The USC Trojans are one of the most absolutely dominant athletic institutions in the country, but it can be hard to pinpoint what makes them seem so staggeringly great. Is it the more than 100 national championships captured by Southern Cal teams, or would it be the fact that over 400 Trojans have competed in the Olympic Games? Maybe it’s the 26-year run from 1959 to ‘85 where at least one Cardinal and Gold squad won a title. Pick whichever accolade you like, because one thing is certain: USC is a veritable giant looming large in a land of mere mortals.
Perhaps the craziest thing about USC is that there was once a time when they were seen as the underdogs. “The athletes and coaches of the university were under terrific handicaps,” Los Angeles Times Sports editor Owen Bird remarked while tracing the origins of how he came up with the school’s fierce moniker. “They were facing teams that were bigger and better equipped, yet they had splendid fighting spirit. The name ‘Trojans’ fitted them,” he added.
While Southern Cal has had resounding success on the court (tennis), on the diamond (baseball), and in the pool (swimming & diving), it’s their exploits on the gridiron that are celebrated from coast to coast. Howard Jones and his “Thundering Herd” set the bar for excellence when they claimed four crowns from ‘28 to ‘39, and coach John McKay matched that mark nearly 30 years later when his clubs collected NCAA titles in ‘62, ‘67, ‘72 and ‘74. Both John Robinson (‘78) and Pete Carroll (‘03 and ‘04) would triumph on the national stage to add to the Trojan trophy case. Not only has USC fielded some excellent teams, but players such as Mike Garrett, Marcus Allen, and Carson Palmer have had tremendous individual campaigns and earned the Heisman for their efforts.
When these storied gridiron combatants descend on Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for battle, they are led by Traveler, the stately war horse that has served as mascot since ‘61. After USC touchdowns, fans are treated to both thrilling sights and sounds as Traveler “gallops around the Coliseum” and the Trojan marching band performs its lively rendition of “Conquest.” Properly trumpeting the arrival of such renowned competitors would be no easy task for most parading acts, but fortunately, the Spirit of Troy are no strangers to the spotlight. In ‘79, the Cardinal and Gold ensemble worked with legendary artists Fleetwood Mac to record the song “Tusk.” The track would go on to become a smash hit, not just with pop fans but with Trojan diehards as well.
If there’s one thing more coveted on the Southern Cal campus than another national championship, it’s capturing the Victory Bell, the rivalry trophy that the Trojans and UCLA Bruins have battled for since ‘41. No matter what hardware is on the line, USC has proven time and time again that it will “Fight On” to secure the victory that its fans deserve.