USC History

Looking back, who would have thought that a tiny school founded by the Methodist Church would emerge to become one of the top football powers in the country?

There have been so many accomplishments in these 1,000-plus games: 11 national titles, 6 Heisman Trophy winners, 33 Rose Bowls and 163 All-Americans. Trojan football history is packed with heroic moments and legendary names.

The names are etched clearly in our memories: Gloomy Gus. The Thundering Herd. John McKay. Iron Mike. And the famous games still resonate: the twin comebacks versus Notre Dame, the recurring nail-biters against UCLA, the triumphant Rose Bowls.

These are the moments that made the Coliseum USC’s home for over 90 years. 

These memories are forever sewn into the fabric of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

1923 USC 23, Pomona 7

This was USC’s first ever game played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

1926 USC 12, Notre Dame 13

This was the first game in the USC/Notre Dame rivalry.  Considered to be the greatest intersectional rivalry in college football,  USC and Notre Dame played for the 86th time in 2015.

1928 USC 10, Stanford 0

Howard Jones had not beaten Glenn “Pop” Warner’s Stanford Indians in three tries until his Thundering Herd did it before 80,000 at the Coliseum this year. The legendary Warner considered this Stanford team to be his best, but they lost five turnovers to USC that day. Stanford’s 10-pound per-man weight advantage was offset by the Trojans’ “quick-mix” defense and a speedy backfield comprised of Don Williams, Russ Saunders and Marshall Duffield. This was a landmark game as it signaled Troy’s emergence as the preeminent power on the West Coast. USC went on to win its first national title that season and Jones never lost to Warner again.

1929 USC 76, UCLA 0

This was the first-ever USC vs. UCLA game and gave birth to one of the greatest rivalries in college football.  The battle for the City of Los Angeles has now been played for the 83rd time.  USC holds a decided advantage in the series with 45 wins 31 losses and 7 ties.  

1944 USC 38, Washington 7

This was USC’s first home night game in the Coliseum. The game program reported: “This may well be the one and only Coliseum night game in Trojan varsity football history.” That year, Washington was under wartime travel restrictions and was forced to schedule two California games in seven days. A schedule conflict resulted and an exception had to be made to USC’s longstanding policy of playing Saturday afternoons. The game was a success. The attendance of 62,865 was USC’s largest for a home game that year. As a result, home night games became a regular part of the USC schedule.

The game program reported:

This may well be the one and only Coliseum night game in Trojan varsity football history.

1953 USC 23, Stanford 20

Sam Tsagalakis kicked a victorious 38-yard field goal with 14 seconds left.

1967 USC 21, UCLA 20

O.J. Simpson ran 64 yards for a TD with 10:38 left in the fourth quarter to give USC a Rose Bowl berth and the national championship. It is one of the most famous runs in college football history. 

1969 USC 26, Stanford 24

Ron Ayala kicked a game-winning 34-yard field goal with 0:00 on the clock.

1969 USC 14, UCLA 12

Jimmy Jones hit Sam Dickerson with a 32-yard TD pass in the corner of the end zone with 1:32 left, putting USC in the Rose Bowl.

1972 USC 45, Notre Dame 23

Anthony Davis’ 6 TDs as a soph vs. Notre Dame, a 45-23 USC win (he had 11 TDs in his 3-game career vs. ND).

1974 Notre Dame Game

In what is regarded as one of the most dramatic and incredible comebacks in the history of college football, the 1974 Trojans erased a 24-point deficit to beat Notre Dame, 55-24, in the Coliseum. In a December 1998 list by SPORT magazine, the game was ranked as the No. 6 top college football moment of the 20th century.


1977 USC 29, UCLA 27

Frank Jordan kicked a 38-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining, knocking UCLA out of the Rose Bowl

1978 USC 27, Notre Dame 25

A year after his late game-winner against UCLA, Frank Jordan kicked a nearly identical 37-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining to beat Notre Dame.  This win propelled USC to the Rose Bowl and eventually the National Championship.

1981 USC 28, Oklahoma 24

Fred Cornwell caught a 7-yard TD pass from John Mazur with 2 seconds to play to give No. 1 USC the win over No. 2 Oklahoma.

1987 USC 17, UCLA 13

Erik Affholter made a juggling, corner-of-the-end zone 33-yard TD catch of a Rodney Peete pass with 7:59 to play in the game, bringing USC all the way back from a 13-0 third quarter deficit. The win put USC in the Rose Bowl.

1995 USC 31, Stanford 30

A week after the dramatic Washington tie, USC--behind 16-0 in the second quarter--scored with 39 seconds to play on an 8-yard Kyle Wachholtz pass to Keyshawn Johnson, who then came in as a safety on defense and knocked down a Hail Mary pass at the goal line at the gun.

1996 USC 27, Notre Dame 20

In its first overtime win in 3 tries in 1996, Delon Washington scored on a 15-yard run with 1:50 to go in regulation and then barely edged the ball over the goal line on the ensuing 2-point conversion run to tie the game at 20-20. After Rodney Sermons caught a 5-yard TD pass from Brad Otton in the first overtime, Troy stopped the Irish, breaking USC's 13-game non-winning streak to Notre Dame. 

2001 USC 27, UCLA 0

This game, the regular season finale of the 2001 season, exemplified the attitude and style that first-year head coach Pete Carroll brought to Trojan football. The Trojan defense was spectacular, holding UCLA to a paltry 114 yards and 10 first downs. USC picked off three UCLA passes, including an amazing between-the-legs snatch by cornerback Antuan Simmons, which he returned 36 yards for a touchdown. It was USC's first shutout of UCLA since 1947.

Nothing beats a great defense

2002 USC 44, Notre Dame 13

While the 2001 UCLA game was about re-establishing USC in Los Angeles, the 2002 Notre Dame game was about re-establishing USC on a national level. 

2004 USC 23, California 17

Aaron Rodgers, who earlier in the game had completed his first 23 passes (tying an NCAA record), guided Cal to first-and-goal at the USC 9-yard line with 1:47 to play, but a Manuel Wright sack and 3 incomplete passes ended the No. 7 Bears' upset hopes over No. 1 USC.

2005 USC 66, UCLA 19

In Matt Leinart’s last game in the Coliseum the Trojans Dominate UCLA, 66-19.  USC Wins 34th consecutive game and 16th straight against a ranked opponent, and earn birth in BCS Championship Game.

2008 USC 44, Oregon 10

These guys came out and played like crazy. This was a big moment for us.

– Pete Carroll

2011 USC 23, Utah 14

Not only was this the first game in Pac-12 history, but the final score was updated 2 hours after the game by Pac-12 clarification to include a USC touchdown that occurred during a penalty on the contest's final play.

2013 USC 20, Stanford 17

Following a midfield interception, Andre Heidari's 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play gave gave the win over No. 5 Stanford, as the crowd stormed the field at game's end.

2015 USC 42, Utah 24

In Clay Helton’s Coliseum debut as Head Coach and the Trojans first home appearance of the season, USC knocked No. 3 Utah from the unbeaten ranks. With the 42-24 win, the Trojans have continued to keep Utah winless in Los Angeles since 1916.

2015 USC 40, UCLA 21

In the 85th edition of their crosstown showdown, USC beat No. 22 UCLA 40-21 to clinch the Pac-12 South title. The Trojans defeated UCLA for the first time since 2011 and scored the most points against the Bruins since their 50-0 win in 2011, their third most points since USC’s 66-19 win in 2005.


Traveler, USC's Mascot

Traveler, the noble white horse that appears at all USC home football games with a regal Trojan warrior astride, is one of the most famous college mascots.

Traveler first made an appearance at USC football games in 1961 (in the home opener versus Georgia Tech).  Bob Jani, then USC’s director of special events, and Eddie Tannenbaum, then a junior at USC, had spotted Richard Saukko riding his white horse, Traveler I, in the 1961 Rose Parade.  They persuaded Saukko to ride his white horse around the Coliseum during USC games, serving as a mascot. Ever since, whenever USC scores, the band plays “Conquest” and Traveler gallops around the Coliseum.

Tommy Trojan

In the center of the USC campus stands one of the most famous collegiate landmarks in the country: Tommy Trojan. Since being unveiled in 1930 for USC’s 50th jubilee, the statue of the bronzed Trojan warrior has served not only as a popular meeting place on campus, but as a symbol of the university’s fighting spirit.

Sculpted by Roger Noble Burnham (the idea for the statue was conceived by Harry Lee Martin and Dr. James D. McCoy), Tommy Trojan cost $10,000 to build. A $1 surcharge then on season football tickets helped pay for it.

The statue is a composite of many USC football players from the late 20s, most notably 1930 Rose Bowl Player of the Game Russ Saunders and All-American Erny Pinckert.

Inscribed on the statue’s base is “THE TROJAN” and the university’s seal, with the Latin motto “Palmam qui meruit ferat (Let him who deserves it bear away the palm).” Below the seal are inscribed the qualities of the ideal Trojan: “Faithful, Scholarly, Skillful, Courageous and Ambitious.

Origin of the Trojans Nickname

USC’s nickname, “Trojans,” originated in 1912. Up to that time the University of Southern California teams were called the Methodists or Wesleyans, nicknames which were not looked upon with favor by university officials. So, Warren Bovard, director of athletics and son of university president Dr. George Bovard, asked Los Angeles Times sports editor Owen Bird to select an appropriate nickname.

“At this time, the athletes and coaches of the university were under terrific handicaps,” recalled Bird. “They were facing teams that were bigger and better-equipped, yet they had splendid fighting spirit. The name ‘Trojans’ fitted them. I came out with an article prior to a showdown between USC and Stanford in which I called attention to the fighting spirit of USC athletes and named them ‘Trojans.’ From then on, we used the term ‘Trojan’ all the time, and it stuck. The term ‘Trojan’ as applied to USC means to me that no matter what the situation, what the odds or what the conditions, the competition must be carried on to the end and those who strive must give all they have and never be weary in doing so.”

Colors: Cardinal & Gold

Before 1895, the official color of USC was gold.  The official color of the College of Liberal Arts was cardinal.  The college had its own official color because it was the largest academic unit in the University.  In 1895, both colors were adopted as USC’s official colors.

The Trojan Marching Band

Known as “The Spirit of Troy” — is the most dynamic and innovative collegiate band in the nation. Named among the 8 best marching bands in the country by USA Today, the band is one of USC's most visible public relations tools and provides tireless support of USC athletic teams.

The Trojan Marching Band is complemented by the USC Silks (tall flags) and twirlers, plus the world-famous USC Song Girls, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation by Sports Illustrated, and the Spirit Leaders. 

In 2009, ESPN.com named the band and Song Girls as the nation's best:  "Nothing says 'glamour school' more than the ubiquitous presence of the USC Song Girls and the Trojan Marching Band.  The Spirit of Troy brings one of the most stirring sounds in college football, while the USC Song Girls give Trojan games ones of the sport's most indelible sights."  In 2014, USAToday.com named the band as the "Best Band in College Football."