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Thursday, January 4, 2007

Herd Article from The Daily Trojan 2002

The Herd is the word

Daily Trojan, October 22, 2002

Online criticism of the Trojans’ passive fans helped create the Thundering Herd, a lively, die-hard group of fanatics.

The pleasant chatter over lunch ends abruptly as a man wearing a cardinal and gold T-shirt screams, "It's too quiet in the Herd! Time for a So-Cal Spell-Out!" Without hesitation, the men, women and children gathered nearby put down their sodas and snacks and yell USC's famous cheer as loud as they can.

This scene could only take place at a tailgate of the Thundering Herd, a group of lively football fans with their very own section in the Coliseum.

In addition to cheering, the Thundering Herd leads surrounding sections of the stadium in cheers. Their picture was featured on the cover of the 2002 season ticket application form and they have shown up to a game with hundreds of plastic knives and forks, yelling "Chow time" with each USC touchdown.

The Thundering Herd began last fall on the Trojan football web site. A group of USC football fans posted messages on the site regarding the passive style of the crowd. They wanted to stand up and shout for their team, but were surrounded by people merely sitting and clapping or even talking on cell phones and reading books.

"It's not an opera," said Jim Clarke, member of the Herd and of USC's class of 67. "It's not a tea party. It's a Saturday night football game." Tired of the silence they likened to a mausoleum, the small group requested that Heritage Hall give them a block of 10 tickets so they could unite their cheering efforts.

As word spread, more and more people wanted in on the deal until the group had about 250 season-ticket applicants.

They were assigned to section 11 of the Coliseum, right next to the tunnel used by players to enter and exit the field. There, a gathering of people from all walks of life can be found. They often don't know each other's first names, using only the aliases created on the Trojan website, but there is a strong sense of community.

"In our numbers you can find children and senior citizens, men and women, doctors, professors, CEOs, police officers, pizza makers, every race and creed," said the founder, known as Surf. They don't want to be quoted in articles, but want to go by nicknames so their business clientele won't read about their membership and gasp.

"And on that particular Saturday in the fall, we are all one thing — Trojan fans."

It is not in their principles, but in the way they demonstrate their devotion to Trojan football that has led the Herd into a bit of trouble.

The first problem the Thundering Herd encountered was at their opening game of the 2001 season when a woman complained about being unable to see over the heads of the group, who stands throughout the entire game. Her seat was moved and the following year two empty rows were added behind the Herd's section to act as a buffer zone for the rest of the crowd. But the conflict did not end.

The law enforcement officers have never been successful in getting the group to take their seats. Members of the Herd feel that because of this victorious defiance of authority, things were made personal; a battle was waged against them beginning with the first game of 2002.

At the Auburn game, a Los Angeles Police Department officer who warned them against standing approached the Thundering Herd. Starting at that game, several LAPD officers were regularly posted along the steps between the Herd's seats and the edge of the tunnel. They began trying to stop the group from standing in the aisle and from leaning over the tunnel when teams passed underneath.

According to the Herd, the police officers' actions were unwarranted and hostile. The police objected to them leaning over the tunnel because something could be thrown over the edge, though something could just as easily be thrown into the tunnel from their seats a yard and a half away.

The officers reasoned that standing on the stairs violated a fire marshall's rule. The Herd posed a hazard by blocking anyone trying to escape the stadium. But the Herd's seats start at row one and the only people they would be blocking were themselves.

LAPD officers at Saturday's game against Washington insisted the Herd is not being targeted or watched with any more scrutiny than the rest of the fans. The police acknowledged that complaints are made about the Section 11 fans with some regularity, but held that they themselves act only when provoked.

"Our policy is to be reactive," Officer Joe Preciado said.

The Thundering Herd admits their members are sometimes deserving of reprimand. One member received a personal escort out of the Coliseum earlier this season because he was shirtless and taunting the opponents' fans in their own section. Gratuitous animosity of the police officers, however, will not be quietly endured, the Herd said.

Brooks Wilson is a 73-year-old member of the Herd and a law enforcement officer who was in charge of security at Anaheim stadium for two years. He recently wrote a letter to the interim Chief of the LAPD, Martin Pomeroy, educating him on the Herd's premises and informing him of the behavior of the Coliseum officers.

"Chief Pomeroy, we are pillars of your community," Wilson wrote. "We are not, nor (do we) intend to be, trouble makers."

"Our objective is to provide a home field advantage for the Trojans by making the Coliseum an uncomfortable environment for opposing teams — as their fans do to our Trojans when we play in their stadiums. We just want to support our team in the same manner that the teams are supported in every stadium I have visited. We are asking for a little tolerance from the officers assigned to section 11."

Wilson added some friendly advice to the chief that he learned while working in Anaheim, "If a solution to a minor problem or perceived problem creates a bigger one, it is expedient to back off." He touched upon the violent police outbreak at the USC-UCLA game three years ago where this basic idea may have prevented many injuries.

Though Wilson never received a response from his letter, it appears to have had some effect. The USC-Washington game was the first since he sent the letter and was also the first at which the officers, though still standing near the Herd, made no attempt to keep them from the edge of the tunnel. The Herd was grateful for this.

They have raised a significant amount of money for the football program and were solely responsible for the construction of Goux Gate, a monument to the late assistant football coach Marvin Goux located at the entrance to Howard Jones Field.

Members of the Herd just want to be left alone, free to do what they do every Saturday. They want to shout "We believe!" to the USC football players after halftime and watch them look up, smile and wave. They want a fun escape from the 50-yard line "wine and cheese" alumni crowd. They want to sit together at every home football and basketball game, drive thousands of miles to see the away games and attend all the Friday night rallies as well. One man, with a son named after Chris Claiborne, wants another boy to call Omar, after Omar Nazel, or a girl to call MacKenzie (Malaefou). Named after Howard Jones' legendary football teams, who were nicknamed the Thundering Herd, the group wants to live up to their respected title.

"We welcome all fans of the football program with open arms, as long as they want to stand, yell and be supportive in a positive manner, they can join us," said Charles Morris Jr., member of the Herd and of USC's class of 88.

(Copyright 2002 by the Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.)

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