I'm certain that my story reads much the same as many others. I was willingly brainwashed from the time I was born to believe that USC was the only school that existed and that the Trojan football team would be the most important group that I could ever affiliate myself with. Other colleges were likened to glorified high schools, Notre Dame was always the Evil Empire and UCLA was just another forbidden four-letter word.
On my grandmother's mantelpiece, there rests a picture of me as an infant, swaddled in cardinal and gold with the letters USC stamped across my chest. My eyes are set open, staring into the camera as the corners of my mouth begin to tuck upwards into a smile. Now, 21 years and a few clothing sizes later, a reenactment of that picture could be found this past Tuesday as I reclined on the couch and watched my beloved Trojans score touchdown after touchdown with a wide smile permanently pasted across my face.
For the majority of the first seventeen years of my life I often wondered about how the Trojan team would fare during my four years at the University. Would there be another Heisman Trophy winning running back? Or a receiver that could catch like Lynn Swann or Keyshawn Johnson? And who would wear that coveted #55?
And so I began to worry as I made my way through high school and each year the Trojan football team seemed to regress under the tutelage of a certain Coach Hackett. The mystique and aura that had always surrounded the Trojan football team was beginning to fade away, along with its once proud fan base. I was convinced that I would be spending my four years here rooting for nothing more than a mediocre team. My fears were realized during my freshman year when the team went 6-6, including a loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, in which the team was simply humiliated. Nothing about that season could have prepared me for what was to come.
Now, just three seasons later, the Trojans have rolled off three consecutive ten-win seasons, the first coming against the hardest schedule in the nation, while the latter two resulted in National Championships. I'm still not sure that I can even wrap my head around that last part. The Trojans basically spent half of my collegiate years as National Champions. Is this how Chicago Bulls' fans felt throughout the 90's? Is this something I can put on my resume?
My four years here have been absolutely unbelievable. Growing up I always saw videos of great Trojan players and games, and they always felt so far removed and distant. To me, guys like Marcus Allen and OJ Simpson only existed in grainy videos and All-Time USC Playstation teams. My mom, born and raised in a strictly Trojan household, could tell me the names and memories she had of any Trojan that flashed across the screen, and I often wondered if I would some day be able to do that with stars of my own generation. I remember the day that she dropped me off at school and told me to pay attention to more than just Trojan football. And since, four years later, I'm still academically qualified to be here, I suppose she deserves a thank you for that; but I was born a moth, unable to stay away from that Cardinal and Gold flame.
Now, I will be able to talk about guys like Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush, about the back-to-back national championships, and about the reestablishment of a perennial powerhouse in college football. And not only can I talk about those things, but I can say with pride that I was there. During these past four years, the Trojans may have given us the fastest and most permanent ascension to the top of the college football world in history and I was there for every game of it. From a season opening win against San Jose State, to a programming defining demolishing of Oklahoma and all the games, plays and touchdowns in between, I was there.
I was there for the start of the Pete Carroll era, for all of the close losses during that first season, Kareem Kelly and then Keary Colbert breaking the school reception records and the rebirth of the Wild Bunch defensive line. I was there for the last Trojan football game that my grandfather saw, who, to me, was and will always be the greatest Trojan fan and is solely responsible for both the title of this article as well as the passion that it is written with. I was there for the two best quarterbacks to ever play for the Trojans as well as arguably the most exciting player in college football history. Although, I was there to see Reggie Bush in high school as well, so now he's just getting greedy with my time. I was there for so many events, players and coaches that will be a part of my life for as long as I live.
So whether or not Keary Colbert's Rose Bowl game against Michigan or Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart's Heisman winning performances against Notre Dame are remembered in the same way as Sam Cunningham against Alabama or Anthony Davis against Notre Dame, I will always remember them for what they were to me: parts of the greatest four years of my life.
And so someday, when I catch my son hooked up to his Playstation 6, using the 2004 National Championship team and completing a pass from #11 to #5, I'll tell him who those players are and what they meant to me. But most importantly, I'll tell him I was there.
Erik McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org