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Fisher: Stanford always takes USC’s best shot

When I came to Stanford just over three years ago, I didn’t know much about the Cardinal’s football rivalries.

Of course I’d heard of Big Game and Stanford’s overall rivalry with Cal, I knew Oregon was really good and I was aware of the yearly date with Notre Dame. It still took me a few years on campus, however, to begin to truly understand what those games mean.

But when it came to USC, I knew what I was in for the moment the Trojan Marching Band walked out of the tunnel at Stanford Stadium on Oct. 9, 2010, just a few weeks into my freshman year.

I won’t ever forget that moment. Sitting with one of my best friends in the front of the Red Zone right after the gates opened, waiting impatiently for the game to begin, I sat in disbelief as I heard “Tribute to Troy” in person for the first time. I don’t like USC — though, to be honest, I did root for the Trojans over Vince Young’s Texas Longhorns back in middle school — but that moment was truly surreal. So I turned to my friend Jordan and said, to try to justify the emotions flowing through me at the time, “We are at a big-time college football game.”

It sounds silly in retrospect, but at the time the feeling was profound. Hate them or love them, but the USC Trojans were college football for a lot of the 2000s, which was exactly when I grew into the football fan I am today. So to be a part of a prime-time college football matchup between my Stanford Cardinal and USC…well, that was cooler than I ever could have imagined almost a decade earlier.

At the time, I didn’t know how crazy that night would be. Andrew Luck ’12 was spectacular, but so was USC quarterback Matt Barkley. To watch two great quarterbacks go blow for blow — pun intended on Luck’s hit of cornerback Shareece Wright — was awe-inspiring. The emotional rollercoaster, finally ending with a field storming after a walk-off field goal from Nate Whitaker ’10, was a great introduction to the rivalry with USC and a perfect preview for what was to come.

I’ll spare you all the details of my experience in 2011, at the nail-biter in Los Angeles, or in 2012, broadcasting my first big football victory, but as you all know, my senior class enters this week having never witnessed a loss against the Trojans, which is a pretty good feeling to have.

Yet this “domination,” unlike so many of the other active winning streaks the Cardinal has right now (three-plus years against every California school, for one) has been anything but dominant. For some reason, no matter the state of USC football, Stanford seems to get the Trojans’ best shot.

So when USC fired head coach Lane Kiffin back at the end of September, I couldn’t help but think, “Here we go again.” In classic USC form of the past few years, turmoil is wreaking havoc on the program; yet, just in time for its date with Stanford, USC seems to have turned a corner and is playing its best football of the season by far.

So, if I’ve learned anything in my four years of watching Stanford football up close, it’s to never overlook a Stanford-USC matchup. All three have been decided by a single possession, and all three have been on my list of the most exciting football games I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

Now the only thing left to wonder is what is going to make this year’s game special. I’ve got a funny feeling that Stanford fans are going to have to sweat out another “Cardiac Cardinal” moment in the Coliseum. I’m not sure it will get as stressful as the stretch between Luck’s pick-six and Stanford’s eventual victory in 2011, but it could come close.

And I have to admit that, against USC, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The University of Sam’s Concern has placed an AED in his broadcast booth in advance of Saturday’s showdown. Tell Fisher’s analyst how to shock him back to life at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu, and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.

About Sam Fisher

Sam Fisher is the managing editor of sports for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 244. Sam also does play-by-play for KZSU's coverage of Stanford football, Stanford baseball and Stanford women's basketball. In 2013, Sam co-authored "Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football," with Joseph Beyda and George Chen.
  • Robert

    Sam – As a long time Trojan, loved your article. You capture the spirit of the rivalry well. Years ago, back in the 80s when I was a student, I was traveling back up to my house in Orinda from SC when I stopped off in a bookstore in Solvang. As I was looking at old boxes of stuff, I found a stash of old Stanford/USC programs from the 1920s and 30s. One even with Marion Morrison (John Wayne) playing for USC and some with Pop Warner as Stanford’s coach. I bought as many as I could afford on a student budget. There is a long, rich tradition between California’s private universities. One that you captured well in your story. Keep up the good writing. Fight On!

  • LA_Banker

    Indeed, Stanford is USC’s oldest rival with the series dating back to 1905 (we did not play Notre Dame until 1926 nor UCLA until 1929). So, it’s safe to say there’s a fair bit of history here.

  • George L

    I’ve observed 3 core rivalries to USC, crosstown UCLA, Notre Dame and Stanford. Its great to find out that Stanford is one of the oldest.

  • Cheap seats

    I’m a Trojan and loved the article. I think Stanford has played hard-nosed football the way it SHOULD be played in the PAC-12.

    While almost all teams have gone spread offense in the conference ala Oregon, Stanford shows they can still punch you in the mouth. Don’t get me wrong — it’s very painful to watch my team’s demise the past years. However, it softens the blow when I see how you guys have been winning.

    btw – Our “Fight On” slogan came from a track meet loss vs. Stanford. LA Times writer Olin Bird wrote that USC “Fought on like Trojans”.

  • Josh Selbe

    Great article! As a recent USC alumnus (class of 2013), I was not fortunate enough to see a Trojan victory over Stanford during my undergraduate career. As if it were possible, your article has infused even more excitement in me for Saturday. College Gameday, a rocking Coliseum, the battle of the bands–it is going to be quite a sight. This truly is a special game–the two premier private schools on the West Coast (of course Stanford is the best academic institution in the nation) battling it out in a NorCal-SoCal rivalry. Saturday cannot come fast enough! Fight On for ol’ SC!

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