When my husband and I tuned in to watch the Duke vs. Louisville basketball game a few days ago, an odd thing happened while we were discussing which team would receive the benefit of our cheering.
Keep in mind, our March Madness brackets—as probably yours— are in a state of rigor mortis despite both of us having Louisville as the eventual winner of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Of course we were cheering for Louisville, but my husband asked me who I would have rooted for if Louisville hadn't been in my brackets. Are you kidding me?
Whichever team is playing Duke. Because, you know, everyone hates Duke. I even asked my husband, "Is there any team hated as much as Duke?"
We both quickly answered the question simultaneously, "USC."
Why is USC hated so much?
USC is a private school and UCLA is a public school so naturally, the two schools' fanbases don't care for each other. But Stanford is also a private school and the Cardinal fans don't like USC either. What happened there? Shouldn't rich folk like other rich folk?
Isn't there some sort of club where they all hang out and smoke cigars and sip brandy? And talk about how they had to walk to class because their Rolls Royce was in the shop? Note—this actually happened while I was at USC.
USC fans can be arrogant. Real arrogant. Maybe it's because the football program has had so much success. And that horse. Is there anything more arrogant than the horse?
Okay, maybe the horse that Douglas C. Neidermeyer rode in National Lampoon's Animal House was slightly more arrogant—but not by much. With his white mane and tail flying in the air as he gallops into the Coliseum while throngs of fans wave their "V" sign, USC's Traveler just doesn't look very collegiate.
He's not a plush mascot that does goofy push ups on the sideline. Or goes crowd surfing during lulls in the game. Or does silly dances dressed up as a tree. He's above that. He prances around on the sideline with that arched neck and almost gives off an aura of untouchable. He's above you. Bow down to him, plebes.
And that irritates a lot of fans. So does the Trojan fanbase's (at times) lack of knowledge about the school. And its traditions. Ask fans at the Coliseum who's sitting on top of Traveler and many will respond, "Tommy Trojan." Some will insist that Tommy Trojan is the mascot as well. Both answers are wrong.
USC, like most private schools, is expensive to attend and like Duke, it's assumed that rich kids attend the school. Generally, that's fairly accurate—the yearly cost to attend USC is $62,245, well above the national mean wage of $45,790. So yes, USC is attached to elitism and as the past few years of Occupy Movements and such have shown, elitism is not condoned by a large population in the United States.
Part of the almost-universal disdain for USC and its fans is a direct result of the bandwagon persona that infects Los Angeles sports fans in general. As soon as USC's 2012 season went in the crapper—the third week of the 2012 season, by the way—the Coliseum just wasn't as full as it had been for the season opener hosting Hawai'i. Los Angeles loves winners and if the team isn't winning, sport fans won't show up. Five years ago, season ticket packages to USC games were unheard of, but this year will probably see an increase of available blocks of seats. Well done, L.A.
That very mentality irks true sports fans. It's simply not fair that a team gets a ton of new bandwagoning fans who claim their team won a championship. Where's the blood, sweat and tears behind their fandom? They must suffer with a team before they can celebrate with a team. Suffer. Suffer. Suffer.
Why can't their fans suffer like the rest of the sports fans in America? I'm looking at you, sports fans in Ohio.
But back to USC.
Southern California is viewed as paradise to those living outside the Golden State. Beautiful weather, plenty of beaches, plenty of blondes and the entertainment capitol of the world is what Southern California is to many Americans. The beautiful people live and play in Southern California. So do their plastic surgeons and that doesn't sit well with the frumps in other states. L.A. is just a bunch of phonies and nobody like phonies—except for other phonies—and thus, USC must be hated.
Joe Football Fan is frozen in his seat watching his team play during a blinding mid-November snow storm. And when he returns home and turns on his television set, he is subjected to USC song girls in tight sweaters sweating on the side lines because it's 80-freaking degrees. Okay, I admit, this isn't such a bad thing for Joe, but bear with me while I make my point.
The song girls are raising their hands in the "V" while that incessant beating of the drums *cough, point made here* by USC's marching band reverberates in his head. You know that song.
For some fans, that drum beating is akin to fingernails scratching on a chalk board. Sorry, Joe.
Adding more fuel to the fire is college football analyst Mark May who makes his Saturday appearances on College Gameday's studio set. May has been accused of showing favor toward USC and nothing ticks off fans more than when a broadcaster appears to be biased toward one team.
Sure, Lou Holtz is a complete Notre Dame homer but let's be honest here—Holtz doesn't even attempt to appear unbiased when talking about his beloved Irish. We know where he stands every Saturday. And perhaps because of Holtz's bias toward Notre Dame, May purposely leans toward USC, Notre Dame's biggest rival. If May is intentionally countering Holtz' bias with a USC bias, fine, but make it more obvious to the fans watching the show. They've had a few beers during the day.
More than anything else, sports fans generally hate teams that are consistently successful. The Boston Celtics. The Los Angeles Lakers. The New England Patriots. The New York Yankees. The Boston Red Sox. They hate 'em. All of them.
Fans also hate teams that think they're successful but eventually fall on their sword in a gory and glorious defeat. Like Notre Dame's obliteration by Alabama in last season's BCS title game.
Notre Dame's polarization is due in part to its status as a non-secular school—religion, politics and real estate are the three biggest factors in any war between countries. It's also due in part to the school's usual high perch atop of polls, which usually doesn't last very long.
USC isn't a non-secular school but it does tend to be ranked highly every year—last year it was ranked as the preseason No. 1 team but ended up going 7-6. Overrated? By the pollsters, yes. But non-USC fans loved watching the Trojans' merciless fall from grace while one of college football's most polarizing coaches, Lane Kiffin, stood alone donning dark sunglasses and a hoodie at the 2012 Sun Bowl.
It was the ultimate schadenfreude for sports fans.
USC and Notre Dame are two of the most successful football programs in the country. USC claims 11* national titles and has had seven* players awarded the Heisman Trophy. Notre Dame claims 11 national titles and seven Heisman trophy winners as well. Michigan claims 11 titles and Alabama claims 14. Only Princeton claims more titles (28) than any of those schools.
USC, Notre Dame and Michigan are hated by a lot of fans—the entire country was rooting for Appalachian State in that 2007 game where Michigan lost 34-32. Elite teams losing to a lesser opponent can make a sports fan's Saturday. And when No. 1 USC lost to 41-point underdog Stanford in 2007, that was the best day ever. Except for me, of course. And my Trojan brethren.
No. 2 seed Duke losing to No.15 seed Lehigh in the 2012 NCAA tournament's first round of 64 teams elicited a similar reaction from sports fans. Watching Duke fans stand there, speechless and in shock, was simply incredible.
When USC is losing in football and Duke is losing in basketball, sports fans are generally content. Because it erases one of the bigger threats to their own teams' paths to championships. Because it means that those teams' fans' perceived arrogance has been replaced with humble pie.
Despite the negative connotations associated with arrogance, sports fans also will admit that arrogance can be earned. Alabama fans can be arrogant—their football teams's BCS titles have earned them that right. But with that arrogance comes a price.
When your team takes that big fall—and that will happen, Tide fans—prepare for being the object of ridicule, jokes and immense schadenfreude.
Because that's how we roll in sports. We hate it when the rich keep getting richer.
We love it when the rich lose.
And most sports fans hate Duke and USC.
Consider it an honor.
*includes vacated awards or titles