January 02, 2004

Yesterday was a special day for me, having grown up an SC fan. Like most fans of college teams, the subject of my loyalties has nothing to do with the college I attended. I went to law school there, but had I gotten my J.D. in Westwood, I would still be a Bruin-hater. Most of the people who follow the Trojans have never set foot on the campus other than to walk through it en route to the Coliseum, and have had even less contact with the school. I liked the Trojans as a kid, even though no one in my family (save my dad, for one semester) ever attended the school, developed an even more passionate attachment as a teenager (around the time I discovered the, er, talent on the sidelines), and remained so after I went off to college in Berkeley. USC is not now the school to which I have the greatest allegiance (that would be dear alma mater CAL), or the school that I follow with most interest (Michigan, their oppenent yesterday, but that's a long story), but it's the team that I always come back to in the end.

Since 1978, there has been little in the way of good news for Trojan fans. The hoops team occasionally tantalizes its fans with a brief run at national prominence, but this is still a UCLA town, from January to the end of March. No team has won more track, swimming and baseball titles than USC, but scholarship limitations put an end to that dominance in the first two sports, and the baseball team, aside from the national title it won a few years back, is now known more for its post-season underachievement (how does a team with Mark McGuire and Randy Johnson not win a title?) than anything else.

The football team had hardly been better. Its recent history was marked by trips to the NCAA doghouse for recruiting and academic violations in the '80's, and by uninspired mediocrity during the '90's. USC lost eleven straight games at one point to their principal rival, Notre Dame, and eight straight to another, UCLA. After Pete Carroll was hired after the 2000 season, things hardly looked up; the Trojans started 2-5 in 2001, and didn't seem appreciably better than they were in the Paul Hackett era. In the thirty or so games since then, USC has looked bad only twice, against Utah in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl, and against CAL in the first half this year. Most of the time, the games haven't even been competitive, and the Trojans typically look like a team playing an offense ten years ahead of everyone else.

For someone who had seen his team hit rock bottom only three years before, to suddenly mute his cheers at the game yesterday so as not to embarrass his host, a Michigan fan, and to actually feel sorry for the outclassed opponent is quite a switch. Even scarier, USC returns most of their stars, and will play a schedule that looks even easier than the one they played this season, when it cost them a spot in the BCS "championship", a game that is now anti-climactic. They will doubtlessly be the prohibitive favorite going into 2004.

But just as I can savor this new-found dominance, I must also remember that glory such as this is fleeting; after the Trojans won the title in '78 (the real title, too, since it shared the honor with a team it had beaten on the road earlier in the season, Alabama), its third title in six years, I couldn't help but think that was the permanent state of things, the way things naturally were. USC competing for the national title was a matter of birthright. It didn't turn out that way. The next year, an even better team suffered a tie midway through the season, and lost out when their rivals, coasting on a cupcake schedule, went perfect. The Trojans were on probation for much of the next five years, rallied briefly under Larry Smith, then collapsed. It can happen again.

But right now, by whatever right I have to use the pronoun, WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS !!

No comments: