Soon the oasis will shake itself awake, and thoughts will turn to the UCLA Bruins. But for now, life here is just as the locals like it:
The buzz from another loud football Saturday night still ringing in their ears, another righteous victory coming 'round the bend, another season to remember in the making.
It's tradition. It's an entitlement. It's a birthright. And people hate USC for it. Especially people from Berkeley.
“I had grown up in Northern California, just being a football nut the whole time,” says USC football coach Pete Carroll, “knowing about the Rose Bowl and how grand it always was, with 'SC being synonymous with the Rose Bowl. When I got a chance to coach here, it just kind of all came together. This is really an extraordinary place to be, with the opportunity to represent the history and the tradition of the program.”
You can wish an outbreak of blue hair for the fair-haired Carroll. You can mock his supercilious sideline demeanor. But you can't dispute his contention, because Carroll has friends in low places. And by low, we mean the cardinal-and-gold carpeted lobby of Heritage Hall, USC's athletic administration building.
On a sleepy Sunday morning, Heritage Hall is a remarkable place to be. It's just you and the ghosts. See there, the first thing you notice upon pushing through the glass doors? It's a half-dozen Heisman Trophies arranged in a flying wedge.
It has to be the largest collection of Heismans in captivity. The winners, from left to right: Reggie Bush, O.J. Simpson, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Charles White and Marcus Allen. USC has such a surplus of tradition that the Heisman won by current athletic director Mike Garrett isn't even missed. It's probably in his office; or maybe at a day spa having its fingernails buffed.
Five of the seven Heisman-winning jerseys are on display. As is Chris Claiborne's 1998 Butkus Award. As is the bust of coach Elmer (Gloomy Gus) Henderson, the man who took the Trojans to their first Rose Bowl.
As is the bust of coach John McKay, who birthed the birthright by leading 'SC to its first four national titles, who fathered Student Body Right, who recruited Simpson and then had him carry the football 30 times a game because, “Why not? It doesn't weigh much.”
Within a quip's throw of McKay's bust is one of John Wayne, “student and scholarship athlete,” according to the plaque.
John Wayne, for crying out loud.
USC's attentions are historically divided between a number of white-hot rivals – Notre Dame, UCLA, Cal, whichever aspiring king slayer happens to be across the line of scrimmage on a given Saturday. There simply is no competing with the lobby in Heritage Hall. The Heismans. The national championships. The Rose Bowls. The 430 NFL draft picks produced. The legend. The lore.
It's tough to say what annoys other schools' fans more – that USC boasts that kind of psychic bounty, or that their particular school doesn't.
“I loved the class of the program as a teenager growing up,” Carroll says. “Once you get here, you realize there truly is a Trojan family and a legacy that we live with. It helps with our recruiting. People can sense it when they're here. It's real and it's very, very powerful.”
© 2006, Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.