Celebrating 20 years of Trojan glory (and meddling mediocrity, too)
USC kicks off another football season on Sept. 2 (ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL?!), but for me personally, the 2017 season is a milestone: It marks 20 years of me attending Trojan games at the Coliseum.
You see, 20 years ago this August, I was a freshman at USC. (I am now a professor there, and I told my students this the first week of class and many of them were dubious because I apparently still look like a college kid.) But it’s true — I came to Los Angeles from Guam, and being a big football fan, one of the reasons I chose USC (besides the fact it had a great journalism school) was that it was a football school.
I’ll never forget that first football weekend in 1997, when my roommate — who was from New Jersey and also a big football fan — trekked from our dorm to the Coliseum, a place to that point I’d only seen on television. We waited in line in the student section, walked through the tunnel and suddenly, the vast open field of the Coliseum splayed out in front of us. It is a feeling of awe I will never forget, that feeling that I had arrived at my mecca, that holy shit, I’m really here and I’m really a college student and wow, this place is so much grander in person.
USC played Florida State that day and lost 14–7. I was hooked from then on. I went to as many games as I could as a student, and covered the team both my junior and senior years. Even when I moved across the country out of school, I still tried to go to at least one home game a year. When I lived in Sacramento, I drove down to L.A. on game weekends to go to games. Trojan football is practically a religion at our house.
I’ve seen a lot of bad football — my college stint encompassed Paul Hackett’s entire tenure at USC, which should tell you something — and lots of good football. I love USC football all the same (even when Lane was at the helm, and everyone knows I hate that guy). I didn’t even live in Los Angeles during the Pete Carroll Glory Years, and part of me is jealous of all those college kids who did. (Pete was hired the fall after I graduated.)
The Coliseum is a special place to me. I will enjoy going to games there until I’m old and decrepit. And as this 20th season begins, here’s a look back at some of the most memorable games I’ve watched live at the Coliseum, in no particular order.
1998: USC 22, Purdue 17
The was the season opener my sophomore year. I remember it was hotter than thou — reports said it was like 125 degrees on the field or something crazy like that. I was seated near the band and kids were dropping like flies in those costumes. I also remember I went to this game with my friends Heather and Mark and Mark knew absolutely nothing about football, so we spent the whole game explaining the game to him. Other notable things from this game: some kid named Carson Palmer made a brief appearance off the bench as a freshman. (The starter was Mike Van Raaphorst, who was actually in one of my journalism lecture classes the semester before.) Oh, and the starter for Purdue was some kid named Drew Brees. Maybe you’ve heard of him.
1999: USC 17, UCLA 7
This game is forever immortalized in our house; we have the front page of the L.A. Times’ sports section framed on our wall, as well as the front page of the Daily Trojan and my press credential from that day. The game itself was pretty meh, but USC ended an eight-year losing streak to UCLA, so pretty much no one on the Trojan side cared about aesthetics. I remember standing on the field after the game, grabbing whatever interviews I could and thinking, where are the students? Where is the crush of people that are rushing the field? And suddenly, whoosh, there they all were. People pulled up grass, ran around, but did not get to the goalposts. A friend of mine who was in an air cast almost got trampled in a stampede behind one of the goalposts because a flimsy barrier fell. Luckily, he got plucked off the ground. It was an insane all around. But hey, I got to see USC beat UCLA while I was in school, something I lord over my husband because USC lost all four years when he was in school and I am a terrible person.
2000: USC 17, Colorado 14
This was the season opener my senior year. I was covering the team for a publication called USC Report, but I remember asking my boss if I could skip covering the game because it was basically the last chance I could attend a home opener as a student. He let me go to the game. In the run-up to the game, I had done a story about USC’s kicker, David Newbury, who had a great start the year before but missed three field goals in the third game of the year and kind of fell off the rails. He was back as the starter and this was his redemption tour. The game came down to a field goal, and I remember sitting in the student section. These gals behind me — who I think were track athletes — were imploring the crowd to be quiet, and everyone was basically freaking out because oh no it’s this kicker again.
Newbury made the kick. Everyone went nuts. I occasionally wonder what happened to that kid because he was really nice to me, even after I trashed him in the papers my junior year. I still feel bad about that.
2001: Kansas State 10, USC 6
This was during Pete Carroll’s first year, before the glory years got into full swing. (I think people forget Pete started 6–6 and lost in effing the Las Vegas Bowl, for crying out loud.) But this was an early game against a somewhat decent opponent, and I remember going to the game with my friends Edgar and Jorge. Another friend hooked us up with tickets, and we were in the second row on the 50-yard-line, by far the best seats I have ever had at the Coliseum. Unfortunately, we were also on the K-State side. We’re generally kind of loud and use a lot of curse words during games, and at some point, a dad in front of us in a purple shirt — clearly a K-State fan that we started referring to as “faded purple shirt guy” — asked us kindly to quit using such language around his kids. We obliged and later chatted up the mom at halftime, who was super nice and understanding (she essentially said she was sorry her husband had to turn around and talk to us, that she forgot how insane people’s language is at football games since they attend lots of games themselves). USC wound up losing that game, and one pivotal play was a Carson Palmer fumble that happened right in front of us. Ask Edgar about it and I’m pretty sure he will still refer to it as “the lamest fumble I have ever seen in my life.” Side note: We went to Yankee Doodle’s in Santa Monica after the game to shoot pool, and saw faded purple shirt guy there! We couldn’t escape that dude.
2007: Stanford 24, USC 23
There are two things you must know about football as it relates to me: 1. My friends and I were serious tailgaters back in the day and there was a lot of booze involved; 2. I hate Stanford with every molecule in my body. I often refer to this game as the time Stanford ruined my birthday (which was actually a couple of days later, but semantics). At the time, Stanford was pretty terrible and USC was still pretty damn good. The Trojans were favored by 40 points or something like that. We showed up for our tailgate and partied hard and didn’t bother to show up for the first quarter of the game because whatever, it’s Stanford. The phrase “USC should be up by three touchdowns by the time we get there” was uttered by someone. We showed up in the second quarter tanked, looked up at the board and saw USC was only up 9–0 and suddenly went uh-oh. I remember watching that last touchdown Stanford scored — we were on the opposite side of the stadium but I saw it clear as day — and feeling absolutely crushed. It’s still considered one of the greatest upsets in history when you think about the spread. But yeah, this contributed to my hate of Stanford. I want to burn the tree. Also, as a side note, I had an entire yard of beer spilled on me by accident later that night at Yard House, so my day just got worse. (That incident was where I uttered the immortal phrase, “I’m going to smell like a grain elevator all night.”) So yeah, screw you Stanford.
2013: USC 20, Stanford 17
Another Stanford game, a different result. We were living in L.A. by this time (finally), and we brought our buddy Adam to the game, which would be unremarkable except he went to LSU and had the audacity to wear an LSU shirt to our tailgate and the game. (LSU and USC split the national title in 2003, a bone of contention between both fanbases to this day.) At this point, USC was a mess, having ended Lane Kiffin’s reign of error a few weeks before, and Stanford was pretty good, with that Amish-looking doofus named Andrew Luck at the helm. Stanford was ranked No. 4 at the time, and had beat USC at the Coliseum in consecutive years: the infamous “What’s your deal?” game where Stanford crushed USC (I was at that game too and was so mad that I think I punched one of my friends in the stands), and a triple-overtime heartbreaker in 2011 (I actually cried in my car after that game). But Andre Heidari (that dude still has a soft spot in my heart) kicked the game-winner with barely any time left and it was exhilarating. It’s only the second time I’ve seen people rush the field at the Coliseum (see USC-UCLA, 1999) and while many of my friends asked me if I joined the fray, my response was, “I sit in row 86 and I’m an old lady, so no.” I won’t lie, we considered it.
2005: USC 50, Fresno State 42
Before I went and watched the 2017 Rose Bowl in person, this game held the title of “Greatest USC Game I Have Ever Seen Live, Period.” This was right in the thick of the Pete Carroll Glory Years, and might I mention, my crew’s tailgate glory years, too. I mean, look at this headband game:
People knew Fresno State would give USC a run for its money, but I don’t think people realized how bananas insane this game would be. It was a night game, so we had partied it up for quite a while — I mean, it’s daylight in that damn photo — but we got sober real quickly watching this game, and we were in our seats when it started (a rarity for us in those days). It was thrilling, exhilarating, scary, and batshit insane. USC trailed for most of the first half so we were nervous. I also remember that our group was doing the whole “let’s bench press some dude in our group after every touchdown” and no one was dropped. Arms were tired though, since there were 50 points scored. Oh, and of course, this game was an all-time performance by Reggie Bush and produced the greatest juke move in history:
This happened in the opposite end zone from us, but you could still see that move clear as day. I remember all of us went crazy and were like, “HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT HE DIDN’T STEP OUT OF BOUNDS AND DUDE I TOTALLY GOT FAKED OUT TOO.” It was glorious.
And with that, let’s raise a glass to another season … and 20 more.