USC football fans were in peak party form last Saturday as evidenced by the First Annual Trojan Tailgate Competition sponsored by the school's Department of Athletics.
Although both the Coliseum's Exposition Park and the USC Campus are always filled to overflowing with pregame picnics on most fall Saturdays, the festivities were much enhanced last weekend by the contest's beach party theme.
Lawns normally reserved for blankets, folding chairs and barbecue grills were transformed into a sea of volleyball nets, beach umbrellas, lavish buffets, tropical drinks and tiki lamps.
It wasn't too difficult to imagine that some party-goers were actually at the beach considering the large amounts of sand imported to the park just for the occasion. Surf boards were also in abundance.
Helping the event's authenticity was perfect 80-degree weather and an anticipated postgame concert by the Beach Boys, the group's second appearance at the Coliseum following a USC game in the last two years.
Groups entering the tailgate contest were asked to form teams to compete for round-trip airline tickets, dinners at area restaurants and scoreboard recognition after the game against Oregon State. Judges rated the various parties based on menu, theme/originality and attendance. There were three prize winners in each category.
One of the day's liveliest gatherings was in and around Bloody Mary's Grass Shack, a bamboo hut assembled just for the party. Ron Ellico, the team's captain, was attired in nothing more than a grass skirt and straw hat. He amused the competition's judges with a lumbering hula dance that ultimately led to first prize in the theme/originality category.
One of the groups, the USC Wok Team, served an incredibly diverse selection of food. Led by Ken Matsuda and Paul Chan, the party was overwhelming guests with a wide assortment of food prepared on portable deep fryers, woks, grills and steamers. Some of the Wok Team's items included fried calamari, sashimi, chicken teriyaki, roast pork, and stir-fried noodles. The Wok Team also served steamed New Zealand green-lipped mussels. Matsuda, a former USC track coach, enticed the judges with the perfectly steamed mollusks saying, "You'll never get anything like this around here. Try them, they're great."
Matsuda and Chan, who are known for always having elaborate tailgate parties before and after USC football games, were awarded second prize in the menu category. The team's finish can only be considered an upset, according to those familiar with USC tailgate legend.
The winners in the food category were the Newport Beach Boys & Girls. The group had a tastefully decorated buffet table filled with grilled bratwurst, sauerkraut, German potato salad, caviar and sushi. The Newporters showed excellent taste in wine by pouring a couple of fine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. The group, led by Allen Gilchrist, also offered an extensive dessert table.
Another spirited gathering was coordinated by the Trojan Beach Boys. The group let guests choose from several tropical drinks--blue Hawaiian, strawberry daiquiri and pina colada--made in blenders that were powered by a portable generator. The menu consisted of shrimp kebabs, salads, barbecue chicken, pineapple and a fully stocked bar. Elaborately decorated cakes were also on display, but one of the organizers, Jack Tingley, said, "No one ever eats the cakes, but they look really nice."
The Trojan Beach Boys were awarded second place in the spirit competition helped, in part, by Tingley's sharp Samoan wrap-around skirt, normally worn by men only on the South Pacific island itself.
Even some of the non-winners demonstrated a great deal of initiative. At a party called the Dead Beat Club, a 6-foot-long inflated life raft filled with ice was used as a cooler for drink and food. Asked about the raft, team captain Alan Baron said they brought it along "because it fit the theme. Hey, we're at the beach here." The club also set up a palm frond-decorated bar, well-stocked with an assortment of tropical elixirs.
At another location, Rand Beardslee, who was the captain of the Trojan Beach Bum team, had a silver serving bowl filled with fish eggs. As the judges approached he yelled out, "I've got caviar, go for it."
Few took him up on the invitation, though.
Other than the good-natured controversy over the menu category winners, the event was judged a complete success and will be repeated with various themes each year, according to Ron Orr, USC's assistant athletic director.
The diversity and originality demonstrated on Saturday indicates that at least the USC tailgate enthusiasts are in fine shape for the activities preceding the big game against cross-town rival UCLA on Nov. 18 at the Coliseum.