“Outside the Pocket” is a column by Sam Arslanian about USC football.
I jokingly tell friends and family that the best part about covering college football games is the pregame meal provided to the press. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum completed a massive $315 million renovation just before the start of the season that included the construction of a brand new press box. The Coliseum staff also offered much-improved press meals this season, so I saw it fit to provide my power rankings of all the meals I had covering Trojan football games this season.
Here is a behind the scenes look at how your favorite USC media members were fed this season.
The best part about a waffle is the nice exterior crunch before reaching the soft inside. A biscuit’s best quality is the flaky, buttery layers that are beautifully complemented by a nice gravy. These waffle biscuits had neither of those qualities. I appreciated the creativity, but what was left was a dry, puck-sized biscuit shaped like a waffle. UW did roll out hot dogs at halftime which helped combat the cold of the open Seattle press box. I will also give an honorable mention to Washington for having a cooler of Coors Light for the press postgame.
Since moving to Los Angeles, I have become a sort of street taco connoisseur. Don’t get me wrong; I love tacos. But hard shell tacos are not the ideal meal in a workspace. It is impossible to flip through handouts or design graphics with salsa-covered fingers. I will give kudos to the Coliseum food providers; the beef and chicken were well-seasoned and made for a wonderful and warm meal for the chilly night games, but the impracticality of the meal knocks it way down on my list.
Being from Detroit, I have a soft spot for a hot dog and chili. To my dismay, I was not met with Coney dogs but instead a vat of bean chili and a decent hot dog. The Fighting Irish redeemed themselves with a second meal at halftime: pulled pork on Hawaiian rolls. The sweet rolls complemented the pork and made for a great halftime snack, much better than its pregame counterpart. It is also important to note that Papa John’s Pizza was brought in for a postgame snack, but it was finished off before I returned to the press box from the press conference.
If you are like me and have no idea what Cavatappi noodles look like, it’s those swirly, squiggly-looking noodles. I’m sorry. I’m a sports journalist, not a food blogger. The noodles were a little short on marinara sauce which made them a tad dry. The dish was topped by a breaded piece of chicken that was also a bit dry. Luckily, the Coliseum press box has a massive fridge of water bottles stocked to the brim to quench my thirst.
I had high expectations for the meal at the Holiday Bowl — especially after the man checking credentials at the front of the food line told me that it was ranked fifth among bowl games for hospitality. I am unable to compare the food to another bowl game because I have only covered USC for two seasons — and, well, you know how 2018 ended.
The corned beef was extremely tender and juicy and was adequately topped with cabbage. It was paired perfectly with a warm, thick bowl of tomato bisque that warmed my insides in the chilly open press box when temperatures reached 45 degrees — freezing for a Southern California resident. The biggest downside was that media members were limited to controlled portions and only allowed one entry to the food line. If given the opportunity, I would have eaten three times the amount of corned beef I had.
If you don’t appreciate a good pesto spread on a sandwich, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Cal provided sizable sandwiches for the media — enough to save half for a mid-game snack. Media members were limited to just one sandwich, but you really didn’t need more than one. I also grabbed what I thought was a normal hot dog on a very fancy bun. It wasn’t until I bit into the hot dog and was greeted with a fantastic spicy kick that I realized I had grabbed a Cajun hot dog. I don’t know that I will ever actively seek out a Cajun hot dog again, but it was a nice surprise and definitely changed things up from the boring “normie” hot dogs provided in most press boxes.
Arizona State is a school that has a reputation as a “party school,” So it was sort of ironic that its press meal spread resembled that of a tailgate. The burgers were much thicker than what I anticipated but were just what you would expect from mass-produced patties served on platters. They were good, but nothing to write home about.
So why is ASU so high on this list? Much like Kedon Slovis this season, the bratwursts put the team on its back and carried the meal up to No. 5. The brats were thick with an extremely crunchy exterior before reaching the juicy interior — and paired with mustard, it was game over.
The two most important qualities of barbeque are juicy meat and a hearty side of baked beans. The Coliseum provided just that. The pulled pork was moist and wasn’t drowned in barbeque sauce. I would have liked to see a little thicker consistency for the baked beans, but by no means was it an inadequate dish. I really wish USC tied the whole meal together with a great piece of cornbread, but you can’t get everything you want.
I love chicken parm. For this entry to be this high on my list, it needed to meet some very critical criteria. While slightly smaller than a carnivore like myself would like, the chicken breast was breaded perfectly and covered in a warm cheese that topped a great plate of pasta.
But what held the dish back was the side dish. The Coliseum does this weird thing where the side salad is just lettuce and croutons. It’s not bad, but I would appreciate something a little more substantial on the side of the chicken parm dish. Unlike a lot of other stadiums, the food was unlimited so I had three plates of chicken parm. Who needs a salad when you can do that?
Colorado knows how to eat. The Buffaloes treated the media to a massive spread of different dishes. The chicken was just a tad dry and thin — not my favorite, but not bad. The sausage had a crisp casing and was very juicy. The macaroni was drowned in a perfect blend of cheesy goodness that tied the entire meal together.
Postgame meals are never expected, but they are more than appreciated. After the press conference, I returned to the press box and was greeted by avocado turkey sandwiches and a fondue pot of nacho cheese to compliment the chips and salsa. Colorado topped it all off with the best press box cookies I have ever had, with every kind of cookie I could possibly want.
It was only USC’s third game of the year and the first away contest of the season, yet I knew that no other college would come close to the meal that BYU provided. Imagine Fogo de Chao in platters. Three different types of meat, each one as savory as the next. The steak, chicken and bacon-wrapped sausage were complemented beautifully with a side salad and potato wedges. If you provide steak to the media, it would be an injustice to come in anywhere besides first place. There was no coffee in the press box — a staple of a media workspace — but the food more than made up for it.
“Outside the Pocket” runs every Monday.