As I stand on the precipice of never writing another sports article, I can’t help but sense an important part of me slipping away, never to return again. It’s not that I’ve ever considered myself an actual sports journalist, more just an opinionated sports fan with patience for the writing process.
Now that a mass of missed calls from a 213 area code asking for my first donation to USC as an alumnus has gathered on my phone, it’s time to set aside trivialities and tackle adulthood head on. After all, I am no longer the 6-year-old who showed up to his tonsillectomy clad in a full Boston Celtics tracksuit. Perhaps the time has come to bury my No. 34 David Ortiz jersey deep in the closet and to let loose the awakening I felt upon walking through the Coliseum gate 26 tunnel for the first time to behold, quite literally, the light at the end that shined on a perfect inner world offset from reality.
But then I pause, because I realize the stakes, even while everyone around me can’t wrap their minds around why I take my sports fandom so seriously.
Upon charging full steam ahead into adult life, I don’t want to become a surly old man, devoid of childish wonderment and passion that defy logical explanation. I don’t want to become the reductive realist who dismisses sports as “just a game” or, more cynically, opium for the masses doled out by the elites to placate people who might otherwise grow restless with their disappointing lot in life. Being a sports fan is about so much more than vicarious living.
Despite witnessing, in many ways, the dark ages of USC football and basketball, I can’t overstate what sports fandom has done for me throughout my time at college, both concretely and less tangibly. It’s never just been about the bottom line of wins and losses and feeling happy or sad.
On Sept. 19, 2009, former quarterback Aaron Corp completed 13 of 22 passes for 110 yards and an interception, leading USC to its lowest point total in three years in a 16-13 loss at Washington and helping torpedo a season that once overflowed with expectations. That game changed the course of my college career as much as it changed Corp’s.
Earlier that Saturday, a girl who served with me on a student government board shot me a text out of nowhere. She asked if I could update her on the progress of the USC game because she was planning to go behind enemy lines that same day and watch UCLA play at the Rose Bowl with some of her former high school friends who had “Bruined” their lives. She wouldn’t have access to the live broadcast.
We didn’t have much of a rapport up until then, though I had always admired her kindness and felt overpowered by her glowing smile. She didn’t know it at the time, but I had developed a small crush on her.
Our brief conversations before had convinced her that I was someone who would faithfully watch the USC game on television and report back. A few text messages exchanged during the game, expressing our collective frustrations and wondering what the upset loss meant for 2009, later led to dates, which later evolved into a relationship. That Saturday, USC football, however depressing, provided the perfect excuse to strike up a conversation with this girl; it was a talking point and a start, and for that, I am grateful.
Certainly, fandom isn’t always that pretty and tidy. The nasty campus Porta Potties on game days quickly attest to that fact. And we’ve all witnessed the ugliness of fans who have had a few too many beverages, ad-libbing, “Hey! You suck (expletive)” to Gary Glitter’s indescribably catchy “Rock and Roll (The Hey Song)” and spouting other profanities tinged with homophobia and racism.
Fandom doesn’t always completely add up, either. After attending his first football game at the Coliseum, my Russian TA for an international relations survey course once asked me if I could imagine the USC Song Girls plopped outside the Kremlin, rhythmically squatting and thrusting their two fingers in the air, and the reactions they would get.
Despite the ridiculousness of it all, I have also witnessed the values prized by USC come to the fore when a collective group cheers as one, which is why I bristle at the argument that serious academics and serious sports don’t mesh. Together, Trojan fans applaud integrity, fortitude and a little bit of flippant disdain for corruption — values by which anyone is well-served.
As a transplanted New Englander, becoming a USC fan not only introduced me to a culture and tradition of which I was utterly ignorant, but also made this university home for me. In the face of mounting losses and external vitriol, we never lost confidence in our greatness, our ability to rise again or the privilege of our Trojan existence — a lesson that will benefit me every time I feel self-doubt.
Though my sports-writing career draws to an end, I will never forget how my experiences as a USC fan shaped the trajectory of my time in college and injected it with boundless meaning. No matter where I go from here, USC will never be too far behind.
“Leveling the Playing Field” runs Mondays. To comment on this story, email Sean at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.