Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Oregon Ducks 20 at USC Trojans 45 (NCAA Football, Pac-12) - November 5, 2016

With four new Club 122 venues scattered about North America this winter, I'm taking three short trips to cover them all. The first stop was in Los Angeles to see the Rams at venerable Memorial Coliseum. Of course, the Rams played here between 1946-79, but that was long before I started sports road tripping, so it had to be visited to retain my membership in the club. The Rams only have seven home games this season as they played one in London, and with a few weekends already spoken for on my side, I didn't have much choice of what game to see. In the end, I decided on the first weekend in November as I could also see USC football take on Oregon the day before the Rams hosted defending NFC champion Carolina.

I flew to LAX on Friday evening after work and walked to my nearby hotel, something that many travellers staying on Century Blvd. do to avoid waiting for a crowded shuttle. It is only 10-15 minutes from Terminal 1 depending on the hotel at which you are staying. On Saturday, rather than rent a car for a day, I took a bus to the Coliseum, arriving about two hours before kickoff. Yes, LA does have a public transit system and it works pretty well once you know where you are going.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I took my time walking around the outer concourse, which is where most of the concession stands can be found. Try the bacon-wrapped hot dog if you can stomach the $8 charge; generally concessions here are very overpriced. As you wander, you will get an idea of the structure of the stadium, which is a large oval with numbered tunnels and stairways to take you into the seating bowl. The tunnels at ground level were all guarded and you were only supposed to enter via the tunnel listed on your section, but there was no such restriction on the stairways.

Before entering, you should check out the iconic front of the venue, with its arch, Olympic rings, and torch.

There are also several plaques around, including one that details the history of the stadium. Note that it was originally opened in 1923 and has hosted both the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics, the only stadium to serve this purpose twice.

All the medal winners from both Olympiads are honoured on walls on either side of the large plaza at the entrance as part of the Court of Honor.

Between these two walls are several dozen plaques honouring "persons or events, athletic or otherwise, that have had a definite impact upon the history, glory, and growth" of the stadium. Unfortunately much of this area is closed off to the average fan as it seems to be an entrance to the suites that sit behind the east end zone so you won't be able to see every plaque. I've included the plaque for Pierre De Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics.

Once inside, you can make your way to the seating bowl which is majestic in all respects. A beautiful symmetric layout with the main entrance and torch at the east end. The lowest 14 rows of seats (a light pink) replaced the running track during a renovation in 1993, so they are not as steep as the other rows. Los Angeles is one of three candidate cities for the 2024 Olympics, so the stadium would  undergo another upgrade if that happens. Note that the sun shines into the north side of the stadium so if you attend an afternoon game, try to sit higher up between sections 6 and 16.

A close up of the entrance with the suites visible above and below the sections with retired numbers. Note the clock to the left below the American flag, while an analog thermometer takes up the same spot on the right side.

Below you can see the entrances to the seating bowl; the upper entrances are those reached from the stairways while the lower ones are at ground level outside the stadium. The lower section goes until row 43, while the upper section goes from rows 69-93. Binoculars are useful once you are this high.

The press box is in the top left corner of the shot below.

The facade of the press box is festooned with honours afforded to the Trojan football program, including several national titles.

The inner concourses are quite narrow and offer many more concessions, though none of them offered anything unusual.

Perhaps the oddest thing I saw was a television that seems to have been installed when the building was renovated in 1964.

The Trojan gameday experience adds a great finishing touch. The band puts on a large show before the game that gets fans in the mood.

Another nice aspect is Traveler, a white horse that appears after every touchdown and rides around from the southwest entrance to the northwest. On the way back, the rider slows and slaps hands with anyone in the front row. I happened to be in the second row in the west end zone, so had plenty of chances to say hi to Traveler.

Overall, I really appreciated everything this stadium has to offer. Yeah, it is old, but it is timeless and the Court of Honor is unique in the stadium world. It is a shame that part of it is inaccessible to most fans, but that doesn't detract from the overall USC football experience. What did detract was the game itself.

The Game

The Oregon Ducks were in town and the local fans were not impressed with their loss in the 2015 National Championship.

Of course, Marcus Mariota has since moved on to the NFL, and the Ducks were struggling this year with freshman QB Justin Herbert leading the team to a 3-5 record. Meanwhile, USC was on a 4-game win streak after a 1-3 start with red-shirt freshman Sam Darnold at the helm. This one got off to a slow start with an Oregon offensive penalty that necessitated two further stoppages to reset the game clock. The Ducks eventually punted, which meant a TV timeout, the first of approximately 250,000 on the night. On the Trojans first play from scrimmage, there was a pass interference call that was reviewed. Hey, another TV timeout! The first two minutes of game time took close to 15 actual minutes but that just delayed the inevitable. USC kicked a field goal on their first possession and then added two touchdowns from Ronald Jones II, including a nice 23-yard scamper.

Oregon managed a touchdown but missed the convert and USC scored before the end of the half to take a 24-6 lead into the break. The first half took 1h50m, simply ridiculous for 30 minutes of action.

On the third play of the third quarter, Jones II (not III) raced 66 yards for his third score of the game and the rest of the match was purely academic. During the break before the final frame, Traveler appeared and rode to the east end zone, where his rider pointed his sword at the torch, which lit up, as you can see above. Both teams added two more touchdowns, with Jones II getting his fourth of the game to tie a school record. There's the final below in a game that took nearly four hours to complete. Most fans had left long before the final whistle and it is hard to blame them. I realize the game is made for TV, but I wonder how much longer fans will abide these high ticket and concession prices for long games before giving up.


When I planned the trip, I also expected to see the L.A. Kings hosting Calgary after this game, which I hoped would start around noon local time. However, ESPN decided upon a 4 p.m. kickoff, which rendered the Kings contest and its 7 p.m. face off an impossibility unless I left midway through the third quarter. I am not one to leave games early, especially after investing a handsome sum to gain admittance, so this was the only sporting event on this day for me. But the later start did have a happy side in that I was able to spend some time at my favourite spot in the world, namely the In-N-Out by LAX.

Not only can you enjoy a Double Double Animal Style, but you can watch planes landing from a small hill just across the street. It is quite a popular spot and a great way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.



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