, now and forever.
“For the Love of the Game” runs Wednesdays. If you would like to comment on this story, visit DailyTrojan.com or email Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org