Battle of the bell: Talking Trojan traditions

Students share the highlights of USC’s annual rivalry week with UCLA

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Tommy Trojan is wrapped, the Trojan Marching Band is playing “Fight On” and USC spirit is popping up all over campus. You know what time of year it is — USC’s annual rivalry week in preparation for Saturday’s football game against UCLA.

The week leading up to the big game against USC’s crosstown rival is filled with historical traditions and school spirit. Some gameday traditions include marching down Trousdale Parkway to the Coliseum, kicking the infamous flag pole and petting Tirebiter’s nose before the game for good luck.

Much of USC’s gameday spirit comes from the performers at the Coliseum, including the Trojan Marching Band and their baton twirler Emily Tutnick.

Though every tradition on campus is exciting to Tutnick, there’s nothing quite like the moment she and the marching band enter the Coliseum and the drum major stabs a sword into the field.

“You can feel the energy and the excitement on the field throughout the whole band,” said the senior American popular culture major. “When we step out onto the field and hear the final tweets of the whistle before the ‘Fanfare’ of our pregame starts, it’s a feeling I can’t explain — it is truly amazing.”

Since she was young, Tutnick has wanted to twirl for USC and represent the Trojan family. In her eyes, performing during rivalry week is about more than simply leaving the Bruins in ruins, it’s about honoring Trojan tradition.

“It unites us all and makes us all excited and proud to be Trojans,” she said. “Especially on a week like this where we really need to be united as one, not only for ourselves because it’s the other school across town, but in order to keep ourselves going the remainder of the semester, the remainder of the season.”

Some of the most iconic traditions are a product of Troy’s spirit leaders: the Helenes and Knights.

Trojan Knights are the oldest brotherhood dedicated to service and spirit at USC. Their history is filled with epic tales that have started many traditions that the Trojan Knights are now tasked with maintaining. The Victory Bell was stolen from UCLA in 1941 by six Knights and became the catalyst for a prank war that could only be resolved through a treatise between student government presidents who agreed that the victor of each game would get to keep the bell. The Victory Bell can now be seen every game day and heard after every Trojan score.

“There’s been a great rivalry throughout the years with a lot of prank wars that have happened, and obviously it’s all the more notorious back in the day,” said Trojan Knight David Alvarado. “Therefore, we have to protect our statue by essentially any means so that doesn’t happen to us.”

Alvarado, along with the rest of the Trojan Knights, is tasked with Tommy Watch. Knights guard the Tommy Trojan statue from rival vandals 24/7 in the week leading up to the game. The Knights Watch sleep under the stars, making it the favored tradition of Alvarado who said that he will go “to any means that doesn’t get you expelled or ruin your life” to protect the statue.

Complimenting the Knights are the Helenes who are the official hostesses of USC and have a similar tradition of guarding Hecuba. Despite lacking the history of Tommy Trojan, Helenes are just as driven to defend the Queen of Troy.

“I will lay my life on the line for the statue,” said Co-President Evie Kay. “I think we all are ready to sacrifice to make sure that Hecuba is safe and protected.”

Because Hecuba was built in 2017, Helenes are in the unique position of starting their own tradition of Hecuba Watch at USC. They also follow the tradition of Gate Call where Helenes and Knights arrive at the Coliseum three hours before the game starts and sets up the student section to get Trojans excited and filled with school spirit.

“There’s something so special about carrying on legacies that have been around forever,” Kay said. “The traditions of USC and Helene’s and Trojan Knights really unite the entire university community, so it’s really cool to be able to meet alumni who, whether they’re 30 or 50 or 70, have done these things when they were at USC.”

Although they are no longer current students, school spirit still runs strong among some alumni. One alumnus, Roy Nwaisser, who is also known as USC Psycho, has garnered notoriety for attending every USC football game for 30 football seasons. His favorite part of game days are the marching band and his infamous tailgates, which would later be dubbed as Psychogate by a Twitter user.

“I live and breathe USC every day, not just the 12 days a year when we have football games,” Nwaisser said. “And it’s a part of who I am. It’s part of what becomes the USC spirit.”