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FAN OF THE HOUSE / CHRIS ERSKINE

USC-UCLA and the root of his rooting philosophy

Applying glee in the misfortune of others to a classic football rivalry.

November 25, 2009|Chris Erskine
  • Pete Carroll and the Trojans have been a bit down on their luck lately ... which makes them the perfect team to root for against the red-hot Bruins.
Pete Carroll and the Trojans have been a bit down on their luck lately ...… (Matt Sayles / Associated…)

I believe that exercise is incredibly bad for you. I believe the moon is made of cheese.

What everyone else believes . . . well, I believe the opposite. That's just my stubborn nature. My soul seems so cold and stormy, particularly around the holidays. I should've been a Yankee farmer from Vermont. Or a senator from anywhere.

See, when everyone else goes left, I go straight up the middle. When everyone else screams "Go, Lakers!" I'm inclined to root for the other guys (unless it's Denver, of course).

The point is that I am now -- at this rickety stage in life, where my bones are turning into a hollow coral-like substance and my blood is mostly merlot -- inclined to always root for the least popular choice.

My favorite pet? The underdog.

Seriously. Custer was a two-touchdown favorite at Little Bighorn; I rooted for the Lakota. Oddsmakers had Grant by a field goal at Appomattox; I cheered for Lee.

When everyone else says Florida is the best football team in the nation, I respond with: "Huh, what about Duke?"

Really, what kind of life is it to root for a favorite? It would be like rooting for Cindy Crawford to get a New Year's kiss. It would be like rooting for Baron Davis to finish lunch.

A while back, I developed the concept of "sportsenfreude," based on the German term "schadenfreude," which means taking glee in the misfortune of others.

Sportsenfreude is a close cousin to the concept of rooting for the underdog. It means you're not really rooting for one team -- you're rooting against the other.

When the Dallas Cowboys lose, that warm little glow you feel -- it's almost sexual -- that's sportsenfreude. When the Yankees lose, same thing, assuming you don't like the Yankees -- hardly anybody does, the pinstripers having come to represent every overfed frat boy or silver spoon who got the girl you didn't. They are baseball's trust-fund babies, the Yankees are. It's a little like cheering for Comcast or General Mills.

Though it is my concept, I am not particularly proud of sportsenfreude. No one should take joy in another person's failures. Of course, a certain ambivalence can be forgiven. I mean, I would never exactly feel sympathy if Bill Belichick were caught cheating again. Or if someone popped that smug Jim Harbaugh in the snout.

The secret to sportsenfreude is to base your selection on some perceived moral issue. For instance, I rooted against the Tampa Bay Rays last year based on my dislike for their moldy indoor park. I dislike Philly because of Sylvester Stallone's spotty record on marriage. In real life, he never married Talia Shire, which just seemed wrong.

I generally root against the Indianapolis Colts on the basis of one lousy, overpriced turkey sandwich I had at the airport there. That's all you need, really. What this does is soften sportsenfreude and makes it a more spiritual and life-affirming process.

On Saturday, I'll apply this standard in picking whom to root for in the always fetching USC-UCLA game. Meaningless? Never. This isn't just a football game, it's Abraham crossing the Euphrates. I don't care what their records are. This is a rivalry raised by wolves.

I have no blood ties or history with either team, so each year I'm completely free to choose between the two. But that never means I don't care. If anything, I care too much for no good reason -- another guiding principle of my life.

Oddly, the Trojans have become slightly sympathetic figures. Seen any USC fans lately? They are as pale as Pete Carroll's hair. You could light up LAX with their deer-in the-headlights expressions.

Prediction? I will eat my weight in chicken wings. I will drink your weight in beer.

Oh, the game itself? Despite what the bookies say, I think it's a dead heat, or "pick-em." Besides, rivalries are always bad bets.

Of course, UCLA is undefeated in November, which might give the Bruins an edge.

So I'll go with that poor struggling team from the city's core.

Go, Trojans. Stand strong. Seize the day. As the good book says, each place you set your foot will be yours.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Erskine also writes "Man of the House" in Saturday's Home section.

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