They Don't Really Have a Standing Invitation
T.J. Simers, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2001
A USC campus cop stood behind the end zone at the tunnel end of the Coliseum Saturday, aiming his video camera into a group of almost 200 Trojan supporters--a throwback to the rebellious '60s, and like J. Edgar Hoover earlier, a reminder that Mike Garrett is always watching.
Instead of a sit-in, however, this was a group of aging alumni and friends of USC, who call themselves the "Thundering Herd," spending more than $40,000 on season tickets, who insisted on standing throughout the game as a show of support for the team despite the threat of arrest and Garrett's e-mail directive to stay seated.
They apparently still had Garrett's permission to raise their voices and cheer.
A WEEK ago they all stood en masse, a woman sitting behind them complained, and the Los Angeles Police Department advised the group if they remained standing, everyone would be placed under arrest.
There was also talk of having Traveler drag their leaders around the field, but then everyone would have wanted to stand and watch.
The woman who complained a week ago had been sitting in those seats for some time and declined an invitation to move elsewhere. However, staying where she is, she will miss the Trojans' entire season if she remains parked behind the standing Herd. If I were her, I'd hold out for a seat in Garrett's luxury box.
After getting three visits from the police a week ago, the Thundering Herd remained standing--setting up a confrontation at this week's game.
"If we get a complaint, it could be war," said Pat Lynch, Coliseum general manager. "We're not taking 'no' for an answer if security and safety become an issue for people."
Now wouldn't that be an interesting twist to the USC's alumni-driven "Scholarship Club," with contributors not only earning complimentary seating and year-round campus parking, but the chance to be arrested each Saturday.
With a week to resolve the problem, Garrett sent the group an e-mail that said the elderly and children have the right to watch the Trojans play, which means everyone else must sit down. Then six minutes before kickoff against Kansas State, associate athletic director Steve Lopes went into the crowd, and according to Herd spokesman Shorty Clarke (USC Class of '67), Lopes told him the group had the school's support to stand and cheer so long as no bad language was used.
So much for the elderly and the children.
When I began to move toward Lopes to ask him about the athletic department's mixed messages, Lopes appeared frightened, telling Clarke, "I don't have to talk to that guy," and ran off. He showed good speed too, and that's some kind of "no comment" relay team USC is assembling with Lopes, Garrett and President Steven Sample.
WHEN THE Herd returned to the Coliseum on Saturday, they were emboldened by a week of chatter on "www.USCFootball.com," an Internet site responsible for bringing them all together more than two years ago. They were not going to sit down.
Now if these were Raider-like fans, there's no question I'd be calling for the paddy wagon. But a visit to the Thundering Herd tailgate party before the game suggested these were Trojan boosters, tired of a laid-back Coliseum crowd, and eager to get everyone more excited. Do you think Raider fans would offer me a can of soda?
The way things were going Saturday, however, it looked as if they would be watching all future Trojan games from the state pen.
They caught a break, however. The woman who had complained a week earlier didn't show up, and they drew the attention of LAPD Captain Morris Smith, who put on the performance of the day--topping anything Kansas State or USC did.
Smith read to the group's leaders the portion of the municipal code that doesn't allow for anyone to interfere with another fan's enjoyment, and then backed away and allowed them to enjoy the game. A few of the group's members were obnoxious, as you might expect after several hours of fueling, but with more than 200 fans filling the seats, they were in the minority.
It's obvious, though, anyone sitting behind these people are not going to be pleased seeing nothing more than their backsides. Clarke said he sympathizes, and said the group would be willing to buy several rows of tickets, and leave the seats unoccupied to set up a buffer zone and not ruin anyone's view of the game.
The group already bought a season ticket for Giles Pellerin, who attended 797 consecutive games before passing away, and now keep a leather helmet on his seat.
"Big deal," I said. "His view of the game is blocked."
"Yeah," Clarke said. "But he won't be complaining."(Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 2001 All rights reserved)