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Sunday, June 3, 2007

Herder of the Week - June 3, 2007

The Snake Charmer
HOTW - natlchamps
by Mojack

Okay Herd, let’s do a little role playing. We’re all panelists in a modern version of “What’s My Line.” Who could be today’s Arlene Francis? Lisa Kudrow? Okay. (photo right: champs on the left of Shara) She was the blonde star of “Friends” “Friends” was a very popular TV show for 10 years (for Brooks’ info)…So, the Herd are all panelists alongside Lisa Kudrow. We’re all blindfolded as this week’s Herder of the Week strides onto the stage. He writes on the chalkboard, “Member of a Circus Big Top Crew.” The studio audience laughs in surprise, not easily the HOTW as a ex-circus worker who was close to being sent to a chain gang in Picayune, Mississippi. So, Lisa Kudrow leans forward to start the round of questioning and says, “Have you ever seen a naked Madonna tied up in the house next door?” The audience laughs at the absurdity of the question, but the HOTW calmly and with a quiet smirk says, “Yes.” The studio audience gasps. SC is the Bomb shouts out, “Alright!” And the questions would continue indefinitely because the HOTW has such a diverse and interesting story (unless someone asked if he was Polish then it’d be a dead giveaway) but eventually Shorty would burst into the studio, detained by a gourmet wine tasting in Brentwood, and shout: “It’s Champs!!” Again, SC is the Bomb would yell, “Alright, Champs saw Madonna naked and tied up!”
Shorty would continue his reveal about natlchamps our HOTW, “You want to know about my buddy Champs! Champs has spent his life around publishing, first at SC in Journalism, then to McCall where he and his wife bought and ran the local paper. (photo left and below: location of the Herd Barn Party) Later, back in California, Champs and Denise took over a couple of publications and built them into an EMPIRE. Trump pales by comparison. Warren Buffet calls for investing tips. Rosie seeks Champs advise on relationships. The man is a legend. Well, you get the idea, the man has accomplished alot. How many of YOUR friends have seen Madonna naked. Well, ok, bad example. Everyone has seen Madonna naked but how many have seen her tied up naked? Ah Ha. I didn't think so. How about having to bring your dogs in on those nights when Nicholson and Beatty (possibly after an adult beverage) are shooting their guns in Malibu Canyon. The guy has a ton of stories. Just get him started on his year with the Circus. Today you'll find Tim supervising the construction of his new McCall ranchhouse, walking his 4 dogs, riding his horses into the local hills or out on the lake boating with a cooler of tall cold ones close by. Tim and Denise have become some of our closest friends...mainly because we adore Denise but that's another story. If one man is allowed, without losing his Man Card, to describe another man I'd tell you about his generosity, kindness, devotion to wife and pets and his enormous intellect. Did I mention he's getting me a ticket to Nebraska?! Tim Novolyosolkoskiski or whatever his damn last name is, is most deserving of HOTW honors.
And that Tim is. He is a great Trojan fan, and a great Herder, participating on the Herd board on a regular basis, and adding a welcomed presences to Herd tailgates home and away. As Brooks said about Tim, “I stood with Champs at the Fresno State Game. Champs wasn't taking the game very well. As the first half wore on and Fresno kept rolling up the yardage and the Trojans kept stumbling, Champs went into a deep funk. I kept assuring him, as the Trojans fell further and further behind not to worry. At half time, he was taking straight pocket shots and getting more and more depressed. He even became verbally abusive to people around us. The only other time I had seen the look in his eyes was when I was trying to talk a jumper off the edge of a freeway overpass...just before he jumped. Then the Trojans started coming back in the second half and he started coming back. When the game ended, he looked at me and said, "I was never worried, we had 'em all the way." Then he turned as he was leaving and told me that he didn't want to stand with me anymore because I sent off bad vibes.”
As stated above, natlchamps is a great guy, a great Trojan and a great friend, and we can’t do his stories justice, so I’m turning the interview over to him at this time, but we’re very proud to have him as our HOTW this week, and I know you’ll enjoy his stories as much if not more than I have. Fight On, Tim!
Before we get into some of our standard questions, I thought we would start with something a guest Herder wanted me to explore with you. He said, “Have Champs tell us about the circus in general and specifically about the Snake Lady.”
Ah…some circus memories… the snake lady…..Well, OK. It was our first time and we had just finished. I was still breathing fast and heavy, on top, and looked into her eyes, a little glassy at first, but then extremely bright. “Oh, my God,” she cried out. “Look. Over there.”
We were on the floor of the snake trailer, and I eased myself off of her, turned around to look up at all the plexiglas cages that were three levels on top of each other, from the floor to the ceiling. A jolt of adrenalin and goosebumps all over my body combined to make me dizzy when I saw that EVERY SINGLE SNAKE was standing stiff and upright, looking out towards us from their little individual windows. To this day I still get chills thinking about it. We quickly slipped away to her sleeping quarters and needless to say we never did it there again.
She was of course beautiful. Long, dark, cascading hair, devilish smile, voluptuous. Her job was basically to look pretty – easy for her – standing next to a HUGE python or boa, whichever is biggest, while people walked into and through her trailer, which consisted of snakes of all kinds enclosed in little compartments with Plexiglas fronts that separated the viewers from the allegedly deadly rascals. This snake trailer was part of a modest menagerie of wild animals and petting zoo that patrons would pass through on the way to the Big Top. There were no freaks here, this was a circus – largest circus under the Big Top – not a carny. Carny people are usually the dredges of society. In fact, circus people notoriously hate carnies, and vice versa. One foggy night we snuck out a couple elephants and stomped through a carny encampment but that’s another story.
Without succumbing to my baser instincts and asking some juicy follow up questions, I'll just ask how did you end up at a circus?
I was just a year out of SC and my girlfriend and I split up. She went to New York; I decided I wanted to see the country. I worked for a year to save enough to buy an old ’55 Econoline van and hit the road, in search of odd jobs when my funds diminished. I had joined the circus when it came to town in Attica, Indiana, where I had been working as a fry cook in nearby West Lebanon, Indiana, while recovering from an accident at a steel mill down the road. Whenever I was low on money I looked for a job wherever I was at that time; assembly line work at GM or dishwasher at some dive; it didn’t matter, I did them all……But, what a stroke of luck to join the circus, where I could see the country while getting paid! This particular circus never took the highway; always the back roads (sheriffs and police were paid off to ignore the absence of or out-of-date permits), so I really did see the country.
We traveled to a new town every day except when we hit the larger cities like New Orleans or St. Louis; then we were in for a three-night stay, and increased chances of some trouble. After one eventful, scary night about 10 of the Big Top crew quit. I almost did as well…but… that’s another story.
What did you do at the circus?
I can juggle, but my main job was part of the Big Top crew, meaning help to put up and take down the Big Top, which was larger than the Coliseum football field. The Big Top was imported from France, largest single expanse of canvas ever made. It was tough work, and yes, there were characters – Gypsy, a tall ex-Marine and ex-Hell’s angel with a swimmer’s streamlined physique; Radar, a shorter bulkier specimen and the meanest guy in the circus next to Gypsy; Pancakes, a small, old, but muscular, toothless black man who used to work with Ringling Brothers, driving stakes when that circus was under the Big Top years ago; Jim Beam, called that because of his fondness for whiskey. He had the weathered look of an old alcoholic and was Pancakes’ best friend. He also was the Pennsylvania state checker champion at one time…
I was at the circus only for three or four months, but it was a lifetime of adventures: fights, accidents, tragedies. Fun times, too, of course.
I can't help it, I need to know more, so tell us a little more about the Snake Lady.
The snake lady was just as intelligent inside as she was pretty on the outside. I had been smitten with her from afar during my early days with the circus. One night this other guy and I happened to end up sitting on the floor of her trailer, drinks in hand, lamenting about the day’s events, which were highlighted by sad circumstances involving a latino named “Migo,” (his nickname because he always called out to everyone, “Hey, Amigo.”) That day he had been busted – an entirely long, heartbreaking adventure that won’t be relayed here – and was eventually sent to the chain gang in Picayune, Mississippi. I was “This Close” to being arrested along with him, through no fault of my own. Another story.
Anyway, this other guy – my opponent for the Snake Lady’s affections -- was getting very drunk, and I knew I simply had to wait him out so he would leave me alone with her. I just knew she was mine. She was also a recent college graduate, and while we were trying to impress each other with a philosophical discussion of the various plains of existence, this guy would merely repeat over and over, “man, poor Migo. Poor Migo.” He eventually left and I fell into the Snake Lady’s arms, and charms. I moved into her trailer for the rest of the circus tour.
The guest Herder also wanted you to tell us about Sean Penn tying up a naked Madonna, but since this is an USC blog we should probably first ask you how you became a USC fan?
Yes, Sean Penn was my next door neighbor for awhile, and my Malibu stories are more interesting than my SC passions, but I don’t think I can relate them here. Most of what happens in Malibu stays in Malibu.
As for my Trojan roots, I would like to say that I was born an SC fan, wore Cardinal and Gold diapers, etc. I am a second generation Trojan by marriage – I met a beautiful young lady at SC who was to become my wife, and her parents met each other at SC.
HOWEVER, as some of you know and are continually aghast when you hear it (and I rarely admit it), I followed the Bruins in my early years. Yes, young people are often stupid. I grew up on the other side of the tracks in Santa Barbara and rooted for anything with L.A. in it – the Rams, Dodgers, Lakers, and of course UC-LA. …I was never passionate about those guys – who could be? – but did follow them….That all changed in a millisecond when I was offered a full scholarship to SC. All of a sudden I was rescued from the dark side, and my new-found passion was rewarded because I was fortunate to go to SC during the McKay years. Most importantly, I was at SC when the greatest team in the history of all college football won the national championship in 1972! Some people pick out a Nebraska team here or a Miami team there, but SC’s 1972 squad was overwhelmingly dominant on both sides of the ball; crushing ranked teams left and right. I have spent time on the boards giving facts, figures, and undeniable evidence of this team’s greatness. There never has been a more outstanding college football team in any era. Period.
Tell us how you used to support USC, watch games, etc., before you discovered the Herd.
From my days as a student until now I’ve always been insane with my obsession over SC football. Only a couple of periods did I not attend every home game: during my circus and cross-country traveling days, of course, and for a couple of years after my wife and I moved to McCall, Idaho to run the local weekly newspaper with two other USC journalism graduates. (We won every newspaper award in the state; we also learned how to lose money.) We moved back to L.A. in late 1979, and from 1980 until last year I think I missed only one home game, due to pneumonia. Since moving back to McCall, though, the streak was broken and I missed a couple last year.
The only lousy thing about moving back to McCall is not being as close to SC football. I still go to the games, of course, but not the practices. For those who cannot make it to the practices I want to highly recommend that you do whatever you can to make a few of them. You gain so much insight on the coaches and the players; their strengths, personalities, nuances. It enhances your enjoyment of watching the game significantly.
Oh, and my wife thinks my passion borders on sickness. When I watch the away games on TV she hides the dogs because I jump up and yell during the good and bad plays and she thinks I frighten them….Sometimes I think I frighten her…I tend to get intense. She did surprise me a year or two ago when she bought me a helmet signed by Heisman stars Matt and Reggie.
Can you summarize your experience finding the USC message boards, and to follow that up, how did you feel when the topics on TFO turned to the lack of fan support in the Coliseum, and grew into the formation of the Herd?
The first Trojan board I ever noticed was through the L.A. Times, and there was a post that mentioned TFO, and once I discovered that board I never looked back.
To tell the truth, I kind of resented some of the comments about ALL the Coliseum being the “blue-haired wine and cheese” crowd, because the people around me in my season seats were great, die-hard fans. We all weathered the Hackett years together, so indeed we had bonding experiences. (photo right: champs and his other Trojan fans) But yes, I was enthralled about the fact that so many enthusiastic fans were banding together. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE Section 11. . . I was not there the first year. That first season, each and every game I sat in my normal seats that I have had for 27 years, press box side, around the 20 yard line near the Peristyle and I looked over toward the tunnel with envy. Through TFO I knew about those fanatics standing by the tunnel, and when I brought friends to the game I would point to this at-that-time rather small group and say: “They are me. That’s where I should be right now!”
I like my old seats because as I mentioned, I have friends all around me who have sat near me through the good, the mediocre, and the horrid years, and they have always tolerated me jumping up and down at every dynamic play…but of course, they would probably toss me out if I stood the whole game.
The view from my Herd seat does not compare to my regular one (good thing for TiVo and the replay board) and I have split time during some games from the Herd seats (where I can usually be found for the first half) and my previous seats to keep peace in the family….Since I will be coming to most games by myself this year, I will most likely be in the Herd section the entire game for most of the season…Of course, my old-time seats just don’t come close to the camaraderie, excitement, and fun of the Herd. We can cheer and complain to each other with semi-intelligent exchanges (semi, when conversing with Mojack) as the game unfolds.
I love hanging over the railing before the game, at half, and after the game. The players love it (not the opposing team, thank goodness), the coaches love it, and we love it. The neat thing is there is simply a Herd bond that permeates the section. I am so fortunate to have experienced this.
Can you regale us again with the story about how you met up with Shorty and became friends with one of the Herd movers-and-shakers in McCall, Idaho?
I mentioned that my wife and I spent a few years in McCall, Idaho in the late 70s. While we moved back to the L.A. area (Van Nuys; then the Palisades, then Malibu for the last 15 years or so), we had a little cabin on beautiful Payette Lake and spent vacations in both the summer and winter in McCall.
One day I saw a post on TFO by a guy who mentioned something about McCall. I thought to myself, what the heck does that guy know about McCall? (photo left: The barn in McCall) Who does he think he is? I then posted something in reply; he as usual needed to get in the last word and replied back. He had been living in McCall for maybe five years or so but I had never met him, yet after some back-and-forth banter on TFO he said: “I KNOW YOU.” …Actually, he had met my wife, who had spent time at his wife’s (Becky) antique store in McCall.. .
From there my wife and I made a point to spend time with them outside of SC football when we visited McCall, and since we moved back to McCall fulltime we now see Shorty way too much. Just kidding, Shorty (I have to say that or he won’t share his wine with us anymore).

You and your father-in-law have had a special relationship, since in a sense you have USC Football as a very bonding experience to share together. What has the Trojan experience and the Herd experience meant to y
ou and your family? And what has the extended family of the Herd meant to you?
Yes, Bill is an amazing guy. He has been like a father to me for almost 20 years (I never really had a father; my mother raised four kids by herself as a coffee shop waitress). When you meet Bill – and many of you have – what you see is what you get. He is genuine.
And you hit it right on. (photo right: Shorty, Bill, champs, Red) SC football has bonded us more than anything (golf comes in a distant second). Bill grew up in Pittsburgh and was both a Notre Dame and Penn State fan. It didn’t take long for his wife, me, and my wife to beat him into submission. Seriously, he has become a very passionate SC fan; in fact it is by far his number one college (his granddaughter is in her first year there).
One of the neatest things occurred when I took him to the Notre Dame game in South Bend four years ago. He had never been there, and he was ecstatic. What really made the experience great (besides Reggie’s brilliance and the thrashing of the Irish) was meeting members of the Herd for the first time. He knew of my association with the Herd, but he hadn’t meshed yet. From that trip he was made to feel like he belonged, and he tries to always stop at the Herdgates...Oh, and he still talks about that one night in a restaurant with Inga, Minx, Red, and Shorty (no, not the pole dance night).
There are a few seminal Herd moments; from "We Believe" to Thomas Williams jumping into the stands. And a few great Herd away game moments like the Virginia Tech game. Are there any special moments that you remember and feel a strong part of?
They are all great moments. That Notre Dame game I just mentioned ranks up there, and also Virginia Tech. I really enjoyed the Herd party that one year downtown where we started the campaign for the first golf cart. While it was a Herd event, it was not a tailgate, but a great opportunity to spend even more time with those you barely knew.
Other great moments: I remember sitting next to Brooks in Gugs’ special luxury box at ASU and noted that he wasn’t panicking at what looked to be an insurmountable lead by the Devils at half time. I also remember seeing the shock in Mojack’s face at halftime of the Fresno State contest. Good stuff…
Back to the guest Herder who said this: “Tell champs to regale us with stories about winter sports, especially powder skiing. And ask him about his dogs. Finally, ask champs about his new McCall house and if he's having a Barn Party and Chili Cookoff and if the entire Herd is invited.
Gee, I wonder who the guest Herder might be? What, is he enlisting me to extol the virtues of McCall? I don’t need to do that. We have too many people around here as it is (3,000 or so)….But there is no better powder skiing than at nearby Brundage Mountain. I call it an intermediate ski hill, all things considered, but the light, deep, fluffy power is sensational. Tamarack, the newest North American ski resort in over a quarter of a century, also is a nice hill, but doesn’t compare during the powder days…Shorty snowmobiles; I downhill and cross country ski.
I have two Siberian huskies, one Malamute, and one German Shepherd mix. Three of them were rescues. If I spent the time to tell you about all of their personalities there wouldn’t be enough room for the rest of this interview. Suffice to say, I am a dog person…We also have two horses.
Oh, and ABSOLUTELY, the entire Herd is invited to our Barn Party and Chili Cookoff. It takes place at my barn here in McCall (I’ll email a photo or two), and Shorty is in charge of all the Chili Cookoff contestants. It is Sunday, September 9, and we have strategically set that date during the bye week following the Idaho game and preceding Nebraska! There is a small fee that will benefit a local charity, but for all Herd Members who stop by there is no charge at all.
The Herd and the Herd Forum has always been special amid the message board crowds because we all tailgate together and have become friends and interested in each other's lives. You've shared many different personal stories with us: the floods of Malibu and how it affected your house, the passing of your dog, health issues with your family...Would you care to share about how you involved the Herd in those emotional roller coasters, and what did sharing that experience mean to you?
Thanks for reminding me of this. Good thing my house burned down before the Herd’s existence…(photo right: Chaps) You know, it is strange that I felt comfortable in sharing some of that. I don’t recall consciously thinking before posting about those events that I needed emotional support. It just felt like a natural thing to do. I just wasn’t in the mood to talk about football (luckily those events occurred during the off-season), and just blurted out my woes...I remember Belle telling me not to take chances while the mudslide was closing in, and I also remember many who helped me with some kind words when we unexpectedly lost our Siberian Husky, Chaparral. We called him Chaps. The sweetest big boy of them all. That was a very tough time for me and my wife. The Herd helps in ways not always expected.
You are someone who has a good knowledge of the college game, and you're one of the biggest USC fans and also know quite a lot about the USC team. How do you feel when one of the Herd experts, Mojack, for example, let's you know how wrong you are in your opinion? And do you appreciate it when one of the Herd experts, Mojack, for example, take the time to really explain the college game to you and how the USC football season will unfold?
Football expert? Hmmm. Actually, when one looks up the word “expert” in the dictionary, the very last person one would expect to see listed would be…ah…Mo…ja …er…..Brooks?....
I know it is all in good fun. (photo left: Mojack lecturing champs on college football) I don’t think Mojack means anything sinister when he makes silly football posts. I really believe he is thankful he has someone to straighten him out now and then. He is, good, though, about making Pollyanna predictions by backing them up with facts. That’s what makes it a little more difficult when debating with him. Whenever I am feeling nervous about an upcoming game (which is usually every single upcoming game), all I need to do is express my anxieties and Mojack comes to the rescue. I admit he is usually right. Well, lucky, actually. Hard not to be with PC at the helm.
What do you see for the Herd as it moves forward? And what are your final thoughts about your Herd experience?
Nothing but the best will continue for the Herd. There are too many wonderful people that make up the Herd for there to be anything else but more good times. (photo right: champs' barn in October) I am so happy that it doesn’t look like the NFL will move into the Coliseum anytime soon. If that happens and the seating capacity is reduced I have concerns about our seats, but I don’t think that will become an eventuality. We are doing a great thing for the team and the players and coaches have expressed many times their appreciation. Think they would invite us for the Trojan Walk if they didn’t like what we are doing? Great to be a Herder. Great to be a Trojan. 

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