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Thursday, October 6, 2005
Perfection has its price

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.

If there's one lesson I've learned from writing this column, it's this: When it comes to sports, people won't hesitate to tell you exactly what they think. Sometimes they even display some insight. One student, from Illinois Central, e-mailed about USC, "I think it is pretty safe to say that they have become the Yankees of college football."

I might not want to admit it, but the guy has a point, and for more than one reason.

At the risk of being on the receiving end of a flurry of e-mails from militant Red Sox fans, I'm going on record here: The New York Yankees have the strongest baseball legacy. You might say they are the USC of their sport.

Like USC, the Yankees have a team that is loaded with talent from top to bottom. Even their bullpen is great … well, Mariano Rivera anyway, and Tom Gordon has his moments. Similarly, the Trojans have so much talent they have players like LenDale White playing second string.

Also, think of the Yankees' start to their season this year, one of the worst they've ever had. But like USC, they seem to redeem themselves, and then some, late in the game. I wouldn't bet against either team winning a championship this year.

So, in the end, this is what it all comes down to: Rooting for USC is like rooting for the Yankees.

Because of their history, their payroll, and the maniacal win-or-die attitude of owner George Steinbrenner -- an attitude shared by most Yankee fans -- anything less than a World Series win is considered a huge failure. Even the pennant would be looked upon as a booby prize.

Matt Leinart & Pete Carroll
Think Matt Leinart and Pete Carroll were jumping for joy, or relief, after overcoming Arizona State?
The Trojans' goal -- and the goal of their fans -- is just as lofty: an undefeated season and national championship. Even a 12-1 season and a Pac-10 crown only would be a disaster.

Most sports fans probably would say it doesn't get much better than the chance to cheer for a team that has even the possibility of reaching such heights. But really, neither team is in a great situation. When anything less than a championship equals a huge disappointment, it's pretty much a no-win situation. The best they can possibly achieve is if they do as expected.

Under those conditions, a happy ending for fans of either team is pretty hard to achieve.

The other night, I headed up the hill to a Dodgers game versus the Pirates, a well-matched pair of chronic underachievers. There is a huge population of L.A.'ers who love them regardless, though, so everyone in the stadium was quite excited when the Dodgers won that night. At Dodger Stadium, victory is never taken for granted, so fans get a huge thrill when the team wins any game, no matter how insignificant. When the Yankees win, however, no one bats an eye. It's expected.

And so it is with the Trojans.

At USC, we haven't torn down a goal post in a long while. There are no small thrills for Trojans fans or Yankee fans. It's all or nothing.

Anyone who thought the game against Oregon was scary, before we came back from a small halftime deficit to blow it open in the second half, got a real scare this past weekend from Arizona State.

We all knew heading into Saturday that the Sun Devils would be a bit more of a challenge than Oregon. But, true to form, most of the people I talked to were convinced that Arizona State would be roasting in its own hell by the time the 100-degree weather began to subside in the evening.

The fact the Trojans were trailing by 18 points at halftime was discomforting, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, most everyone watching, including yours truly, took real solace in the fact that our football team seems to be a superior second-half team this year.

We just didn't realize how true that actually was.

The third quarter started, and White and Reggie Bush -- aka "Thunder and Lightning" -- quickly cut into the deficit. Lately, it seems our Trojans' favorite hobby is to make something out of nothing. Their plays are almost like theatrical statements -- for example, LenDale's quite spectacular dive into the end zone this past weekend, which reminded everybody of Reggie's touchdown somersault against Hawaii in the opener. It was deemed so unnecessarily showy that he was flagged for "excessive celebration." Suddenly, scoring has become a statement of style.

Though we won, setting a school and conference record for consecutive victories (26, if you're counting), the final score of 38-28 was definitely on the uncomfortable side.

Saturday's game allowed us a small, and not necessarily pleasant, view into an alternate universe, one in which USC might not have a perfect record, or, at the very least, one in which every game will be a small headache for us devoted fans. It was when defeat seemed possible that Trojans fans were able to see what rooting for USC actually means.

Like I said: a no-win situation. A defeat is a disaster, and a win isn't such a big deal. Even close wins are somewhat of a disappointment, and heaven forbid we lose to a team like Fresno State. It would make the Bulldogs' century to knock off the Trojans.

Let's all hope that doesn't happen. We've all been told our entire lives that no individual is perfect. But maybe a team of individuals can be.

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.