I almost wrote this column two years ago.
I wanted to respond to the launch of the Lost Angeles blog, the brainchild of 29-year-old Zack Jerome. The blog went on to spawn an on-campus “Arrogant Nation” movement, which I wanted to point out perpetuated the outdated stereotype that USC was stocked with bigheaded rich kids.
Then the wave of T-shirts reading “You Can’t Sanction The End Zone” and “Bowls Are For Salad” hit Saturday tailgates and flooded my Facebook newsfeed. At first, it irked me, but I waited, with my pen tucked away — or more accurately, my keyboard.
Oddly enough, the popular site grew on me. It made sense.
Eventually, I decided to contact Jerome, a 2005 USC graduate, to research a column I was writing about the blog and his message. Eventually, I would concede the following: His blog was a remedy — in fact a powerful one — for distraught fans in the wake of NCAA sanctions that kept USC out of the postseason for two years. That was important, so I listened, which is what they teach you in journalism school nowadays.
“I didn’t want people to get down on the fact that we couldn’t win a fake national championship,” Jerome explained to me.
He was right, and his message fit its niche to a T. The students, the alumni and the fanbase needed a sort of rallying point in the face of what were, at the time, the harshest sanctions since the 1987 SMU Death Penalty.
“I am here to re-focus the Nation of Troy on the eve of battle,” Jerome wrote in his first post prior to the 2010 season. “I am here to explain to you what this season is about and why you need to push for it.”
Amid probation, this fanbase faced an existential crisis, wondering openly if playing games even mattered if the Trojans couldn’t land in a January bowl game.
Jerome and the newborn “Arrogant Nation” resoundingly answered, “Yes.” That was the site’s impact. That’s why it was made, and because of that, its value shouldn’t be understated.
Fast-forward two years later: Circumstances paint a brighter picture for the football program. Though USC, as coach Lane Kiffin so often puts it, is playing with 10 fewer guys this season, it’s ranked in the top five of virtually every top-25 poll imaginable. Its quarterback is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious and coveted individual award. And seemingly all offseason long, media members and fans alike heaped praise at the feet of Kiffin for “beating the sanctions.”
So for all intents and purposes, USC boasts a good football team again, which begs the question: Do we still need an arrogant nation? Do we need a unifying message for fans and students that chastises an opposing team’s mascot for “looking like a pedophile,” as many did last week in reference to Otto the Orange, Syracuse’s mascot?
Spoiler: This all screams patented, good ole ’SC snobbery — a stereotype that’s subsided but one that will always be tough to shake.
“UCLA is the nice school and USC is located in a sh-t dump and populated exclusively by dumb rich kids,” wrote Deadspin’s Drew Magary earlier this month. “It’s the SMU of the Pacific region.”
Of course, this is Deadspin, Gawker Media’s sports site which is always a little tongue-in-cheek, but that perception still very much lingers.
Unfair? A bit, yes. But, of course, it doesn’t help when arrogance, more or less, has become the unwritten manifesto for the student body rooting on an undefeated, second-ranked football team, winner of its last six games spanning to last November.
It also doesn’t help when the athletic department props up Jerome in front of students at various rallies, which encourages that same tiresome manifesto of arrogance.
USC is above that.
Arrogance is far from pride — what fans and students should instead save for their school. Arrogance is flashing your middle finger at someone wearing opposing colors. Pride is raising two fingers to say “Fight On” to players after an impressive performance, or a return trip from Haiti after building houses for earthquake victims.
The difference, however small, is also stark.
During the bowl ban years, arrogance didn’t exactly move the needle much as USC mostly puttered around outside the top 25. It was a way to hang on.
But now, as the wins and the wins by double digits pile up, the line between the two blurs.
So in the interest of clearing up the confusion and creating some civility, it’s not, “Fight The F-ck On.” It’s just “Fight On.” It’s not “Arrogant Nation.” It’s the “Trojan Family.”
It’s time we admit it.
“The 19th Hole” runs Tuesdays. If you would like to comment on this story, visit DailyTrojan.com or email Joey at email@example.com.