Don’t Step on the Head–Folk Belief in the Trojan Marching Band

“There’s a painting of a Trojan head on the floor of the USC Marching Band office right inside the door and you’re not supposed to step on it. If you step on it, everyone yells at you because you’ve brought bad luck to the football team. Also, just generally, it’s considered highly disrespectful. No one told us when we joined band. On the first day of band camp, a group of us freshmen walked into the office. Everyone started yelling at us to not step on the head.”


On the one hand, this folk belief is about trying to demonstrate control over the outcome of football games. Because so much of the outcome of a football game is the result of chance (if the wind was blowing right at the right moment, if a player was left unguarded at the perfect opportunity to score, etc), the use of folk magic allows the members of the band to act as though they have control over these moments of chance. If a band member steps on the Trojan head, he has stepped on the Trojans’ chances of winning. Therefore, if the team does not play well, the band can point the blame toward the person who caused it. Rather than blaming the players for their own failings on the field (which would make it less desirable for the band to cheer them on), they can put the blame on one of their own.

In addition to being a folk belief, it also serves as part of the initiation of new freshmen into band. Learning to not step on the Trojan head is one of the first things freshmen learn about band traditions and culture, as they have to step into the office on the first day of band camp. Once they have learned that they have to walk around the head, they have started the process of accumulating the knowledge of all customs associated with being a fully fledged band member.