With a slight grin, a tailgater outside the L.A. Coliseum proclaimed, "This is South Central." The implication being that it's not the greatest neighborhood, but on gameday, it's a place for fun and celebration. The big news in Los Angeles this week was that USC was considering moving their home games to the Rose Bowl. Trojan fans are rightfully up in arms about this idea. Their stadium has not only been the home of USC football since 1923, it sits immediately next to their campus. By 5:30 a.m., the line of cars hoping to park in the lots around the Coliseum stretched three miles. This forced many to the well manicured campus grounds which turned into one giant party by midmorning. Not exactly a bad second option.
USC fans are keenly aware of how much the rest of the country resents their team. They deal with that ire the same way they approach football, in a laid back manner befitting the southern California lifestyle. Even though UCLA is a big-time rival, and had beaten them last season, every Trojan expected an easy victory. Despite the fact that there were plenty of die-hards brimming with west coast pride, a large number of the tailgaters were Angelinos who, lacking an NFL team, have become fair-weather USC fans who don't follow the football landscape beyond their home team.
While Cornhole and ladder golf made appearances, they were generally assembled and ignored. The only games that were actually played were a smattering of beer pong and flip-cup. The rivalry started early for flip cup competitors as opposing sides teamed up to compete. In a sign of things to come, USC trounced UCLA at the table, winning most of the rounds.
Aside from the requisite Coors Light and bloody marys, fancier beverages flourished. Many tailgates uncorked bottles of wine, and others featured premium and imported beer. When it came time for shots of tequila, they were poured from a bottle of Patrón. In addition to all the top-shelf drinks, many men puffed on cigars even early in the morning.
When I arrived at the tailgate scene, I was astonished at how many people were seeking tickets. Nearly everybody had two fingers raised in the air whenever they walked anywhere. I quickly learned that the fingers were raised in a V for victory. Perhaps my confusion stemmed from so many Trojans halfheartedly lifting their digits in a manner that more closely resembled bunny ears than a V. A few cheers erupted on occasion, but they were so infrequent that it was impossible to discern what was being said.
The USC fan base is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country, a fact evidenced by the gameday grub. Nearly every tailgate cooked up some kind of meat, but the style and flavor varied tremendously. An entire lamb rotated on a spit for hours while being bathed in a lemon juice marinade. Carne asada tacos were served with a tasty guacamole sauce. Others grilled ribs, chicken, and all kinds of sausage, from hot links to bratwurst. All cooking was a big production and the most important aspect of the day.
Plenty of fancy RVs with elaborate setups were packed into the lots for several days. But the most impressive display had to be the seven piece funk band performing in the lot in front of a makeshift cardboard dancefloor. Not enough people were grooving to their songs, but that wasn't the band's fault. They were tight.
Los Angeles has a reputation for attractive women, and Saturday's display did not disappoint. Girls sporting stylish hair, makeup and sunglasses gathered with friends to drink in the sun as well as some pregame cocktails. The women possessed a certain air of ascendancy that came off not in a showy way, but quietly unattainable. In sum, they're out of your league, but easy on the eyes nonetheless.
A male student group painted "USC TROJANS" on their chests and a derogatory comment about UCLA on their backs. Apart form that, a handful of people donned gold colored helmets, but there were very few fancy duds or creative costumes.
Maybe it just so happens that everybody has an old teddy bear they no longer care for. All over the grounds, stuffed bears in blue shirts were dragged, hung, stomped and punched. I can't imagine this happens when Stanford comes to town, but whenever UCLA or Cal are the opponents, Teddy's going to endure some abuse.
I didn't expect so many early risers in Los Angeles, but aside from the corporate-sponsored events, everything was hoppin' by 8 a.m. The mix of die-hard purists and newer fans made for some minor finger-pointing, but nobody got their nose out of joint. Even though the rest of the country was freezing, we rightfully took the warm temperatures and shining sun for granted. After all, isn't that why people move to LA in the first place? Both on and off USC's gorgeous campus, knowing it was the last game of the season, people were determined to make the most of it. With their team living up to its expectations and stomping the Bruins, many returned to their lots to celebrate and speculate on a bowl opponent. Apparently the Trojan faithful don't mind going across town to play in Pasadena as long as it's on Jan. 1.