By Erica Lucero
Special to Page 2

EDITOR'S NOTE: Erica Lucero, a sophomore at Southern Cal, will provide Page 2 with periodic updates from campus this season as the Trojans attempt to win their third consecutive national championship.

I will never forget the moment that the clock silently hit zero and Notre Dame students stormed their seldom-mown field to meet their triumphant football players. As a sophomore who has never watched her college team lose, I was stunned. All I could do was fall onto the sofa and think about what a singular occurrence this was: An entire team of guys was breaking my heart. I realized I was headed for a night of ice cream and venting.

I had thought I would be angry if a team had the gall to fell the Trojans this season. I had pictured myself jumping on the couch, screaming things that I was definitely raised not to say, and then throwing the nearest object at the television.

USC-ND
AP
The USC-Notre Dame was absolutely thrilling, particularly in the final seconds.

I still did that, just not in the context I had imagined.

My lucky number is now seven. Confusion hit almost as soon as the Irish had sufficiently sunk up to their ankles in grass and Pete Carroll had ripped off his headphones in frustration. Sitting in a silent, stunned room, full of my fellow Trojans, we were shocked to see the clock reset to seven seconds. First there was disbelief. Then, as Notre Dame fans were cleared off the field, the adrenaline rush hit.

The next day, Bill Plaschke would report in the L.A. Times that Matt Leinart said, "I just kept saying to myself, 'You don't want to hit the ground.'" And he didn't. With a collective gasp, we watched as he half-somersaulted, half-shoved his way through (with an assist from Reggie Bush) and then found himself safe in the end zone.

We waited until the scoreboard certified that we had the lead, then the celebration started. The missed extra point and the measly three seconds left didn't slow us down a bit; we did what all intelligent college students do after a time of crisis, defined as anything from a final to your team losing -- we acted in a way that would have horrified our mothers.

Fraternity row went crazy. Everyone poured out of their houses, screaming and waving to one another. Frat boys threw things (the bigger and louder the better), girls jumped up and down, screaming and clutching their beating hearts, and cars streaked down The Row, blasting their horns. Even the LAPD paid tribute, flipping on their sirens to take a lap.

Let's face it: This game caused some physical harm. One of my friends literally busted a gut: She jumped up so quickly that she pulled a muscle near her stomach and was in pain the rest of the day. She informed me a few days later that she was considering seeking medical advice.

There were also some slightly more therapeutic physical reactions. I have had several guys make it a point to approach me and calmly inform me that the game was so beautiful, they cried.

It all adds up to the two words that have been reverberating around campus and, by the looks of the e-mails I've gotten, many other places as well: instant classic. Days after the game, it seems that's all people can say. Prompt them with anything like, "Wasn't Saturday crazy?" and they'll inevitably say, "Oh, man, instant classic."

As a college student, it often seems that every teacher's mission is to teach you to ask questions about everything under the sun until you're blue in the face. So, as a direct result of my training, I can't help but ask, at least for this game: What does "instant classic" really mean?

I could go with the usual criteria: Well-matched teams and head coaches, historical rivalary, those last insane 30 seconds.

All well and good, but there's something else here.

I respect my fellow Trojans and the high value they put on competition -- though, to be honest, they can sometimes be a bit cutthroat. We're taught to succeed, go for the gold and sometimes a bit of intra-family trampling is in order. Saturday was different. All up and down my street, people waved, gave high-fives, even hugged. The famous "Trojan Family" manifested itself that night: We all kicked back, shared a laugh, and rested on our team's laurels.

Pete Carroll & Charlie Weis
AP
The class shown by everyone, especially Charlie Weis, was wonderful to see.

And it wasn't only our campus that behaved so well. One word for Notre Dame: classy.

I was expecting to get all sorts of nasty e-mails from Fighting Irish fans, what with the impending and very hyped game last week. I stand corrected. Every single e-mail wished our team the best and was nothing but respectful. Unlike some of the students of USC's other football rivals, the students of Notre Dame didn't send me a single unpleasant line.

Maybe they get it from their coach. It will definitely go down in history that Charlie Weis headed straight to the visiting team's locker room after the game. Apparently, he not only congratulated the team on their win but proceeded to wish them luck with the rest of their season. Now that's a class act.

I have heard countless stories from people this week telling me how wonderful Notre Dame fans were. There have been reports of partying together, USC students walking about the Notre Dame campus in cardinal-and-gold and being warmly greeted, and people offering congratulations immediately following the game.

I heard of only one black mark against their record, and that was more comic than menacing. An elderly gentleman warned a friend of mine not to enter a Porta-Potty, or else he would intrude on her business by making it his business to turn it over … with her in it. Despite that slightly awkward experience, she too couldn't say enough about the "amazing" Irish.

And to top everything off, I even got an e-mail from a Notre Dame alum who just so happened to be a walk-on player for the Irish a few years back. He told me he was looking forward to the game, wished the Trojans luck, and ended the message with "Take care!" After the game he followed up, sending his compliments, "It will be fun to watch history being made by your team winning three consecutive national championships."

He must take after Charlie Weis.

So, in the end, maybe it wasn't so much about who made what plays and who shoved whom into the end zone. This classic included something rarer: a whole lot of class.

Erica Lucero is a 19-year-old USC student from Upland, Calif., working on an English major and an American studies minor. Her activities on campus include serving as an officer of her sorority, representing the Trojan Alumni Association as a Pepster and acting as a peer mediator.




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INSTANT CLASSIC