Tag Archives: rivalry

Keying Cars and High School Rivalry


“We (Los Gatos High School) had a big rivalry with this high school called Palo Alto High School. It wasn’t a fun rivalry like USC and UCLA. People would get in fights and stuff. Our high school would key their cars and we couldn’t go to their sports games [because the rivalry was so intense]. Los Gatos kids just liked to key people’s cars and the seniors even keyed the junior’s cars one time.”


EK is a 19 year old American student at USC. She described the culture at her high school and around the rivalry between her high school and a neighboring one. She was raised in Northern California. 


It is always interesting to me to hear the different ways that high school rivalries proliferate. While my high school had “big rivals” we would never escalate to anything physical or any property damage. Something like keying cars and being known for that is an example of how deep these rivalries can run – often with unknown origins. People hate another town/school simply because that’s the way it’s always been done, and it comes to a head during sports games and other competitions of that nature. Subcultures, like keying cars, can develop out of that rivalry. 

Trojan Knights: Victory Bell Rivalry

Context: UCLA and USC are both in LA, easily turning them into rivals for most of their history. Trojan Knights member and previous Archivist MF describes the tradition of the Victory Bell and the Knights’ role in its folklore. 

Main Piece: The origin of the Victory Bell was in 1939 when it was presented to UCLA from their alumni association as a gift. The UCLA spirit team would bring it to every game and would ring it after every point scored for the next few seasons. MF says that “this was back when USC and UCLA both used the Coliseum as their field, so some Knights pretended to be a part of their spirit team and they helped them load up the bell… and they got the keys and stole the bell.” After the Knights stole the bell for USC, they hid it around LA and made it a tradition so they could prevent UCLA from reclaiming it. The bell has supposedly been hidden in “a fraternity basement, Hollywood Hills, Santa Anna, and at one point under a haystack, kind of being hidden everywhere to try and keep UCLA from getting it back.” 

The theft of the Victory Bell began a prank war between USC and UCLA. MF recounts that a UCLA student dropped manure from a plane onto USC campus. In retaliation, some USC students printed thousands of fake issues of UCLA’s weekly newspaper which praised USC. The students then replaced all of the real newspapers with their fake ones. The presidents of both universities realized the harm that the war was doing to the city and the student body, so they put an end to it by establishing an agreement that, at the rivalry game every year, whoever won would get the bell (and if there was a tie, whoever had it before would keep it). This was a peaceful resolution to the prank war, and it also renewed the Knights’ direct role in the tradition of the Victory Bell.

The Trojan Knights have the responsibility of bringing the bell onto the field and presenting it to the rival team whenever they play. They also keep the bell in hiding rather than in Heritage Hall, where USC stores its other trophies. The Victory Bell’s tradition was originally to keep it hidden, so MF stated that it would be inappropriate to flaunt it. As a part of the tradition of the bell’s transfer, Whenever USC gets it, they paint its frame Cardinal red, and when UCLA gets it, they strip the paint and paint it blue. In addition, whenever USC gets the bell, the Knights do a Bell Tour, where they bring it to every event they can, from other sports events to incoming student orientations. 

Thoughts: The Victory Bell adds some legitimacy to the otherwise arbitrary importance of USC’s rivalry with UCLA. Because either school can take pride in a full year with the Victory Bell, it becomes a special kind of trophy that makes winning more exciting and losing all the more painful. I think that the Knight’s role in the tradition of the Victory Bell, though they may merely be its bearers, is an important one. They are still the organization at USC that interacts the most with its traditions, and their school spirit can be a unifying force for the whole student body. 

Trojan Knights: Rivalry Week and Tommy Watch

Context: The week of the football game between LA rivals USC and UCLA is known as “Rivalry Week” or “Conquest,” and during it the students of both schools spend the whole week getting excited for the big game. Rivalry Week has a history between the schools of serious pranks being committed, many of which are detailed in other archive posts. Informant MF, a member and prior Archivist of the Trojan Knights, instead describes the traditional measures that the Knights take to prevent pranks.

Main Piece: During Rivalry Week, the Trojan Knights practice the tradition of Tommy Watch. Informant MF says that it probably started during the 40s, since that was the height of the prank war between USC and UCLA. Even after the prank war ended, there’s still a lot of tensions around Rivalry Week because “if someone’s gonna do something stupid, they’ll do it then.” During Tommy Watch, the Knights will set up a tent around the Tommy Trojan statue on Trousdale Parkway and cover him (as well as other prominent statues on USC’s campus) with duct tape to prevent anyone from painting or messing with him. They also build a dog house for the George Tirebiter statue to protect him since he’s on the edge of campus. 

The Knights will then guard Tommy Trojan and Traveler for the entire week. Knights take shifts so they can stay 24 hours a day for the whole week, and as a community students and faculty will bring the Knights on Tommy Watch food. To MF’s knowledge, Tommy Watch has always successfully stopped prank attempts during Rivalry Week, and so the tradition continues to prevent future pranks that might cost the school thousands in damages. 

Thoughts: I think that Tommy Watch itself is a good representation of the good that can come from heated school rivalries. While pranks are flashy, they’re also damaging and can easily go too far. Tommy Watch allows the USC community to work together with the Knights to protect the icons that USC maintains, thus furthering the feelings of school spirit between students. 

The Pull- Hope College

My brother went to a small liberal arts college in Holland Michigan. He remembers “The Pull” vividly:

Skye: The Pull is a tradition that goes back 117 years. Every fall the sophomores challenge the freshman to a gladiatorial variation of tug of war. It takes place across the Black River. 16 men on each team, 16 women serving as the callers of the cadence and in charge of “morale”. The teams train for weeks, they shave their heads, and they put on war paint. They run throughout the campus carrying the heavy thick ropes. Trenches are dug, with footrests of dirt mounded up. The pullers will lie in the trenches to pull as they push their feet against the dirt mounds. The actual day of the pull thousands come from throughout the region to watch along either side of the river. There is a lot of guttural shouting and cheering. Mud is generated.”

Me: How long does it last?

Skye: “A typical pull goes on for approximately 3 hours before one of the teams is pulled into the river. There have been years when the exertion has gone on for over 14 hours. More recent years have brought rules that allow for the pull to end at three hours even if no one has been pulled into the river yet. The teams go by the names “Odd” and “Even” corresponding to the class year.”

Analysis: In a very conservative, Christian area of the Midwest, emotions are often kept inside and the behavior is quite circumspect. The Pull stands in stark contrast to this buttoned-up way of life in Holland, Michigan. Hope College prides itself on the purity and mild attitudes of its students. A loud and seemingly violent event like The Pull is and anachronism at this Conservative Christian Dutch College.150926PullOddYear020

Rutgers Jokes

*Note: The informant, Harriet, is my grandma. She attended college at Rutgers University in New Jersey!


INFORMANT: “Well, there were a lot of jokes about the football team, the Scarlet Knights. They weren’t very good. West Virginia had a lot of jokes about us. And then there were the usual jokes about Rutgers kids being stupid, Rutgers kids being idiots. It was all pretty generic, most of the jokes could really be applied to anyone or anything. But one of my favorites was the one about the cemetery. It was … there was … a little boy and his mother were walking through a cemetery and they passed a tombstone that said ‘Here Lies a Rutgers Graduate and a Great Man.’ And the kid looks confused and he says to his mom, ‘I don’t get it,’ and she asks ‘Why not?’ And he asks, ‘Why are there two people buried here?'”

While the cemetery joke was pretty general, Rutgers jokes are a good example of the wider category of sports or college rivalry-related jokes. Almost every college has a direct rivalry with other colleges, whether it’s based on sports, academics, or something else entirely. With this competition always comes a slew of jokes, often very basic and general, that demean the other team, emphasize their shortcomings and failures, and downplay their triumphs. These jokes build on the lore of each particular school, strengthening bonds between its students and alumni, and enriching campus culture.

Generic jokes, I suppose, are also a form of folklore all their own, because they are blank slates to which any number of things can be applied. They aren’t specific enough to be blason populaire, but rather they’re so general that they can be used as a quick put-down for virtually anything.