As scores of USC students trickled back to their homes after USC football’s home loss on Saturday, a single song echoed down Greek Row.
Normally, West 28th Street is filled with a hodgepodge of assorted bad rap music and old school rock being blasted from the speakers of every fraternity house (I did, in fact, hear “Mo Bamba” played simultaneously by two houses at one point on a Thursday afternoon). But the Row was quiet for once, except for the solemn notes of “Taps,” which eerily filled the air as dejected and hungover fans trudged back to their homes and cars.
The song choice was, of course, a sarcastic tribute to the USC football team, whose season now has been deemed as good as dead by the majority of Trojans. It was funny, I’ll give it that, but the song also highlighted for me the strangeness of the culture that surrounds USC athletics.
USC fans love to talk about their love of the Trojan Family. It’s our tagline, our mantra, our sense of pride.
Trojans are supposed to be some of the best fans and alumni in the nation, forming some sort of mafia that obnoxiously backs our teams no matter what.
And yet, we aren’t. Like it or not, USC fans are fickle. One minute, they’ll praise head coach Clay Helton for turning a program around; the next, they’ll rail against him.
Freshman quarterback JT Daniels is in — until he throws an interception — and then he’s no good. Make a mistake, and you’ll lose this fanbase in a heartbeat.
Maybe it’s just my roots talking.
In Lawrence, Kansas, basketball fans camp out for days for student section seats. I mean actual camping, with sleeping bags and everything, shuttling food and trading off spots so that students can make it to class without losing their spots in line.
In Kansas City, fans still wear red and blue even when our teams are doing horribly. This year, the Royals were the worst team in baseball — literally, the actual worst team — and still filled over 70 percent of the stadium each game.
USC fans lack that staying power. When the going is good, they don’t get all that excited. And when the going gets tough, the fans stay home. Trojans might be the best in the West at tailgating, but that isn’t the same as being good fans.
Take a look at the Penn State student section last Saturday, which was absolutely riotous as the team beat No. 19 Iowa. Even at its best, when former quarterback Sam Darnold was on his way up and a Rose Bowl was close in sight, I’ve never seen a version of USC football like that.
We don’t have a fanbase that can pull off a white out game, or that travels well on the road. We’re not the type of fans who would camp out for student section seats.
And the problem extends to every support. When I was a sophomore, I covered the water polo national championship in Berkeley, and the Cal student section was so raucous that security had to hold them back from jumping in the pool.
When USC hosted last year, most of the student section stayed seated for the whole game.
Heck, we barely support our teams that routinely make bids for national championships: women’s soccer, beach volleyball and both water polo teams. Both of our basketball teams regularly play in front of scattered crowds whose cheers echo in the cavernous empty space of Galen Center. Less than 5,000 fans attended each basketball game last year, despite the team going 24-12 and making it into the second round of the NIT tournament.
Maybe we just win too much. I mean, honestly, it’s hard not to get a little jaded when your school wins multiple national championships every single year. We’ve been elite at football for so long that it’s hard to remember what it looks like to be a mediocre team, not to mention a bad one.
I’m not saying that we grow complacent. USC is the best of the best, in football and in many other sports, and we should expect that caliber of talent and performance year in and out. But when our program stumbles, we can’t abandon ship.
As a fandom, it’s time to embrace the bad years, to own them and to support our team wholeheartedly even when the wins don’t come.
But USC fans could do to learn some of the wisdom of any fan who has cheered for an absolutely abysmal program before — it might be a mediocre season, but it’s our mediocre season.
Julia Poe is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Thursdays.