Ritual – University of Southern California

Kick the Flagpoles

Before home football games at the University of Southern California, many people either park, party, or eat somewhere on campus.  As the game nears kickoff, the thousands of dedicated fans stream south toward the Coliseum.  On the way they pass a series of towering flag poles shows on the left which over look an entrance to the south side of campus from Exposition Boulevard.  Every fan makes it a point to kick one of the bases of the flagpoles as he passes for good luck.  Since it is supposed to bring good luck on the Trojans, fans of opposing teams will almost never kick the flagpoles.  With literally thousands of fans kicking the noisy bases, it creates a racket which can be heard for blocks.

This tradition is specific to USC; as far as I know, no other university has such a tradition.  My friend Grant reminded me of this tradition when were we discussing the many traditions of USC.  A freshman here, originally from Berkeley, California, he had no idea as the why this kicking started.  Although I have lived about half an hour from USC all my life, I had no idea either.  We both learned this ritual when we went to our first home football game here.  I remember walking past the imposing poles when a large man, probably a graduate student or upperclassman, said “Hey, you gotta kick the flag pole, man.” “Why?” I asked.  “I don’t know dude, its good luck.”  We kicked the loose base of the flag pole, everybody smiled, and then continued on our trek to the Coliseum.  We probably discussed the tradition for a while, but like the big fan who had told us about it, we could not conclude much else about the ritual other than that it was for good luck, presumably for the Trojans.

After we thought about the tradition a second time for this collection, we hypothesized that the tradition may have started unintentionally.  The bases of the flagpoles are extremely noisy when kicked.  As they are placed on the edge of campus, they can be viewed as the last markers of “Trojan territory.”  As such, perhaps a person accidentally kicked one of the bases on his way out.  Seeing the drunken nature of many tailgate parties, this sort of stumbling is not at all unlikely.  So, perhaps one from the other legions of fans marching over to the Coliseum heard the noise initiated by the drunken stumbler.  Interpreting it as a type of rallying cry, one last bang before leaving the comfort of Troy and entering into the battlefield of the Coliseum, these fans picked up on it and began kicking the bases of the other flagpoles too.  Delighted by the loud, resounding clamor they were making, they soon decided to do it the next game, as well.  It is possible that in this way the tradition started.  A quick internet search revealed that nobody really knew how the tradition started; several sites speculated something along the lines of the idea outlined by the above paragraph.

Anyhow, the tradition allows dedicated Trojan fans to participate in a group activity.  As freshmen learning the tradition, we felt that we were in a way being initiated into the Trojan family.  Like all those proud Trojans before us, we too now knew that we were supposed to kick the flagpoles on the way to the Coliseum before a home game.  Although we do not know the true origins, it does not matter, as it has developed into a true Trojan tradition – and so we proudly kick away as we walk to the Coliseum, contributing to the joyous clamor which embodies the spirit of Troy.