You don’t truly realize just how early 2:45 a.m. is until you notice people returning home from a late night out just as you are starting your day. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, more than a few night owls sauntered through the courtyard at the University Gateway apartment building after what I can only assume was a particularly lively evening.
For members of the Trojan Knights, a student organization founded in 1921 that serves as the premiere spirit organization of USC, the day is just getting started. Though the group lends its support to all of USC’s athletic teams and participates in numerous charitable endeavors, the Knights are renowned for their ties with USC football. At each home game, the Knights sit in the front row of the student section and paint their bodies with a message of support for the team.
I joined the Trojan Knights during the fall semester of 2012, and on Saturday I made my debut as a gameday painter. I opted for the Stanford game because I thought it would be the most fun game to watch from the student section, but I must admit that I had no idea just how eventful Saturday would end up being.
Because of ESPN’s College GameDay’s presence on campus, there were two painting sessions: one for the morning show that began airing live at 6 a.m. and one for the actual game. Seeing as this would be my only opportunity of the season to paint, I decided to do both, which meant that I had a long day ahead of me. I met up with a group of about 15 other Knights in preparation for GameDay, and I can say that if I wasn’t fully awake when I got there, I was jolted out of my drowsiness as soon as the first brush of ice-cold paint was laid on.
We started painting at 3 a.m. and left for McCarthy Quad around 4:30 a.m. The program was mostly uneventful and mainly consisted of us trying to stay warm while standing in the cold with no shirts on, but we received a huge boost of excitement when ESPN analyst Lee Corso stunned the crowd by picking USC to pull off the upset.
After GameDay ended and the six-hour morning portion of the day concluded, a two-hour power nap was definitely in order. We reconvened at noon to begin preparation for the game, and headed to the stadium at 2 p.m. From then until kickoff, we helped set up the student section with pom-poms and card stunt instructions, which was a far more tedious task than I had expected and sapped what little energy remained after a lack of sleep.
But as fans began to pour into the stadium, excitement started to build. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was packed for the first time all season, and the vibe around the stadium suggested that this would be a memorable night. In what was once perceived as a woeful, lost season after former head coach Lane Kiffin’s firing, the fact that this game was deemed important enough to be given a primetime 5 p.m. kickoff and be broadcast by ABC was an accomplishment in itself.
The buildup to this game was unlike anything I had witnessed during my time as a USC student, and once the game began, the student section was as electric as I have ever seen it. In Stanford’s first drive of the game, the crowd noise forced the Cardinal to burn two timeouts and commit a false-start penalty, which only fueled the fans to cheer even louder.
There were a season’s worth of highlight reel-worthy plays in this game that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Redshirt junior safety Dion Bailey’s interception in the fourth quarter drew perhaps the biggest reaction, at least until the game-winning 47-yard field goal by embattled junior kicker Andre Heidari. I must admit that as Heidari jogged onto the field, the majority of the fans around me were preparing for the game to go into overtime, and I felt the same way. But Heidari’s kick couldn’t have been more perfect, and I’ve never been happier to admit that I was wrong.
When the clock finally hit zeros, nearly 18 hours after waking up, it hit me that what I had witnessed was much more than an upset over a top-five ranked rival. Given the circumstances, this was one of the most meaningful wins for USC in the past decade. For a team that’s been decimated by injuries and NCAA sanctions, a team that seemed destined to underachieve yet again after dismissing its head coach, this win meant much more than simply a boost in the conference standings. ABC sportscaster Brent Musburger said it best after the win was sealed when he proclaimed, “The Trojans are relevant again.”
The win over Stanford gave fans who had endured a dismal 7-6 2012 season and some hard-to-watch low points of this season a reward for sticking around. I have seen fans storm the field on TV before, but I had never witnessed a field storming in person until Saturday. What struck me most about it was that fans came onto the field from all directions, not just from the student section. That speaks to the dedication of the Trojan Family, something that sounds a bit cliche but was proven to be anything but on Saturday.
As students began to storm the field, I waited and watched as the scrum in the middle of the field grew bigger. I realized that what was probably the longest, most exhausting day of my life also was the most fun, exciting and rewarding experience of my college career. In what will end up being my final football game watching from the student section, the Trojans did not disappoint, and as interim head coach Ed Orgeron said to his players after the game, this will be a night that will always be remembered.
“Inside the 20s” runs on Tuesdays. To comment on this story, email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.
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