Struggles of Kiffin era build loyalty

My first memory of USC football isn’t very inspiring; it’s of former Kansas State standout Terrence Newman streaking down the sideline to score on a blocked point after touchdown attempt from USC kicker David Davis. USC ultimately lost that game 27-20, and I’ll never forget my dad, a diehard fan, lamenting the loss as typical of USC football. Clearly, he was still scarred from the Paul Hackett regime.

The next game was better, a 22-0 victory over Oregon State, and so was the rest of the season. It happened to be the year former head coach Pete Carroll’s famed no-loss November streak started. In between the Friday night thrashing of a highly-ranked Notre Dame team, a Heisman trophy for Carson Palmer, and a resounding Orange Bowl victory against Iowa, I was hooked.

Looking back on those days now, considering the current state of the Trojans, I am able to appreciate the high points of being a fan. The numerous low points of the Lane Kiffin era have given me a new perspective.

The first time I took an interest in USC football coincided with the program beginning one of the most successful runs in college football history. I remember the high points with glee — Darnell Bing’s interception against Auburn in the first game of Matt Leinart’s career, the Wild Bunch II dominating Michigan in the 2004 Rose Bowl victory and the Trojans completely overpowering Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl en route to a national championship. Most importantly, there was the feeling that at the end of every season, USC was the team no one, including those powerhouse SEC teams, wanted to play.

There were, of course, some low points as well; the final 6:42 minutes of the 2006 Rose Bowl against Texas come to mind. After that loss, I told my dad there was no chance I was going to school the next day because I needed time to cope, and he explained that I had it easy compared to some of the low points that he endured before I was born. That notion became the recurring theme after each subsequent disappointing loss, be it to Stanford or Oregon State or any of the other sneaky teams in the old Pac-10.

He was right though — being a USC fan during the Pete Carroll era was easy, and it most definitely was fun. We watched a high-octane offense and an aggressive defense week in and week out, a team filled with future NFL players that lit up the scoreboard and had fun in the process.

That’s why, when thinking about the Kiffin era, I have a certain level of gratitude. He showed me what it is like to be a true fan, and to watch mediocrity and haphazard playcalling and still root just as hard.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled as a Trojan fan, or it could be the eternal optimism in me, but with the talent at USC, I always feel as if they should win when they take the field. I still maintain a sliver of hope that this year’s team can rally and still have success by season’s end. When that level of expectation is there, it hurts to watch the losses pile up. The disappointment takes a toll on even the most loyal supporters.

I know how irrational it is to be a diehard fan, to center the fall weekend schedule on  12 three-and-a-half-hour games. It’s weird to get so excited and angry about something so far out of your control, but when there is that level of passion, it is upsetting to watch a team fail to fulfill its immense potential. And boy, have these last 13 months been upsetting as a fan.

Out of all this though, I learned what it is to be a true supporter. I always wondered how fans could commit to rooting for a perpetually disappointing team such as the Cleveland Browns, but now I know. When USC was losing against Georgia Tech last year, or Arizona State on Saturday, it was tough to swallow, but I never considered turning the game off or leaving. I, along with most of the Trojan faithful, kept watching until the end — hoping, wishing for some type of miracle.

If you watch long enough, you never know what you might see. The comeback against ASU might not have happened, but fans who didn’t leave the stadium or change the channel on TV were rewarded when they saw the start of what could be an incredible career for freshman tailback Justin Davis. Watching him skirt through the defense and cut back on long runs faintly reminded me of the famous Reggie Bush run against Fresno State, even though that play seems like it occurred several decades ago.

Out of that tough loss came a glimpse of Davis’ potential, and that is the type of positive signs that I will look forward to next Thursday against Arizona. Watching the Trojans lose more times in the last 12 games than they did in five years with Carroll didn’t turn me away from the program. It strengthened my resolve as a fan — always yearning for the next game to see USC turn that corner.

Admittedly, even after Kiffin’s firing, the football team has a bevy of problems to deal with. But I have faith that this program can rise from the proverbial ashes and reclaim its glory. As that process happens, I’ll be tuning in week in and week out as a fan, win or lose. That’s what we do as fans — we stick with the team through the good and the bad, because that’s what sports are all about. It would be too easy to just call it quits when things get a little tough.

So thank you, Lane Kiffin, for showing me that I will still be a fan even in the worst of times. And when I say worst of times, I understand it’s all relative — it can always get worse. After all, we could be Bruins.


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5 replies
  1. Joe Bruin
    Joe Bruin says:

    During the the PC era the football team was forced to vacate the final two wins of its 2004 national championship season, as well as all of its wins in 2005. It was also banned from bowl games in both 2010 and 2011 and was docked 30 scholarships over three years.
    Shortly after the NCAA handed out its penalties, the Football Writers Association of America announced it would no longer recognize the Trojans as its 2004 national champion. In June 2011, the Bowl Championship Series stripped the Trojans of the 2004 BCS title.
    Bush is the first person in the Heisman Trophy’s history to give his trophy back to the Heisman Trust, and the 2005 season is the only one in the award’s history for which there is no winner.

  2. jp
    jp says:

    Right. Good article. And speaking as a decades-long SC fan, I can tell you that, win or lose against Arizona, Coach Orgeron WILL have the Trojans fully mobilized with whomever is able to play. And motivated? Are you serious? Would you like to be in Arizona’s shoes, with SC in full-recovery mode and pride on the line? As we all know, Fight On does not mean Wuss On. I am not a violent person by nature but can you imagine the ouchies, the aches and the depression those poor dudes are going to have to take back to Arizona?

  3. Thekatman
    Thekatman says:

    Jake, what a nice andr efreshing perspective you have presented. Very well written Rticleand it was an enjoyable read.

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