Protectors of Tommy Trojan, the Victory Bell and USC traditions, the USC Trojan Knights are celebrating their 90th anniversary this year.
Trojan Knights Alumni Director Steve Johnson said the knights will celebrate the homecoming game the way they celebrate all home games.
“We’ll wake up at 6 a.m. Saturday, maybe earlier, to set up the tailgate on Trousdale. Then we’ll enjoy food, drinks and the company of Helenes and alumni,” Johnson said. “We’ll paint ourselves at around 7:30 a.m. and 20 Knights bring the Victory Bell to the Coliseum at 9 a.m.”
Johnson has attended USC football games since he was 2 years old and has never heard fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum scream as loud as they did during this season’s game against Stanford.
“It was absolutely deafening,” Johnson said. “It was a tough loss, but the crowd was definitely a factor in the game. If we can get some of that intensity back for this game against Washington, it will help lead our team to victory.”
Trojan Knights President Phillip Larson said despite the football team’s 56-48 loss to Stanford in triple overtime and NCAA sanctions, the Trojan Knights’ spirit and passion have not been affected.
“Since 1921, we have been the guardians of Trojan tradition and school spirit,” Larson said. “The spirit has only gotten stronger and the sanctions have given Trojans a banner to rally around because bowl game or not, we’re still a great team.”
Regardless of the football team’s performance, in nine decades of existence, the Trojan Knights have helped develop some of USC’s most treasured traditions.
In 1941, six Trojan Knights dressed in powder blue to infiltrate Westwood and capture the Victory Bell during a UCLA football game. Also in the 1940s, a group of Trojan Knights found a stray dog wandering on Trousdale Parkway and named it George Tirebiter. It soon became a beloved Trojan mascot, especially after it bit Joe Bruin’s nose during a USC-UCLA football game.
In 1954, Arthur J. Gontier III, a Trojan Knight, rode a white horse to the tune of “Conquest.” Seven years later, Traveler was introduced as an official mascot of USC.
“I was terrified,” said Gontier, a 1956 USC alumnus. “All of a sudden, I was in front of 60,000 screaming fans and the guy who was supposed to ride the horse didn’t show, so I stepped up, put on a Trojan costume and rode the horse out of the tunnel.”
Gontier said although he enjoyed being a Trojan Knight and starting a long-time Trojan tradition, the organization has improved dramatically since the 1950s.
“We were in it for ourselves,” Gontier said. “Our lives pulled away from Trojan Knights, not toward it. We did not have any fraternal bond whatsoever.”
Though the Trojan Knights are not part of the Greek system, the Knights still consider themselves a fraternal organization.
“We are a brotherhood of leaders,” Trojan Knights Treasurer Vinnie Prasad said. “One of our main goals is to work together and provide better service to the surrounding community.”
Among the Trojan Knights’ signature philanthropies is its pumpkin carving campaign where Knights carve pumpkins with students of West 32nd Elementary School for Halloween. In addition, the Trojan Knights hold annual bone marrow drives. Last spring’s drive yielded several potentially life-saving matches for cancer patients.
“There’s a lot of criteria to be a Knight,” Prasad said. “You have to know all about USC traditions and school history, but you also have to be selfless and have the drive to make a positive difference on campus and in the community.”