I thought I was going to be upset.
When the clock hit triple zeros Saturday, and the student section emptied quicker than the 9-0 after undercover cops arrive, I have to admit I was a little surprised, and briefly a little miffed.
“This is USC,” I thought. “USC doesn’t rush the field. USC should never rush the field. USC expects — or at least should expect — to beat everyone.”
Think about how backwards this sentence is: “USC fans stormed the field after the unranked Trojans upset No. 5 Stanford.” What? USC fans stormed the field? USC was unranked and Stanford was fifth? Backwards — that’s the only way to describe it.
The college football universe was simultaneously flipped right side up and further upside down on Saturday. For USC (11 national championships, six Heisman Trophy winners, .706 winning percentage) to be that thrilled after beating Stanford (one national title, one Heisman winner, .573 winning percentage) just seems wrong. And in many ways it is. But not on Saturday.
The saying goes, “Act like you’ve been there before.” I certainly quote it a lot. USC has beaten Stanford roughly two out of every three times they’ve played. In that respect, USC had certainly “been there.” But this was about more than that. As has often been pointed out in the days since, USC hadn’t really been there. Not in this way.
No current student or player knew what it was like to beat Stanford. USC hadn’t beaten them at home since 2005. The Trojans had never before lost four straight games to the Cardinal — no one knew what it was like to beat them after that.
So no, I wasn’t upset. How could I — or anyone other than an old curmudgeon — be?
The last time students stormed the Coliseum field, as best anyone can remember, was 1999, when USC knocked off UCLA for the first time in nine years. But that scene, to hear it described, didn’t compare to Saturday. For a scene like that, you have to go back to 1996, when the Trojans beat Notre Dame after 13 years of failure — and one tie — against the Irish.
The Irish were ranked 10th on that November evening, a 27-20 overtime win for the Trojans. The Bruins were unranked in 1999. The Cardinal, of course, were ranked fifth. But as 1999 shows, the ranking isn’t what’s important. USC fans didn’t storm the field because the Trojans beat a good team. They stormed because the Trojans beat a team that had their number.
As ABC’s Brent Musberger asked co-commentator Kirk Herbstreit after the game, while surveying the sea of cardinal and gold on the field below them, “Is there anything better than college football?”
That’s a debate for another time. But that Saturday, on that field, the answer was exactly as Herbstreit gave it: “Nothing.” There is something about college sports that bonds players and fans in a way that professional sports simply cannot match.
Coach Orgeron has his line: “One team, one heartbeat.” But there’s one more clause that should be added to that. “One team, one heartbeat, one Trojan family.” Corny as it might sound, that’s how I felt trying to pick my way through the mayhem that ensued on that field.
And as vexed as I initially was when I saw the student section start to empty, the sheer jubilation that surrounded me made that feeling go away almost instantly. And it wasn’t about beating the No. 5 team in the country — I still believe that USC, being USC, should expect to do that. As I wrote last week, it was about something else. It was about restoring order in the college football world. It was about finally, finally, beating “Stanfurd.”
“Any Given Saturday” runs on Thursdays, ironically. To explain to Nick how this makes no sense, or comment on this column, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.
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