I thought it was stupid.
I was standing on the steps of the Physical Education building, overlooking Cromwell field. It was my freshman orientation, and I was stuck there, surrounded by people I didn’t know, being forced to perform that outrageously obnoxious two-finger-V-thing as a 10-piece segment of the Trojan Marching Band blared Tribute to Troy.
“You’re a part of the Trojan Family now,” they said.
“Yada yada,” I thought to myself.
Fast forward four years and I flash Fight On (the aforementioned “outrageously obnoxious two-finger-V-thing”) without a second thought. I’d like to think USC has taught me a few things in my time here, but I don’t think I’ve learned about anything more than I have learned about this notion of the “Trojan Family.” And as cliché as it might sound, there is no part of this school that has taught me more about that notion than USC athletics.
I’m not talking about Saturdays in the fall or something obvious like that. I mean at a personal level. We put many athletes and coaches on such a pedestal that we forget they are, in fact, people. And it is from these people that I learned the most about the Trojan Family.
I remember taking some dull General Education class with then-freshman (now former) wide receiver Marqise Lee. Lee fell asleep quite often in this class (as did many others), but one time he snored, and snored so loudly he actually woke himself up. Needless to say, the whole class laughed at him as he sheepishly tried to play it cool. But we didn’t laugh because this was “Marqise Lee, freshman All-American.” I doubt many in the class actually knew who he was yet. We laughed like we would have at any classmate who embarrassed himself in such a way. He was simply a student, like us; and like us, he was tired and bored.
I remember former USC baseball coach Frank Cruz calling me one random summer afternoon, my semester covering his team long since over, to simply ask how I was enjoying my vacation. I remember telling current baseball coach Dan Hubbs that I had to leave an interview because of a midterm, and having him ask me about it the next time I talked to him.
I remember chatting with former women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin for hours at a time, literally, about a whole lot more than soccer. I even remember former football coach Lane Kiffin, approached at random by a student who wanted to help in the football offices, talking with this student for close to five minutes about what his possibilities were.
That’s a lot of former head coaches I mentioned; such was the state of USC’s marquee athletic programs in my time here, and I didn’t even get to mention former men’s basketball coach Kevin O’Neill.
So I wasn’t here to see Trojan athletics — specifically football, but basketball and baseball too — in its heyday. Naturally, it’s disappointing that USC never played in a January bowl game in my time here, or a real NCAA tournament game (the opening round in Dayton, Ohio doesn’t count). But that did not put a damper on my learning experiences with this “Trojan Family” I knew practically nothing about.
Earlier this semester, I saw legendary USC running back Sam “Bam” Cunningham milling about the basement of the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, waiting to speak in a class. I decided not to bother him and returned to my work. But not 30 seconds later, he and former teammate John Papadakis came in and asked if they could sit down while they waited. We talked for some 20-plus minutes about Cunningham’s career and practicing on the old Bovard Field (where the Annenberg Building currently is) and the like. But they also took a genuine interest in me. Where am I from, what year am I, what do I study? Cunningham found that I am an outgoing senior, and asked what I want to do. But not in the general “what are you doing after school?” way that every senior is asked four-to-six times in a given day. He didn’t merely respond “interesting,” or “good luck,” but rather legitimately seemed to care. He asked me a follow-up, and then another, and before I knew it I was receiving career advice from a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Sam “Bam” Cunningham is 63 years old, 6-foot-3, 226 pounds, African-American, a former Division I athlete and a first-round NFL draft pick . I am 22 years old, 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Caucasian and I’ve never played a down of competitive football in my life. We have almost nothing in common whatsoever. So maybe he was just being polite, and did a great job feigning interest in my life. But I like to think it was a little more than that, because Cunningham and I do share one rather important characteristic: We both went to USC.
The Trojan Family is not about winning competitions or hating UCLA or athletics at all, to be honest. It’s about people, and the bond we all share. Yes, that might manifest itself most obviously when tens of thousands of us descend upon the Coliseum. But it’s more than just clever marketing that causes USC to refer to its alumni not as a network, but as a Family.
Trojans possess a sort of unconditional and unwavering love for USC, and each other, that you would expect to find in a family. And much like a family is always there — through thick and think, for better or for worse — so too is the Trojan Family.
That 10-piece band and “Tribute to Troy” and Fight On? It honestly was a little over the top. I still roll my eyes at the thought of it; so 18-year-old me was right about that. But you know what else makes me roll my eyes quite often? My “actual” family. And so 18-year-old me was also wrong. The Trojan Family is real. And I’m privileged to be a part of it.
Nick Burton is a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Any Given Saturday,” ran Thursdays, ironically. To comment on this story, visit dailytrojan.com or email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.