Kurt Kragthorpe: Utes will know what Coliseum sounds like
The songs "Fight On" and "Conquest" blare incessantly from the loudspeakers above Utah's practice field, where the Utes' scout team players wear USC-style cardinal and gold jerseys.
In preparing his team for Saturday's visit to the Los Angeles Coliseum, Ute coach Kyle Whittingham thought of everything short of bringing in a white horse to circle the field after touchdowns, white-sweatered Song Girls or celebrity impersonators to adorn the sidelines.
Actually, that last part is unnecessary. The NCAA's sanctions against the Trojans keep "non-university personnel" off the field. Everything else about the Coliseum atmosphere remains intact: The "Spirit of Troy," the marching band with its iconic songs; Traveler VII, the latest incarnation of the white horse with a Trojan rider; and the history of a stadium that has hosted the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the World Series.
"To me, it's one of the great venues for football," said Ute offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a former USC assistant.
Among the Trojans' legends is the story of how O.J. Simpson chose USC over Utah because of the horse. Well, it helped draw Chow to the school.
While working at North Carolina State, one year removed from his long BYU tenure, Chow initially declined USC's offer. "But then I started thinking about the white horses and all the history that goes along with it," Chow said this week, "and you can't turn down a job like that."
Utah is appearing in the Coliseum for the first time in 63 years, launching the school's Pac-12 competition. The facility is not as visually striking or loud as Texas' Royal-Memorial Stadium, where BYU will play Saturday. But there's an aura about the Coliseum that's instantly recognizable, even contagious.
Maybe it's just the music.
Ute offensive line coach Tim Davis, who worked with Chow at USC, was asked after practice if that music still gets his blood flowing. "A little," he said, "because it's really irritating. It's got that monotone â¦ it drives you insane. What's important is that our guys disregard it."
That's not what Utah linebacker Brian Blechen intends to do.
"When I hear the fight song and the drums, I'll be getting pumped up even though it's not for my team," said Blechen, a Southern California native who attended a USC game almost annually. "Just playing in that atmosphere, I'll be anxious and excited for it. For USC fans, the Coliseum is one of the most sacred places ever."
Pete Carroll, USC's coach from 2001-09, re-established USC's winning tradition. The Trojans won national titles in 2003 and '04 with Chow and Davis on the staff, although the second BCS championship was vacated.
With no NFL team in town, Carroll made the Coliseum a cultural happening. Celebrities? Even the reserved Chow can rattle off the Trojans' "A" list from those high-powered days, stars who became his friends: "Tons of 'em. You name 'em: Will Ferrell, Snoop Dogg, everybody," he said.
The evidence of excess that brought NCAA investigators to the campus had more to do with overzealous boosters than famous fans, but the sideline looks a lot different now on game days. There are more empty seats, too. Last weekend, USC drew fewer than 70,000 fans (capacity: 93,607) for Minnesota's visit.
The combination of a conference game and an influx of some 10,000 Ute fans should drive attendance higher Saturday.
Whittingham was 5 when his father, Fred, played for the Los Angeles Rams, giving him "vague, fleeting memories" of Sundays in the Coliseum. Whittingham himself played there in the USFL, facing Steve Young's LA Express, and has attended a few USC games.
Ute running back John White grew up as a fan of USC, where his mother worked in the financial aid office. "Always had good seats," White recalled. His other memories? "They're always playing music, there's always a horse running around."
The sights and sounds will be in full force Saturday, although the Utes can minimize the effects to some degree. During games, Traveler VII runs only after USC scores and the band supposedly delivers the famous songs only after big plays. Maybe that's Whittingham's strategy: By Saturday, the Utes will have heard enough.
Utah is facing USC in the Coliseum for the first time in 63 years to launch Pac-12 competition. But neither the Utes, nor BYU, nor Utah State has ever had success there:
1925 • USC 28, Utah 2
1928 • USC 40, Utah State 12
1930 • USC 65, Utah State 0
1932 • USC 35, Utah 0
1933 • UCLA 21, Utah 0
1948 • USC 27, Utah 0
1956 • UCLA 13, Utah 7
1959 • UCLA 16, Utah 9
1973 • UCLA 66, Utah 16
1984 • USC 42, Utah State 7
1989 • USC 66, Utah State 10
2003 • USC 35, BYU 18
Utah at USC
P Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • Versus