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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Passion Of Erica Lucero

All season long, Erica Lucero's columns on ESPN.com's Page 2 have bugged me. Maybe not to the point that I would have written this article, lovingly titled "Erica Lucero: Satan's Minion," but they've bugged me.

Until now, I just wrote it off to the fact that I go to UCLA, and so I'm disinclined to like anything associated with USC athletics. When I got to UCLA Law, I was wondering if I could get into the rivalry between the two schools as a grad student, but after joining the hockey team and playing USC, I have no problem with it. Their fans make it easy by throwing trash at our players and on the ice, and chanting things like "Reg-gie Bush!" when they're down by four goals late in the third period. And that doesn't even take into account their hockey team itself.

But I digress a little. Back to the point: Erica Lucero. One thing that bothered me all year long was her never-ending praise of the USC fans. I may have attended a Division I-AA school for undergrad, but I know enough about college sports to know that USC's fans are not that great, and I'm not just talking about hockey here. It's easy to get behind a team that loses once every other year. But USC, great football tradition that it has, is not known for its fans. It's known for its tailbacks and cheerleaders.

To prove it, let me introduce exhibit A: SI on Campus's ranking, from last fall, of the best college football weekends. Six categories were taken into consideration in developing the rankings. Twenty-five schools are listed; USC is not one of them. Even Montana made the list, which is topped by Tennessee, LSU, and Texas A&M - all places where football is an experience, not just a bragging point.

USC is representative of Angelenos in general when it comes to fandom - it's a casual thing. How else can you explain not one, but two NFL teams leaving the second-largest city in the country? By the way, both of those teams played their home games in a stadium on USC's campus - yet they didn't generate enough interest to keep them there.

Then there's the early-season declaration that "we expect nothing less than perfection from our two-time defending NCAA champion football team," which she wrote about USC fans on September 1. Four-plus months later, after the Trojans have been unseated as the best team in the nation, those USC fans aren't picking up the pieces of their shattered expectations, according to Erica Lucero. Rather, "[t]here are no broken-hearted Trojans."

Erica Lucero also made the claim, in her Rose Bowl preview column, that Texas hadn't played a schedule with the tough opponents that USC had, naming Notre Dame and Fresno State. Come on - Fresno State lost to Nevada, and Texas beat Ohio State, who went to a BCS bowl and also beat Notre Dame earlier in the year. This website rates Texas's strength of schedule 15th in the nation; USC's checks in lower, at 27th.

And oh, the irony in her writing: "USC fans are hard core. By some teams' standards, you're a faithful fan if you attend a few games a year. That just doesn't cut it here in South Central. We love our football, and missing a game is sacrilegious."

Where, you may ask, did Erica Lucero watch the national championship game? Did she watch it in person at the Rose Bowl, 15 miles from USC's campus, where she could have landed a student ticket or maybe even a media pass?

No, she watched it at home, "armed with tortilla chips and my TiVo."


Bill Simmons's Red Sox/Patriots lovefest similarly irritates me, largely because as a Philly sports fan, I had no sympathy for long-suffering Red Sox fans and I also hated seeing the Patriots win three Super Bowls while the Eagles lost three NFC Championships and a Super Bowl in the same four-year span. But I respect Simmons and tolerate his undying love of all things Boston because I relate to him as a fan; when Aaron Boone hit his home run to cut out Sox fans' hearts in '03, he began his article the next day with, "Twenty minutes after the Yankees eliminated the Sox, I called my father to make sure he was still alive." (There's probably a better quote with which to make my point, but I don't have an ESPN Insider account, so that's all I can see.)

I know the feeling; I was in the stands at the 1980 Rink at Lake Placid to see archrival Harvard score in the second overtime to deny Cornell an ECAC championship in '02, and I was watching on TV in seventh grade when Joe Carter hit one of the most famous home runs in World Series history. And when the Eagles lost last year's Super Bowl, I couldn't console myself by telling myself that they finally made it past the NFC Championship game.
[T]he goal of any team, I've said before, is to improve on the previous season. The Eagles finally did that this year, reaching the Super Bowl. So why do I feel like the Eagles fell short?

After the Eagles won the NFC championship a couple weeks ago, I put a background on my computer of Donovan hoisting the NFC championship trophy while Brian Dawkins, T.O., Andy Reid, and a longshoreman-looking Terry Bradshaw stood by. I really wanted to replace that background with one of the Lombardi Trophy. I'm not sure what I'll do with that background now - an NFC championship is nice, but that and $5.75 will get you a provolone wit raw at Geno's.
Erica Lucero might have a lot of things going for her - she likes sports and doesn't think a quarterback is a refund, and she can write relatively well (I know this might sound stupid, but really, I value that kind of thing in today's vacuous world). But her fandom is typical of what I'd expect at USC and in Los Angeles (and really, UCLA by extension - I'll admit that UCLA's fans aren't special either). She'll smile and move on the next day from a huge loss like that. That's one thing I miss about the East Coast - the passion of sports fans, be they Philly, Boston, or even New York fans.

(And shame on Erica's mom, too - I'll forgive a Bruin for rooting for USC against Texas, especially if her daughter goes to USC - but how could she wear a "Fight On!" t-shirt?)


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