USCHerd, a USC fan site celebrating the USC Fan.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Herder of the Week - January 15th, 2007

First Man on the Scene
HOTW - Dr. Zhivodka
by Mojack

The announcement comes out a few weeks before an upcoming USC home football game, it's going to be a 5:00 pm start time. This sets the Herd in motion. An email blast goes out; the Herd's tailgate will begin serving food at 1:00pm. People email each other for rides, car pools, and send RSVP's back to the Herd to ensure a spot in the food line. Supplies are bought. The beer is iced up. The picnic tables are packed. (photo: Dr. Z on the left with JoeSC)

Game day arrives. The sun rises. A morning fog covers the Coliseum, and as the mist clears, he can be seen, sitting in his folding chair listening to his radio amid rows of police tape securing the tailgate spot. It's Dr. Zhivodka or Dr. Z as he's affectionately known by the Herd. Dr. Z is securing the old spot on 39th and Menlo or the new tailgate area near the Doheny Library. The first one to arrive. The first one to put the Herd flag down in the ground, stating, "this spot is taken, it's sacred ground, Herd territory." Dr. Z is our General Custer, the man we all count on to hold our spot from hostile tailgaters looking to take over prime picnic real estate.

Dr. Z is our Herder of the Week for this January 15th, 2007. He is an exemplary example of what the Herd is about. not only is he a great Trojan fan, but he sacrifices his own time to make the game-day experience better for all of us. We congratulate and thank Dr. Z for his participation in the Herd. Our interview with Dr. Z is as follows:

USCHerd: How did you used to support USC, watch games, etc., before the Herd?

Dr. Z: 'Before the Herd' means still in corporate life, when I was traveling about half the time. I used to buy single-game tickets from friends or from USC rather than invest in season seats because I never could be sure when I’d use them. I saw a lot of games on TV in hotel rooms, sports bars and the like. Sometimes I was reduced to scanning the International Herald Tribune for scores and maybe a two-sentence recap on the following Monday. Or I’d call somebody at the office to find out what happened. And, not being a USC alumnus, I’d lost connections to the university itself except when I needed to park before a game

On the Saturdays when I could make a home game, my usual pre-game ritual was to try to meet friends at the late, lamented Margarita Jones. The closing of sports-oriented restaurant-bars around campus has made tailgating the only realistic option.

USCHerd: What made you interested in joining the Herd in the first place?

Dr. Z: I’d discovered TFO and in late 1999 or early 2000, so I was somewhat plugged into the group that made the Herd coalesce. And I knew something had to be done about the Mausoleum atmosphere (at the Coliseum). I remember attending a game against Arizona, where the Wildcats hit a TD bomb (or got very close) on their first series from scrimmage, and you could hear a pin drop in the Grey Lady. There just seemed to be no confidence or excitement from fans or players or coaches that we could come back and take the lead. Like a lot of us who remembered the McKay-JRI years, that uninspired football and crowd atmosphere was completely unacceptable and had to be changed. And while the Administration had control of the coaching situation, it was up to the fans to get our own collective attitude out of the dumpster. Like a lot of others here, when the Herd was formed, I was ready to help bootstrap our own support and to direct any hostility outward at opponents.

USCHerd: What were your first impressions of the Herd?

Dr. Z: Sometimes on-line “voices” can be deceptive, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to find at our first tailgate. It turned out to be a group of people from a crazy-quilt of backgrounds and talents and experiences brought together by a dedication to Trojan football. I found out that a lot of the bluster that I’d read on the boards was kidding around or was just posturing, but the personal encounters usually were very warm and differences usually could be put aside in the interests of getting our team the home-field advantage which it hadn’t had in a decade or so. And I learned that those diverse skills could be put to use in negotiating with Heritage Hall and the LAPD. Finally, I discovered that guys who were older and in poorer health than I could stand through an entire tailgate and football game, so I had no excuses.

USCHerd: What does the Herd mean to you now?

Dr. Z: I left corporate life about a year before the Herd was formed, and inevitably I had begun to lose contact with some of my friends from that part of my history. These are people who’d done all those sports cliché things, delivering performances under pressure, sticking up for teammates, etc. The Herd’s helped make up for that loss, because it’s made up of the same kind of people. You know that you’ll be cared about, that they’ll have your back, and that good things will happen even under bad circumstances from Drean Rucker to Mario Danelo and from Goux’s Gate to Coach O’s cart. And in the Herd’s case it’s about something that’s more fun than making money (right, Coach Carroll?). To me, being in the Herd magnifies the satisfaction of USC’s winning program, because I get to enjoy good times and cushion the not-so-good ones with people I care about. From being on the boards during the week to tailgating on game day to car-pooling to MMQB with fellow Herders, it’s a bigger part of my life than I would’ve ever thought possible.

And it isn’t only about football. I’ve learned a little about real life in a lot of different professions, and I’ve followed good times and bad in a number of Herd families. Trojan football is what brought us together, but the openness of the experience is richer because Herders are willing to share of themselves.

USC Herd: Any seminal moments for you in the Herd? Any few moments that you remember vividly and are special to you?

Dr. Z: Someplace I still have my "Chow Time" plastic fork from the San Jose State game that opened the Pete Carroll Era. And there are a lot of memories from early mornings at 39th and Menlo - the Dawn Patrol tailgaters are a breed apart. The night of the 2001 ASU game probably is the biggest standout, with T-Russ starting the “We believe!” chant at the tunnel to spark the second half rally, and then Pete running up the stairwell into the Herd after the game. After that act of leadership, everyone knew that he not only “get’s it” about USC but that he’s a big enough person to share credit where due. But I think our finest moment came at the end of the Cal game in 2004. I’m fully convinced that the wall of noise we put up helped keep the Bears out of the end zone and saved our national championship run.

USCHerd: What do your family members think about your relationship to the Herd?

Dr. Z: Back in 2002, the Herd went to a couple of USC basketball games and tailgated at one of them (Arizona, I think) on the Sports Arena parking lot. My wife came to the tailgate to check things out and decided that the people I was hanging with might be demented about college sports, but otherwise, you were all OK. Special thanks to the McDades (UCLA73 and Mrs. ’73) who made the rest of us look saner than we probably deserved that afternoon. And my wife’s met TheDoctor and some others and knows that I’m in good company. My daughter’s very supportive and always checks the scores during the season even though she lives a few miles from Cal. But really, the Internet’s spawned such an amazing variety of on-line groups that my participation only draws notice because Herders do “get out more” to affect the real world, not merely the virtual one.

USCHerd: What do you see for the Herd as it moves forward?

Dr. Z: It is hugely gratifying to see fans in the Coliseum stand and yell at least on some key downs compared with the stupor of six years ago. Game by game, we’re making it OK for fans to unleash a little bit of their emotions in a way that helps the team. We need to keep setting that example, because fan support during games still isn’t all it could be. And we still need to keep up support for the program off the field, too. I know that new facilities are on the drawing board, but until then working through Heritage Hall to find some key areas where we could make a difference will give us a sense of mission beyond the game day experience. In one sense the Herd has been very lucky: it came together just as Pete Carroll came to USC, and we’ve both helped the trend to success along and been carried along by it. The recent news about the Miami NFL coaching vacancy is a reminder that nothing lasts forever, and I wonder how we’ll adapt to a different coach or athletic director when those changes eventually happen.

I also think that there’s still a lingering misperception about us that I see on the boards every once in a while, that we see ourselves as being a little better than other USC fans. That’s not an argument I ever want to get into with anyone, because I believe that the Herd is as open and non-exclusive as a support group can be and still provide a reason for its members to belong. I don’t ever want to get caught up in a status game with anyone, I want to help USC’s football team perform as well as it can on the field. The rest will take care of itself.

USCHerd: Overall thoughts, final thoughts about your Herd experience.

Dr. Z: It’s hard to imagine being happier with any other group anywhere.


LittleGroper said...

Congrats Dr. Z!!

And great idea and interview Mojack!

Mojack said...

The idea of having Herder of the Week profiles came from BryBry the ICEE Guy, or he voiced it from one of the Springers, but it was a great idea nonetheless.

Brooks said...

I always leave very early with my truck loaded. I usually have a gnawing fear in the pit of my stomach that we won't have our spot. It's an art, not a science. We don't own the real estate. So when I pull on to Menlo and drive toward 39th, I can't tell you how relieved I am to see Dr. Z sitting there all bundled up reading the newspaper or a book. Cardinal Blood is usually right after me or just before.

ValleyTrojan said...

Way to go Dr. Z. The Herd's hero behind the scenes.