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Saturday, February 3, 2007

Herder of the Week - Febuary 4th, 2007


Trojan Russ - Another Trojan First
by Mojack

To be fair to TrojanRuss (T Russ), he needs to be seen in action to get the true understand of what he means to the Herd and also to the surrounding sections near the Coliseum tunnel. (photo right: TRuss in his element) My descriptions can not do his manic, passionate and authoritative gestures justice. He is the pony-tailed cheerleader at the front lines of the Herd leading the whole Section 11 (and seemingly the whole Coliseum) in air push ups or gesturing, “that’s another Trojan first down!” or just wildly flailing “stand up” at every other section in the Grey Lady, so that Trojan fans get up and yell their asses off in support of the Trojans. And people look to him, and mimic him and follow his directions, because that is what Trojan Russ does, he gets the masses to follow him, like the Pied Piper leading the rats to water.

The analogy of th
e Herd following Trojan Russ like rats might be a little extreme, but the point is that Trojan Russ has been at the forefront of the Herd movement. He and his family have been involved with Trojan football for decades, he was an one of the original Herd founders, he was the firebrand behind “We Believe” the chant that helped lift a depressed USC team to a win over Arizona State, and he has helped to generate and implement other Herd traditions as stated above.

For all the above reasons, Trojan Russ is our Herder of the Week for February 4th, 2007. Russ is also a legend on the football message boards, and his writing is very intelligent and descriptive, so instead of telling Russ’ story secondhand, I’ll turn the forum over to Trojan Russ to tell us about his relationship with USC Football. We congratulate and thank TRuss for his participation in the Herd. Our interview with TrojanRuss follows below:


Russ, tell us how
you became a USC fan, and how has the move from Southern California to New Mexico affected your support of USC?

My parents became fans of USC in the 1960s during the great run that John McKay had at USC. I grew up with USC football games on TV on fall weekends. My parents have super eight movies of me when I was a wee lad in my LA Rams helmet doing the Anthony Davis endzone dance. When USC won the 1975 Rose Bowl game against Ohio St., my brother and sister and I all went outside to honk the horns of our parents' cars and bang pots and pans with spoons.

My older brother, Greg, was the first in our family to go to USC, and his freshman year (fall 1980) marked my (and my family's) first attendance at USC football games. We've been going to them ever since. My move to New Mexico has impacted my attendance at home games. I cannot get out to all of them, although I did see USC six times this past season (I went to the Arkansas game and also the Rose Bowl). I still have my season tickets down in the front of the Herd, and I will never stop renewing them no matter where I live or how much money I make in the future. Being in the Herd is that important to me.

Tell us how you used to support USC, watch games, etc., before the Herd.

As I said before, I first started going to games in 1980 when my brother was a freshman at USC (I was a sophomore in high school). Back then, it was easy to get into the student section. We'd borrow my brother's roommates' fee bills and wave them at the ticket takers when we were going into the stadium, then go stand in the student section, so I sort of had some practice standing for games before I joined the Herd. By the time my younger sister, Laurie, graduated from USC (after the 1987 season), we were buying season tickets instead of going into the student section. The seats weren't great, and it was kind of a pain in the neck because we were used to standing and yelling during the games from being in the student section. I say "we" because my family all had season tickets together. My mom, Susan, yells louder than all of us kids combined, so it was kind of hard for the people around us to tell us to sit down and shut up, but it still happened a lot more than we were happy with.

You were at the first bash in Pasadena organized by Dom, and you were at the second bash in Laguna organized by Shorty and JoeSC, so you've been involved with this group since its genesis. What did you see in USC fan support, or lack thereof, that made you feel a "Herd" type group was needed? And what made you interested in then joining the Herd?

It's amazing the change that has come over the Coliseum in just a few short years. Obviously, winning and Pete Carroll has made all the difference in the world. But there were some very good--if not great--seasons during previous coaching regimes and the Coliseum was never like it is now. (photo left: Dipwad, TrojanRuss, Denise and TroyMex) Even back in the early Larry Smith days you could find me waving my arms to get people to stand up and yell on third downs, running up and down the aisle trying to get people going. It was like trying to get people to go to the dentist. The crowds were sparse and quiet, for the most part. When I found coverage of USC football on the Internet following the 1995 season (I was looking for recruiting news in early 1996 when I found TFO), I knew I had found a group of people who were just as passionate (and nuts) as me. When it was suggested that we form a group and buy seats together so nobody would tell us to sit down and shut up, I was in immediately. There's nothing more demoralizing than being at a football game with your favorite team in the universe playing in front of you, and having somebody tell you to sit down and shut up on a big third down play for the defense. You feel like that person is missing some important aspect of life or something (like what it means to be alive). The Herd solved all of those problems. And I have absolutely no doubt that one of the main reasons the Coliseum is as hostile and loud for opposing teams is because of the Herd's nonstop energy. It took a while for the rest of the stadium to pick up on what the Herd was doing, but it wasn't difficult for them to see the effect that the Herd had on the players. Having the players respond to the Herd and implore them for more noise was the reason I gave up my seats with my family to join the Herd. It was one of the reasons I lobbied so hard to have the Herd be where it is today. When the concept of the Herd first came into being, there was a lot of discussion over where we should have our block of seats. The ticket office told us that we could have section 11 where we are now or some other section that was further away from the field but higher up with a better view. I always felt that we should be as close to the field as possible so we could have the biggest effect on the game, and that was finally the decision that was made, much to my relief.

At the first game where you participated with the Herd, what were your first impressions ?

Well, in actuality, the first time I spent time in the Herd section was during the spring game of 2001, Carroll's first season. A large group of us walked over to where our seats were next to the tunnel to check them out, see what they would be like. We stayed there for only a few minutes, but even then you could feel the camaraderie of the people around you. We knew we would have an impact on the players. But my first USC game with the Herd was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Who knew that going to a football game could be so much fun? It was better than the students breaking into the concessions stands and pouring beers for everyone after #1 USC's dramatic win over #2 Oklahoma in 1982. It was better than anything I had ever experienced with USC football, and that was a game against San Jose St. I knew I had found my home for USC football games. Looking back now, it's hard to understand the difference being in the Th undering Herd made for enjoying the USC football experience. I've been in the Herd now for so long, it's hard to remember a time when I wasn't there (or maybe I've just blacked out the Hackett years). But that first game in the Herd was simply amazing. It was pretty much all we talked about the next week between the San Jose St. game and the Kansas St. game. If your idea of fun was to stand for three and a half hours and yell your lungs out, you couldn't have found a better place to do it than the Thundering Herd.

There are a few defining Herd moments in our history that TRuss was a featured participant in if not the instigator; specifically the "We Believe" chant and the introduction of Air Pushups. How'd you formulate those ideas and then how did you implement them?

"We Believe" came about because of the record the team had going into the Arizona St. game during the 2001 season. USC had lost four games in a row, and was coming off a heartbreaking loss to #11 Washington on the road where the Huskies had kicked a game-winning field goal with no time left to beat the Trojans. I didn't want the team to hear boos when they took the field like I'm sure they expected. During the Hackett years, there were many times that the team got booed. They had played hard and just come up short against some very difficult competition, losing to three teams ranked in the top 12 by a total of nine points. The day before the game, I had posted on the boards that I thought we needed to show the team that we supported them, and that we should chant something like "We believe in you" or "We believe" when they came on the field. When we gathered along the rail of the tunnel before the team took the field after the national anthem, I passed along the word that we would chant "We believe" when the team was coming out of the tunnel. When the team first appeared deep in the tunnel, we started the chant. We believe! clap-clap We believe! clap-clap We believe! At first the players' heads were down, but as they heard us and our support for them grow, they started nodding their heads, then clapping along with us. They got excited. You could clearly see the change in their demeanor. They went out and kicked the crap out of Arizona St. We repeated the chant at halftime when they took the field, but I know in my heart that it was the pregame chant that made all the difference in the world to those players. I know because Pete Carroll came up into the stands after the game on his way to the locker room, thanking us for helping give the players something they so desperately needed--respect. USC hasn't lost a game in the Coliseum since then. I know that 99.9% of that is because of Pete Carroll, but I still think the Herd should get credit for that .1%. It was the reason the Herd was formed and why our seats were where they were: to make a difference.

As for the air pushups, that came out of necessity. After the 2001 season, there was talk about expanding the Herd to the Sun Deck to help get more of the stadium involved. I was more than happy to relinquish my seat in Section 11 row 10 to go to the Sun Deck to get that going. Unfortunately, that fell through and I was left without seats in the Herd. The ticket office found seats for me in Row 1 at the front of the Herd, and I took them. NEVER HAVE I MADE A BETTER DECISION!! Okay, choosing my wife was a better decision, but it's close. Anyway, I had seats in the front row of the stadium, and by then I had told my family about how much fun it was to be in the Thundering Herd, so my older brother and his sons would come down to my seats and we'd squeeze four people into one seat. When USC scored, we would lift one of my brother's sons up over our heads and do pushups with him to count the score, like they do at Notre Dame. That is where I had originally gotten the idea for doing pushups--being at Notre Dame stadium in 2001, where hundreds of their students put people above their heads and do pushups to count the score.

Well, for some reason, during the Washington game at the Coliseum in 2002, one of the university personnel on the field came up to us and told us that the university didn't want us doing the pushups. It seems that it was starting to be copied all over the stadium. I don't know if it was a liability issue or what, but they asked us not to do it. I tried to reason with them, I tried to bargain with them, I tried everything, but the answer was always the same-- please don't do them. Well, not wanting to earn the wrath of the university I loved, a moment of inspiration hit me and I said to everybody around me, "Okay, if they won't let us do real pushups, we'll do air pushups instead. For some reason, it caught on, and soon almost a quarter of the Coliseum was doing air pushups along with us. When I can't come out from New Mexico, my brother ably fills in for me. Now we hold up signs to let people know what we are doing. Between that and the "That's another Trojan... FIRST DOWN!" chants, I'm very busy. Which leads to your next question...

You are one of the most visible cheerleaders of the Herd, for one you lead the air pushups, but you're also standing high, arm thrown forward, holding the sign, "That's another Trojan first down." What kind of responsibility do you put on yourself during the game?

I put a lot of responsibility on myself to keep on top of things as the game goes on. It almost gets in the way of enjoying the game. When USC has a great play for a first down that is being shown up on the video board, I often miss it so I can do the First Down cheer. Sometimes I forget because I get caught up in the moment of the game, but there's always my brother and his sons, as well as the other fans around me, to remind me that I need to get up and do the cheer. I love being at USC football games. Moving to New Mexico has given me a newfound appreciation for the blessings that I have of being able to attend USC football games. Since I can't make every game, the ones I do make are extra special. I don't know that it's true, but I like to imagine that it is when I'm making the 11-hour drive back home after a game that I helped make other fans' game experience more enjoyable for my efforts. It's a ton of fun, and I get a lot of gratification out of doing it; I just hope others enjoy what I'm doing as much as I am.

Russ, your whole family is involved in the Herd and USC football; brothers, sisters, brother-in-laws, nephews, and you mom and dad have been to Herd tailgates, and you even brought your mother to Notre Dame in 2003. How important has it been for you to have USC and USC football be an integral part of your family?

Now that I've moved to New Mexico, USC football is especially integral to my family experience. I don't get a lot of opportunities to see my family anymore, and USC football is one of the main enjoyments we have together as a family these days. I have many, many great memories of time spent with my family at USC football games, whether they be home games or my family making the trek to Auburn or Hawaii or Notre Dame or Arizona or ASU or Cal and Stanford. USC football has always been a huge part of our lives and our time together. My family is very important to me and I love them all dearly. It was extremely difficult moving away from them all. It is the reason why I didn't make it to any Herd tailgates this past season. I don't get to see them that much, so I spend my tailgating time with them, especially since the Herd started tailgating on campus. I miss spending all the time at Herd tailgates like I used to, but--if you can believe it --I miss my family more. My sister has two young children who I am missing grow up. Game days are now spent playing with my nieces and nephews and talking with my family. I am thankful that USC football gives me another six weekends a year to spend with my family.

Your online persona TrojanRuss is still a legend on the message boards, specifically Peristyle where you can be found, at times, to be very much in the middle of some heated football or topical discussions. The Herd is a product of the message boards, so that is a instance of positive good coming from the boards, but what do you feel the real purpose of these boards are, and what is your place in that internet world?

The real purpose of these boards is to give Joe Blows like me a place to spout off and make myself sound much more important than I really am. Really, the boards are just a place where people can talk about something they love, and discuss ad nauseum things that have little or no importance to a billion-plus Chinese. It's sort of like free group therapy where the inmates are running the asylum. As for my place, it really isn't a place, per se. If I died tomorrow, the boards would go on without missing a beat. Some people would be happy and some would be sad, but my impact is really minimal. And that's as it should be. The boards aren't really about any one person; they exist because of the greatness that is USC football. Or the greatness that is the Thundering Herd. The collective whole is greater than the sum of its parts in both cases. I am merely along for the ride, as are we all.

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

The Herd is still the battery that jump-starts the rest of the Coliseum and and football team. We've come a long way from the Cal game in 2002, where USC was behind 21-3, and the players on the sideline said "You see that group of people over there (the Herd)? Those are the people we're playing for." Nowadays, with the gong over the PA system, like it or not, the crowd will get up and cheer during the third downs. But the Herd plays an important part in getting the noise up for all the other downs, too. Games are loud from the opening kickoff now, and the Herd plays a big part in that. The fact that the players still turn to us for encouragement and support tells you that we continue to be an important part of the game experience for them, despite the increased attendance and noise from the rest of the stadium. It tells you that despite it all, the Herd continues to stand out. We make a Difference with a capital "D." We are the first thing the players see when they come down the tunnel, and the last thing they see when they leave the field after another victory. What I see for the Herd as it moves forward is the same as the first influential games of its infancy--support and making a difference. Whether it's raising money for a recruiting cart or picking the team up after a tough loss, the Herd will be there showering love and support on the greatest team and university the world has ever known.

Overall, final thoughts about your Herd experience.

If you have never spent any time during a game with the Herd, my suggestion is to do it. You don't have to buy a seat for the game there. Just head over there and ask someone if you can spend a quarter (or a few minutes) standing with them. They'll make room for you. But be prepared to never want to leave. You will never have more fun watching a football game than you will in the Herd. If you doubt me, look at all the people outside the Herd that are doing Air Pushups. Why are these people doing them? Because it's F-U-N. It's fun being able to stand and yell and not worry about whether you are bothering anyone. It's fun watching the players react to what you are doing. It's just plain, good old-fashioned fun. I have what many would consider to be the worst seats in the house. Very front row. Not a great view when the game is down on the east end of the Coliseum. But as I said previously, I will never give up those seats. That's because it's fun. It's fun because the make-up of the people in the Herd is that of people who want to have fun. There's no stick-in-the-muds there. It's populated by people who like to have fun. If you like to have fun, then the Herd is for you. If you want to have more fun than you ever imagined at a football game, come on down to Section 10 Row 1 seats 3-6 (at the very front of the Herd, it's section 10 down there, not 11-- go figure). We'll squeeze you in. We already usually have six or more people in four seats, so what's a few more? The more the merrier, so to speak. The Herd has so greatly enhanced my USC football experience that I don't know what I would do if it were taken away from me. I hope everyone gets a chance to experience what I do at every game in the Herd. Your only problem after that will be getting your seats permanently moved there.

Fight On!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I got pumped up all over again just reading Russ! The Herd experiance is enriched because you are there Russ! What an awesome journey this has been and continues to be!
FIGHT ON!
Long Live The Thundering Herd!
WEAR CARDINAL!

TrojanSpirit said...

Russ is da man! Thanks and fight on, Russ, we love the Air Pushups and the First down call.

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