As co-sports editor of the Daily Trojan, I generally find it quite easy to separate my duties as an unbiased reporter and fan loyalties as a USC student. I usually cover every home football game from the press box as an impartial observer, and don’t take too much pleasure in a Trojan win or experience that much sadness in a USC loss.
So with that prelude, I must admit that when Washington State humiliated USC in the home opener, I was a little giddy after the game. It wasn’t because I was a devout hater of former head coach Lane Kiffin and wanted to witness whatever needed to happen to get him fired — in fact, I was probably one of the last people in the world who believed he could have turned this team around. I was happy because that defeat signaled this would be no ordinary season that’d see the Trojans win when they’re supposed to win, lose when they’re supposed to lose and have Kiffin retain his job by simply going par for the course. By and large, I wanted USC to perform in a manner that would be most interesting to cover as a journalist. Because after I graduate this year, I’ll still be able to root for the Trojans, but who knows if I’ll be able to obtain a job that allows me to report about them.
That being said, I knew from the beginning of the season that for the Stanford game, I simply had to forgo the privilege of being able to sit in the press box for one last go-around in the student section. There had been games this season I was more eager to cover as a reporter; for example, the opportunity to write about the continuation of USC’s legendary rivalry against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. But there was no other matchup I had more eagerly anticipated as a fan than USC’s showdown against the Farm.
I would have easily taken a win against Stanford over one against UCLA. Maybe that’s because I didn’t grow up in Los Angeles or have any Bruin relatives or friends to bicker back and forth with over the years.
But I think it was because my graduation class was in danger of becoming only the second USC class to finish their undergraduate years without seeing a victory over our oldest rivals (raise a glass for the class of 2013, whom I hold much empathy for). I think it was because I experienced my all-time low as a sports fan last year while exiting Stanford Stadium after watching the Cardinal upset No. 2 USC and seeing their fans storm the field. The Trojans aren’t my favorite sports team — my hometown Atlanta Braves will always hold that title — but I had never felt such hopelessness after a loss to a rival; if we couldn’t beat Stanford with Matt Barkley under center, when would we?
After that loss last season, it was easy to see that Barkley and the rest of the Trojan players felt a similar sense of despair. But it was just as easy to discern that when USC started preparing for Stanford last week, that painful memory would motivate each player to taste sweet victory against the Cardinal for the first time in their careers.
“This game was very special to a lot of us,” redshirt junior safety Dion Bailey said. “It was a great win for the university.”
Even interim head coach Ed Orgeron, who’s never one to place more emphasis on one game in the regular season over any others, admitted there was a different atmosphere around this contest.
“For some reason, on Monday there was a belief that we were going to prepare as well as we could and find a way to win the game,” Orgeron said. “This is something we’ve wanted for the past Trojans and coaches that fought hard. This is for the Trojan Family.”
Saturday’s victory over Stanford was another reminder that USC’s 2013 campaign is anything but a normal season.
Most years, a win against Stanford wouldn’t merit a storming of the field. I talked to several proud USC students and alumni who said before the game that they would stay in their seats if the Trojans did pull off the program’s biggest upset victory since who knows when. Those folks said we needed to act like we’ve been there before.
But the thing is, no one in the student section — or on the sidelines, for that matter — had been “there” before. Thanks to a soul-crushing combination of bowl restrictions, scholarship reductions and general incompetence, the current generation of USC students had become jaded by the Kiffin era that was full of conservative playcalling and disappointing defeats.
So this victory washed that bad taste out of the mouths of even the most cynical USC fans.
When Orgeron was faced with the decision of whether or not to go for it on fourth-and-2 near midfield with 1:23 left, I felt for him. If the Trojans tried to convert and failed, it was all too easy to imagine Stanford’s smash-mouth ground game putting the Cardinal in position for a game-winning field goal.
I wouldn’t have gone for it. Kiffin wouldn’t have gone for it. But Orgeron believed in his players — specifically, a hobbled former Heisman candidate in junior wideout Marqise Lee and redshirt sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler, who matured in front of our eyes with a virtuoso performance — and it paid off.
Now, Orgeron has Trojan Nation believing he’s the man to lead USC football back to national prominence after another inspired victory.
I’m sure glad I witnessed that season-defining triumph in the student section. And you’re damn right I stormed the field.
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