Diehard sports fans are irrational. There is some unquantifiable and illogical aspect of sports that makes every passionate fan value sports way more than we probably should. Admittedly, I made my decision to attend USC partially based on the fact that I needed to be at the Coliseum on Saturdays in the fall. While the logical reason for choosing a college is academics, which USC has in spades, I simply couldn’t stomach the idea of putting on any other colors besides the cardinal and gold.
I’ve been a Trojan fan since I was six years old. While other kids would choose school-recommended books for summer reading, I plowed through Athlon, Phil Steele and Street and Smith’s college football guides, memorizing the USC offensive and defensive lines before I learned my times tables. My introduction to the world of Trojan football came at a good time. Former head football coach Pete Carroll’s first year was not great, but in year two, the first season I truly remember, the Trojans took off.
Most of my favorite memories from elementary school have to do with USC. I watched Carson Palmer absolutely torch the Fighting Irish and cement his Heisman Trophy candidacy with my dad on a Friday night from the basement of a synagogue because we were out of town for a family friend’s bar mitzvah (this really added meaning to the whole football as a religion concept).
I vividly remember Mike Williams’ touchdown pass to Matt Leinart in the 2004 Rose Bowl. I remember eating a taquito every time the Trojans scored against Oklahoma in their route to their sole BCS national title. I was for two days after that, and I haven’t eaten a taquito since. I remember Dwayne Jarrett’s blurry-eyed catch on fourth-and-nine and the roller coaster of emotions as time expired and the few precious seconds that were added back to make way for the Bush Push against Notre Dame. I remember the feeling of Trojan superiority when November hit because no one was beating Carroll.
It wasn’t just the championships and the Rose Bowls and the legendary moments. It was coming back against Arizona State from a 21-3 deficit behind Lendale White overpowering an overmatched Sun Devils defense. It was thoroughly dominating Oregon with Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart and forcing Nebraska and Bill Callahan to play keep-away and still lose by a lot. It was always being confident USC would find a way to win, no matter the score or the situation.
I remember thinking that USC was always going to be this good, even after the Texas loss (which still ranks as one of the worst days of my life). Then the dominoes started to fall. It was small things at first: roadblocks that kept the team out of National Title games and instead restricted USC to vying for consolation Rose Bowls. Then came John David Booty’s broken finger and an upset Thursday night loss in Corvallis, when the Rodgers brothers and the Beavers shocked the Trojans.
Then it was bigger things, like Mark Sanchez leaving too early and Jim Harbaugh thinking it was OK to go for two and Carroll jumping ship before the sanctions hit. Even sadder than this slow demise was that it wasn’t just football that fell. The basketball team was probably an even bigger passion for me. I thought when Daniel Hackett shut down Kevin Durant and the Trojans beat the Longhorns in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, USC basketball was going to be a power. Then Taj Gibson picked up his fourth foul while the team was up 12 points against North Carolina in the Sweet 16, and Trojan basketball was never quite the same.
High school, unfortunately, was a wasteland of sorts when it came to rooting for USC. In football, there was the upset win against a top-ranked Oregon team in Eugene and the 50-0 beat down of UCLA, and in basketball, there was the occasional big win over the Bruins. However, I came to college hoping that USC’s fortunes would turn and somehow there would be a national title in there for football or a Final Four berth for basketball.
While we didn’t quite have that the last four years, I did become an even bigger Trojan fan. Dealing with former head football coaches Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian taught me what it was like to root for an underachieving program. Sitting through a too-close-for-comfort basketball game between USC and Northern Arizona taught patience.
I was also lucky to be a columnist for the Daily Trojan for four years and sit in the press box for some games. As just a fan with zero professional sports journalism aspirations, it was such a privilege to go down on the field for the final five minutes of games. I’ll never forget when USC played Cal in 2015, and I was right there when Justin Davis bounced it outside to get the game-clinching first down. The speed with which he moved was truly astounding and will stick with me forever.
It wasn’t just that, though. Sitting in class and making friends with members of the teams and working on exceptionally difficult Asian art history projects together gives you a different rooting interest when its people you know on the field. You root a little harder and have a bit more compassion when they get burned on a deep route or drop a catchable pass.
I would argue that there is no better place to go to college than USC even if you aren’t a sports fan, but being a diehard Trojan makes it even better. Sitting through miserable football losses to Washington State and Washington makes redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold’s emergence and USC’s Rose Bowl victory that much sweeter. Watching blowout defeat after blowout defeat for two years at the Galen Center makes a quadruple-overtime conquest against Arizona or a buzzer-beater against SMU in the NCAA Tournament that much better.
Growing up, I had the luck of becoming a Trojan football and basketball fan just as the first became a dynasty and the second gained respectability. It gave me confidence that USC would always win, no matter the score. There was a time in recent years that that unwavering confidence was lost, but thanks to Darnold, Helton and Enfield, it is back. It remains to be seen whether or not this will be the start of another dynasty or a brief resurgence, but either way, I’ll be there, hoping for another 34-game win streak or Sweet 16 berth.
There is nothing quite as satisfying as being a college sports fan, especially when you are rooting for the Trojans.
Jake Davidson is a senior majoring in accounting. His column, “Davidson’s Direction,” ran on Mondays.