Background: R is a proud grandmother of a USC student and she routinely watches USC sporting events in support of the school. R is a Mexican immigrant and loves to support her grandchildren in all their endeavors.
R: “I always, always wear my USC ….cómo se dice…sweater….always no matter how hot it is! I am convinced I gave USC football and uh… Caleb… Williams good luck last year when they won all the games. The only game I didn’t wear it was the USC and… Utah game…that was when they lost!”
Interviewer: “Do you wash the sweater?”
R: “Si, I’m not crazy. The sweater‘s powers activate when I put it on… it can’t come off in the washer.”
Interviewer: “Why are you so invested in USC sports?”
R: “Because I want to be supportive of my grandchild and their success of getting into such a good school. I’m so so proud!
Sports superstitions are among the most common superstitions in American contemporary life. Sports fans like to feel like they have some control over the game, even when they’re watching from the stands or their living rooms. They pretend that they take part in the action through insignificant routines/gestures/sayings/or performative rituals, such as wearing the same lucky sweater. In R’s scenario, her sports superstition transcends just wanting to take part of the athletic event, she wants to take part in the success of her grandchildren.
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.
Context: USC’s first mascot was the Fighting Methodists or Fighting Wesleyans because USC was originally a private Methodist institution. In 1947, the mascot was voted on and changed to George Tirebiter, a stray dog. In 1961, the mascot was changed yet again to Traveler, the white horse on which Tommy the Trojan rides. Traveler remains the school’s mascot to this day, but informant MF discusses the Trojan Knights’ role in changing the mascot, as well as the traditions surrounding them.
Main Piece: From 47-61, the school mascot was a dog named George Tirebiter. He was a stray dog that was adopted by the Trojan Knights, and eventually USC ran a student vote for their new mascot. The student body dubbed him their official mascot, changing from the Fighting Methodists and Wesleyans. Tirebiter was a bit of a character, as MF says, and he was loyal to USC and the Knights that took care of him. There are several stories already posted in the archive which detail Tirebiter’s history and legends. One of the stories MF relayed to me was about a famous moment where Tirebiter bit the nose of UCLA’s mascot after the Bruin taunted him on the field. MF says that there have been four or five George Tirebiters over the decade that he was USC’s mascot, since the first Tirebiter was a stray and became too old after a few years.
When it came time to move on from George Tirebiter as the mascot, the Trojan Knights once again influenced the choice and its traditions. The first time a horse was ridden around the stadium, it was actually a Knight. The knight was ridding the horse around the track field of the old Coliseum, which became a tradition that was eventually adapted by the university into Traveler. The tradition has historically been that a Knight will ride the horse around the Coliseum at the football games, even though currently the rider isn’t a Knight. Like George Tirebiter, every few years a new horse has been dubbed Traveler and acted as the school mascot.
Thoughts: I think that school mascots are a way of unifying the student body behind a character. Mascots, like statues shrines, give people a model to remember and a symbol to root for. USC often makes reference to the ideals of a Trojan, and the use of Tommy the Trojan and Traveler as symbols for the student body create opportunities to instill community values, even if they’re as simple as “Fight On!” The Knights’ role in creating these traditions, as well as their contributions to USC’s school spirit, make them irreplaceable as a historical organization for maintaining USC’s traditions.
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.
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.