I was a USC Trojan child. From 1977 to 1981 (I was ages 5 to 9), my autumn Saturdays centered around trips to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to watch my parents' alumni team win.
My mother would spend the early morning hours before the game dutifully dressing me in full USC Trojan fatigues. My torso was wrapped in a cardinal-and-gold long-sleeved shirt. A cardinal wool scarf with gold stripes at the bottom and numerous buttons and patches that said stuff like "I love SC" or "Go Trojans!" was draped around my neck. My two strawberry blond pigtails were meticulously braided with cardinal-and-gold ribbons through them, bursting at the bottom with two big bows. My mother even used the sharpened edge of a scissors to achieve a perfect upward flip of the ribbons' curl. On with a cardinal-colored wool beanie with gold frays poking out the top and more buttons and patches. I carried a Trojan horse stuffed animal under one arm and a Trojan cheerleader doll in the other. Cardinal-and-gold pompoms fit under my arms, barely. I was a living mascot.
Embarrassing doesn't quite describe it. At the Coliseum, people used to stop to photograph me.
I don't remember much about the games themselves, but I do remember my favorite player: Marcus Allen. He was my Trojan hero. In 1981, he won the Heisman Trophy and set a single-season rushing record with 2,342 yards, not that I knew what that meant. I just knew that he was probably as important as the president of the United States.
I remember how every pre-game, Tommy Trojan and his white stallion, Traveler, would valiantly gallop one lap around the field. Trojan fans would stand at attention, and forming a "V" sign for victory pay homage to the glory of Tommy and his beast. It was a beautiful thing.
Then at halftime, the Trojan marching band would come out onto the field. My brother and I would wait expectantly--candied peanuts in one hand, a chocolate malt in the other--watching with wonder as they played their medley of tunes and danced in rhythm to the beat, until they would finish with their amazing version of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk." It was awe-inspiring.
The band would lead us into the game's second-half reinvigorated, so that we could infuse Marcus Allen and the rest of the players with such a crazed energy that the team would win almost every time.
One particular Trojan Saturday, we headed off to the Coliseum to watch our boys go head to head with their archrivals, the UCLA Bruins. Yuck. My dad sure didn't like them, so neither did I. The only other team who got my dad's blood pressure that high was Notre Dame's Fighting Irish.
Mom took extra care to perfect my cardinal-and-gold bows on this day, as if their degree of flip would determine the game's outcome.
As my family made its way over to the Coliseum's entrance, I saw a little boy my age, standing with his family. He was dressed exactly as I was, but in light blue and yellow--the wrong colors.
He was my Evil Bruin Twin: long-sleeved blue-and-yellow shirt, scarf with buttons and patches, a baseball cap instead of a beanie, a big foam blue-and-yellow hand shaped into a No. 1 sign, and he carried a Bruin teddy bear. I was horrified!
I stopped dead in my tracks. My Bruin boy-twin and I looked over each other in a stare-down. After close to a minute, my dad grabbed my hand and dragged me away. Eyes still on each other, we both realized our bond of mascot embarrassment, and he cracked a shy smile. Knowing his pain, I smiled back . . . and looked forward to watching Marcus Allen kick his little Bruin behind.