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They Didn't Make Most of Their Chants

Trojans hit fever pitch at raucous pregame meeting, but postgame emotions were decidedly different.

January 05, 2006|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

The contrast could not have been starker.

Moments after the final gun, after losing to Texas, 41-38, in the Rose Bowl -- and losing a chance at a third consecutive national championship -- the USC team trudged off the field, more than a few heads down.

Hours earlier, these same players had crowded into a conference room at their team hotel for a raucous midday meeting.

Forget the stereotypical image of a team, silent and anxious, hours before a game. All season long, the Trojans have turned their pregame special teams meeting into something different.

Part tribal war dance. Part church revival. A little comedy thrown in.

"Sometimes we can't really get anything done because everyone's throwing chairs to the side and dancing and chanting," safety Scott Ware said. "Maybe we have a little more pressure on us this year and we need to unleash some of that tension."

Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin, who joined the USC staff this season after a long career coaching for teams that ranged from UCLA to the Green Bay Packers, said: "It's a little bit different. I guess there's more than one way to skin a cat."

Given that USC had struggled to cover kickoffs and punts this fall, it is fair to wonder why a so-called "special teams" meeting would be thrown over to chaos.

Coach Pete Carroll insists there is a method to the madness.

All the important work has been done in practice, he says. The special teams meeting is an occasion for everyone, offense and defense, to be in the same room.

The coaches like what this does for the team's psyche.

Carroll uses terms such as "primitive" and "group consciousness." He talks about the clapping and chanting as a unifying exercise.

On Wednesday, as the players circled around the pile of chairs and tables, as if gathering around a bonfire, running back coach and special team coordinator Todd McNair led them in a call-and-response.

"It's game day," he shouted. "Say it."

The team began to chant: "Don't [mess] with me on game day."

There were elements of humor. The Trojans began calling out teammates by name, ranging from star quarterback Matt Leinart to reserve lineman Chilo Rachal. The chosen player stepped inside the circle and danced to the clapping.

Coaches got called too.

Offensive line coach Pat Ruel did an awkward routine to much laughter. Carroll pulled the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and spun into the middle, drawing cheers.

Rocky Seto, the linebacker coach, said game days are nothing like when he played linebacker for USC in the late 1990s.

"That was more traditional," he said. "Kind of sit around and listen to the coaches talk."

For players such as Ware, the new tradition is a stress reliever. For others, such as offensive lineman Fred Matua, it's a way to get the adrenaline pumping.

"Just lets everyone know it's about that time," he said. "Get ready."

There was one more aspect to this rite. After 15 minutes of ear-splitting noise and commotion, the players pushed outside and divided into offensive and defense meetings.

Just that quickly, they returned to the more serious work of preparing for the game, walking through their formations one more time. Then came a pregame meal.

As the players sat quietly, Carroll spoke about channeling their energy into smart play.

If we don't play smart, he said, we lose.

Perhaps there was a sense that the Trojans faced a daunting challenge in a long, challenging season. The game was three hours away.

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