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Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Denver Post Herd Article


(Another old article on The Herd)

Longhorns Not Only Herd at Rose Bowl


By John Henderson

Denver Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 31, 2005


Los Angeles - They used to call USC the University of Spoiled Children for a reason. All you had to do was attend a USC football game. Biff would drive his BMW in from Orange County and drink his chardonnay and eat his brie at his tailgate party while discussing his latest stock purchase.

They were a bunch of arrogant front-runners who thumbed their noses at everyone else in the Pac-10 while their football team wallowed in periods of mediocrity that wouldn't be acceptable in Pullman, Wash.

An ugly generalization? Sure. But this doesn't just come from me. It comes from USC fans. The new USC fans.

"That stereotype was accurate in the mid '90s," booster Charles Morris said Wednesday night. "In the late '90s there was no stereotype because no one was supporting the program."

Sure there were. Just not many of them, and none like Morris and his friends. The 1988 USC grad from Glendale, Calif., is an original member of the Thundering Herd, a booster group that has transformed the L.A. Memorial Coliseum from a mausoleum to the Colosseum - like the one in Rome where opponents knew they were dead before they walked through the tunnel. And if teams don't believe it, 350 members of the Thundering Herd, surrounding the tunnel like vultures hovering over carrion, will let them know.

And they travel well. The founder, Shorty Clarke, travels from Idaho for every home game. There are members who come in from as far as New York. You can bet they'll travel the 13 miles to Pasadena on Wednesday for the Rose Bowl, where their beloved top-ranked Trojans meet No. 2 Texas for the national title.

The Thundering Herd, named for coach Howard Jones' national championship teams in 1928 and 1931, arrived about the time coach Pete Carroll did in 2001. It's not a coincidence. Carroll replaced Paul Hackett, a career NFL assistant who took John Robinson's .500 program and drove it into eighth place in the Pac-10.

The USC crowds were as dull as the team, barely averaging 58,000 fans in Hackett's 2000 swan song. Put 58,000 in the 92,000-seat Memorial Coliseum and USC has a similar home-field advantage to Dorsey High.

"There would be 10-15,000 of the other team's fans," Morris said. "And they're louder and they're yelling more than Trojan fans. If we stood up, other Trojan fans were yelling for us to sit down."

Morris, a program director in social services, had enough. He and similarly disgruntled Trojan fans rallied on uscfootball.com. They began to complain and organized their tickets to surround the Coliseum tunnel. The Thundering Herd was born.

They started with 150 on one side of the tunnel. It has more than doubled and no one not wearing cardinal and gold has a seat near it.

"Now we horseshoe the tunnel," Morris said. "We're yelling, 'We are SC!' We pump up our team as they come out. We try to be intimidating as the other team comes out and not be profane. But we make clear one thing: This isn't an easy place to play."

It isn't. Everyone talks about USC's 34-game win streak. People forget it also has a Pac-10 record 27-game home win streak dating to Carroll's fourth game as Trojan coach. Last year's conference record of 85,229 fans a game was broken this year with 90,812.

With the haze of L.A.'s dusk cloaking the field and the din of 90,000 fans echoing in the ears of opponents trying to stay within a ZIP code of Reggie Bush, the L.A. Coliseum is truly suffocating and one of the great places to watch a game in the U.S.

Don't expect the same atmosphere Wednesday. Don't expect the home-field advantage Louisiana State had against Oklahoma two seasons ago when the Superdome, 80 miles down the road in New Orleans, was about 80-20 LSU fans.

The Rose Bowl's 88,506-seat capacity is about 16,000 more than the Superdome and the Rose Bowl's vast configuration makes the Coliseum sound like the old Boston Garden. Both USC and Texas were allotted 22,000 tickets, but Texas fans are buying the extras in hordes. Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon estimates it will be about 55-45 USC fans, hardly a bigger advantage than Bush's feet.

But the Thundering Herd will do its best.

"We can bring a lot of that energy to the Rose Bowl," Marshall said. "I was there two years ago when we played Michigan. The crowd was rocking. I foresee that happening for Texas."

John Henderson can be reached at 303-820-1299 or jhenderson@denverpost.com.

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