Sunday, October 7, 2007

Football @ USC 10/6/2007

Stanford 24 USC 23

As our first real road trip approached (Cal doesn't count), my friends thought I was nuts. We had just gotten blown out at home by Arizona State and were going to be slaughtered by the Trojans. I didn't disagree with their sentiments either, especially as the point spread rose from 37.5 to 41 points after TC's seizure. But as I commented to everyone who would listen, it was the Coliseum. This was senior year. When would I ever have the chance to see us play the #1 team in the nation? Besides, USC was such a storied program and the Coliseum, a tremendous sporting venue. Was there a part of me that actually thought that we could win? I'd say no but maybe it's one of those things where your subconscious doesn't want to entertain the possibility of something that sounds so irrationally far-fetched that it makes you sound silly.

We rented a car from Enterprise and embarked on the long drive around 9am. We arrived in the USC vicinity around 3. It was highly appropriate that the first person in Stanford colours we saw was Stanford super fan Cliff. For those of you who don't know Cliff, he is a constant fixture at all Stanford sporting events and leads the cheers at the "smaller" ones such as soccer, water polo and tennis. He was also there with Albert at last year's women's volleyball Final 4 in Nebraska. Already, our trip was off to a good start.

We found parking on the top floor of a multi-storey parking garage. Not knowing where exactly the Coliseum was, we followed the crowd and very soon, the difference between Stanford and a football school became apparent to me. Almost everyone was wearing USC jerseys/colours and students were tailgating in their version of White Plaza. It was a fun environment to be in and since Stanford and USC colours are pretty similar, we blended right in. I even had some USC fans ask me to take a picture for them (I naturally obliged), only realising that I was a Stanford fan after the shot was taken. I also noticed a girl wearing a T-shirt which specifically referenced the USC vs. Stanford game. I found it rather odd that they would even acknowledge the game. Upon closer scrutiny, I realised that our game fell during Greek Week. I'm sure those shirts won't be worn again.

It was still half an hour till kick-off and I had a ticket to sell. A friend from the Class '07 had asked me to get a ticket for him, but something came up at work. Talk about bad timing. There were fewer scalpers than I expected and for some reason, no one was buying. That was unfortunate. As we first entered the stadium, we saw some players' parents (The Shermans, Maynors and Lorigs). There were many more in the stands. After some initial confusion, we made it to our nose bleed seats all the way in the corner. They were the worst in the stadium and described by an alum as "near Palm Springs". Here's the view of the field from our seats:

The Stanford contingent was sizable. There were players' friends and family, alums with their kids, the band and most impressive of all, 50 or so current Stanford students. That was great to see. The pre-game festivities involved Navy Seals (I think) parachuting and landing on the field. I thought it was a tad excessive, especially with one of them holding a Trojan banner, but I guess it's one of those American displays of patriotism.

Even though we were in the visitor's section, there were numerous Trojan fans around us. As the game started, one became increasingly obnoxious. He was wearing one of those red and white football jerseys (he had number 56) and was talking trash even when USC was just up 3-0. He also had one of those crazed stares and every time USC made a big play, he would turn around, indicate for the band to be silent, and stare at us with crazy eyes. I found it rather amusing when he started a premature TD celebration when the USC player stepped out of bounds at the 2, and was talking trash to us with his back towards the field when the extra point was blocked. That's not to say that we didn't have obnoxious fans as well. The whole we have lives outside of football and are going to be successful in life spiel came up when we were down 0-9. I thought one graduate took it too far when he said repeatedly: "I'm 22 and make $100,000 a year." He might have been drunk, but seriously?

The goal-line stand at the end of the first half definitely fired up our section of the stadium and the band's half time show, where they introduced the great schools in Southern California (UCLA, CSUN, UC Riverside) but left out USC and also referenced OJ's connection to the school, kept the spirits up. I enjoyed their exit where the announcer's comment of please boo if you truly enjoyed our performance was met by a chorus of boos. USC re-creation of "The Play", complete with people dressed up as LSJUMB members, initially struck me as clever but now that someone mentioned it, I'm pretty sure they've done it before.

With fears of a second half defensive collapse entering my mind, the 3 and out was a great way to start the half. The subsequent pick 6 - even better. Even if we lost, it would be respectable. And that was more than I had hoped for before driving down. The bend but try not to break defense was holding its own and Booty didn't look good at all. I can't say when I believed that we had a chance. Deep down I'm sure I entertained the thought, but I had seen us come close with no cigar so many times that I didn't want to get my hopes up only to have them dashed. A win in the Coliseum where USC hadn't lost in 6 years would have been colossal, but hadn't we felt that way when we were on the verge of beating USC at home 3 years ago, Notre Dame 2 years ago and made a game of it against Cal last year?

That final drive was the stuff of legends. I don't know how the players felt, but as a fan it was almost paralysing to watch with the penalties, the 4th downs, the catches and the replays. Just when you felt that everything was slipping away and the dream of beating USC crumbling to the ground, a spectacular play completely re-energised you, only to have it reviewed for what seemed like an eternity. Bradford's catch, it's a blur. The joy, the excitement, the disbelief, the lengthy review, the fear that we would miss the extra point and even then, the fear of special teams coverage and the time remaining on the clock.

When the flag was thrown for a face mask on the return, I felt sick. Would we give the game away? How could we after that amazing drive? The sack made me feel better. The poor throw on 3rd down was a relief. The interception - pure unbridled joy. Friends have asked me what it was like in the Coliseum. How did the USC fans react. I have no idea. It was pure bedlam in the Stanford section. I was soaking in and celebrating the historic moment too much to notice USC fans. All I remember was having an alum standing behind us take our picture. He then asked me to take a picture for him and gave me his business card so I could e-mail it to him:
Another alum did the same. Both were at the game with their kids. I can't imagine what type of a bonding moment it must be to experience such a momentous occasion with your kid; to be able to look back one day and say you were with your dad at the Stanford vs. USC upset. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be a players' parent, knowing all they had gone through to reach this moment. All I know was that it was without a doubt, the greatest sporting moment of my life.

As the Coliseum emptied, Albert and I stayed on and partied with the band as they played through a repertoire of songs. The drum major, who was outfitted in a penguin costume, considered rushing the field but was promptly stopped by stadium security who seemed intent on confining the band to their corner of the stadium. Some students tried to rush the field as well but I don't think they were successful. It was especially satisfying to see the forlorn Trojan band leave the stadium before us. As one of the last people to leave the stadium, we didn't encounter many USC fans or hear many reactions. We did pass by some folks who were watching the LSU-Florida game on a plasma TV. When we asked for the score, they were nice enough to congratulate us on the win and wish us a safe drive back. Pretty classy after experiencing your first loss in 6 years.

The parking garage was a nightmare to get out of. We had hoped that people would have cleared out by the time we got back but that was not to be. It took just under an hour to leave and people were getting increasingly frustrated by the lengthy waiting time. Winning cures everything though, and Albert and I listened to a post-game show, which involved a tremendous amount of Carroll bashing. It was a nice change from the pre-game show where there had been much Harbaugh mocking.

Throughout the night, we received reports on the campus craziness and plans for greeting the football team outside Maples. People who I would not have expected to go, attended the event. It was amazing. Phone calls and the euphoric state we were in sustained us through the long drive back (Thanks for driving, Albert). We finally got back around 3:15AM and briefly contemplated driving past Maples, but figured that the party would have long moved to somewhere else. And that was it. Not bad for our first road trip. To think that this whole odyssey started one day when we decided that we should do something special for our senior year of Stanford sports. Thank you Jim Harbaugh and Stanford football. The ride has only just begun!
~ Zhihao

Trip Stats
Game time: 3.6 hr
On the Road: 14.9 hr
Miles travelled: 724 miles
Total cost: $233.20
Result: Priceless win

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