Context: Football rivalries are often a major driving force behind school spirit. The Trojan Knights is a USC sponsored organization dedicated to keeping the history and traditions of USC alive, which includes traditions surrounding their rivalry with UCLA. The Knights are known for their shows of school spirit during football games, so informant MF, a member and previous Archivist for the Knights, describes the legacy of the Trojan Knights’ traditions involving USC football games.
Main Piece: By MF’s account, the Trojan Knights’ involvement at football games probably started in the 20s, where the founding Knights acted as Yell Leaders, who would lead the students in chanting for the football team. This was before the Song Girls or the Spirit Team, USC’s two cheerleading organizations, were created.
Likely during the 40s or 50s, when the rivalry between USC and UCLA became more heated, the Trojan Knights began coordinating Card Stunts. During halftime, hundreds of people in the student section would raise signs with different colors or pictures on them to create a word or image. MF says that there would often be four or five images, and you’d have a Knight at the bottom holding up a sign for which image the students would hold up next in their sequence. When Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in 1984, they asked the Trojan Knights to perform “the largest card stunt ever done,” which was “basically like an entire half of the Coliseum holding up the Olympic rings during a USC football game.”
Despite the flashy and exciting nature of the Card Stunts, in the 90s the Trojan Knights shifted away from that and towards Painting. Painting is where 8-12 “members of the org are painted with body paint. On the front of their chest they have a letter and their whole chest is painted to look like a jersey, and on their back they have a number that usually corresponds to some of the big players.” Painting is the Trojan Knights’ preferred way to rep school spirit at the football games, and when the Painted members are in a line together they spell out a message for the crowd. The messages can range from simple school spirit to jokes about the team that USC is playing; “sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s just fight on, sometimes it’s puns with the player’s names… When we play the Oregon Ducks, we like to paint ‘Duck Hunt’ as a reference to the NES game.”
When I asked MF why the flamboyant Card Stunts were replaced with Painting, he said that it’s because of the changes in how football games are viewed. “A lot of the reason it’s changed is because football games are now broadcast to the entire nation.” Because modern digital cameras have zoom features, it’s easier to get the painted people on camera than a Card Stunt. The Painted members are always visible during the game, making it easy for sports channels to put a camera on them. By contrast, Card Stunts are only feasible at halftime, when the sports cameras are off anyways. MF says that, while some people are sad that Card Stunts have gone away, it’s a great example of how the Knights have to adapt traditions to modern times.
Thoughts: I believe that the traditions of Trojan Knights involvement at football games is really important for both school spirit and tradition keeping at USC. I think that the Yell Leading and Card Stunt practices were both incredibly unifying traditions, and that it’s sad to see them go because of how the student section got to work together to make it all work. However, for school spirit, it’s now just as likely that USC students or families around the world will see the Knights’ Painting on TV, and that small unifying act of school spirit scales up! The fact that this is done at every home game makes it all the more influential and impressive.