When the year began, I was warned that, despite any attempt to put a positive spin on a controversial situation, one truth would remain: The Trojans’ athletic program is fatally flawed.
People near and far continued to tell me this year would be the first of a long, dark period for USC athletics.
Nine months later, I have a resounding answer for the naysayers and Debbie Downers: You couldn’t be further from the truth.
There have been a few bumps in the road, a suspension or two and a rebuilding season here and there. Sometimes, though, the story on the surface masks the real story worth sharing.
USC’s program still faces an uphill battle in the years ahead under current Athletic Director Pat Haden. Although time will eventually wash away any sanctions, scholarship losses and postseason bans, the wounds take time to heal.
Yet from the second floor offices at Heritage Hall to the sidelines of McAlister Field to the press box at the Coliseum, instability has been replaced by potential. Irresponsibility has been replaced by flexibility and task-oriented leadership.
And through it all, the Trojan spirit has remained intact.
That might seem like a run-of-the-mill line fitting of a reflective piece, but I don’t mince words when referring to the fabric of this university’s world-class athletic tradition.
I can’t prove the strength of this so-called spirit through a long line of new national championship trophies or commemorative banners honoring Pac-10 domination in every sport, akin to men’s water polo and women’s volleyball’s notable success.
The true measure of a school’s athletic program occurs during the moments not filled with ticker-tape parades and ESPN highlight reels.
These are the moments that reveal character.
For me, these came in the places you’d least expect.
From a freshman cornerback honoring the memory of his mother to the basketball walk-on who only wanted to continue his life-long love affair with the sport to the bond between the Trojan football team and a courageous teenager fighting a disease.
These glimpses between the white lines didn’t get talked about much, though, because they lacked the quick appeal of a memorable sound bite or eye-popping image.
And sadly, it’s because of this there is a perceived stigma attached to this program. It goes beyond what happened in the past, beyond negativity spread by those who simply loathe the cardinal and gold.
But I have learned that we all have the opportunity to fight this stigma.
When you come here, you wish for BCS bowl games, Sweet 16 appearances and June baseball in Omaha, Neb.
But sometimes you have to look beyond wins and losses and instead at the rare instances that defy the perception of this school.
It doesn’t take a notepad, a recorder or a media credential to witness the hidden sports gems that lie within the walls of USC.
From the veteran volunteers at Heritage’s information desk to the two-star athlete trying to make a name for himself on the football field and on the track to the tennis player who spent his summer working on Capitol Hill, every nook and cranny has a tale worth telling.
In a result-driven world of sports this sometimes tedious task might not sound appealing or worth the effort. And honestly, odds are your findings won’t amount to more on-field success or gain you any individual publicity.
But as I found out along my journalistic path of image restoration this year, sometimes you can be rewarded with a little clarity at the end if you find the right angle.
For me, it was realizing there is no better time to be a USC Trojan than right now.
“For The Love Of The Game” ran Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or email Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.