When I first applied to USC in the fall of 2009, I figured I was applying to a school that would continue its athletic dominance — specifically in football — across my four years in college.
Pete Carroll was still the head football coach and a freshman phenom named Matt Barkley was showcasing the promise that had made him the top-ranked high school quarterback in the nation. The future looked bright for the Trojans — and to a certain aspiring sportswriter, that was a big factor in choosing what university to attend, no matter how irrational. I didn’t want to cover a mediocre team — I wanted to cover the best.
By the end of fall semester, one of my best friends decided to attend Alabama. I figured that if I got into USC, there was a fair possibility that our two schools would be competing for national championships against each other throughout our undergraduate years.
Needless to say, he’s had a lot more reason to talk smack over the past four years. While Alabama won two national championships, USC made it to two middle-tier bowl games and cycled through three head coaches.
But I wouldn’t trade my experiences as a USC fan and reporter for anything.
Though the Trojans generally underachieved while the class of 2014 made their way through USC, there have been some unforgettable moments that no other student body can lay claim to.
There’s been a fair amount of low points: getting trampled by Oregon in 2010 and 2012. Losing to Stanford in triple-overtime at home in 2011, then being upset by the Cardinal the following season while USC was ranked No. 2 in the nation. In fact, the entire 2012 season felt like one big emotional trench that ended with Barkley having his shoulder ripped out of its socket in the Rose Bowl.
But there have been glorious peaks, too: upsetting Oregon in Eugene in 2011 to ruin the Ducks’ national title hopes. Routing UCLA 50-0 two weeks later, with seemingly every undergrad in the student section bucking the norm by staying until after the final whistle to watch Barkley lead the crowd in what many thought would be his last game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. And, of course, beating Stanford last season and being able to do something that not even Alabama’s soon-to-be graduates can match: rushing the field.
Even when the Trojans didn’t come out on top, they’ve been involved in countless storylines that any journalist would be ecstatic to cover: the odd situation of being banned from postseason play. Starting out as the No. 1 ranked team in the nation upon being eligible for bowl games — then promptly crashing to a 7-6 record. And, of course, the rise and fall of Lane Kiffin.
USC fans hold a special kind of vitriol for Darth Visor, but I can’t bring myself to feel the same way.
His roller-coaster tenure was like a special kind of training for sports reporters. As I watched the Trojans lay down against Washington State to lose their first home game of 2013, I figured I’d have to write some post-mortem about the Kiffin era at some point during the season. But I didn’t think I’d be furiously crunching out my reaction column to his dismissal as I watched the sun rise from my hotel room in Tempe, Ariz., thanks to the infamous 4 a.m. press release that became necessary after Pat Haden couldn’t wait until a normal time of day to wash his hands of Kiffin.
Even the bad times were exhilarating -— that triple-overtime loss to Stanford remains the best sports atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of.
After coming across more fair-weather fans in Los Angeles in a year than I had the rest of my life, I wasn’t expecting USC fans to pack the Coliseum during a season that featured no tangible carrot at the end of the stick, with the Trojans banned from postseason play. But I was proven very, very wrong. And even though gleefully traveling to Pasadena with the expectation of upsetting the Bruins eventually became a miserable post-loss walk in the rain back to our cars (seriously, shape up your parking situation, Rose Bowl), getting the chance to witness one of the most heated collegiate rivalries from those historic stands is something I’ll never forget.
I remember seeing a tweet from a long-time college football reporter last fall revealing that he hadn’t sat in the stands for a game at his alma mater in 35-plus years. After having the privilege of attending USC the past four years, I’m sure I won’t be following in those precise footsteps. There’s no way I could stay away from the Coliseum bleachers for that long. There’s too many memories there that I’ll be revisiting for the rest of my days.
Will Laws is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Laying Down the Laws,” ran every other Friday. To comment on this story, visit dailytrojan.com or email Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.