Even some world leaders might not have the type of security Tommy Trojan is receiving on USC’s campus right now.
The life-size bronze statue of a Trojan warrior is currently wrapped in duct tape, guarded by his own personal security detail and monitored via video surveillance.
The figure at the heart of USC’s campus has been at the center of the USC-UCLA rivalry almost since the day it was unveiled in 1930. And with the Trojans and Bruins set to do battle in the Rose Bowl this Saturday, Tommy is once again Public Enemy No. 1 for UCLA students.
The shenanigans started back in 1941 when USC students stole their cross-town rival’s victory bell and stashed it away at a near-by frat house (the bell has since become a traveling trophy between the schools). Not to be outdone, Bruin pranksters returned fire by desecrating Tommy in blue and gold paint and stealing his brass sword, setting off a new-age Trojan War that’s lasted to this day.
In fact, Tommy’s sword has been stolen so many times by UCLA students that he now wields a wooden version because of the hefty cost to replace a brass sword. Tommy’s seen worse. There was the time his arm was sawed off and welded back on so it appeared he was stabbing himself in the back.
And getting doused with paint has been so prevalent over the years that an author once wrote, “Poor Tommy Trojan has been painted and scraped more often than a battleship.”
The most elaborate prank came in 1958 when UCLA students decided to launch an aerial assault on Tommy. Bruin students rented a helicopter, collected bags of manure from a nearby stable and headed to USC’s campus to dump the waste over the Trojan Shrine. But the prank literally blew up in their faces, as the wind from the chopper blades blew much of the manure back onto the UCLA students.
Apparently UCLA students didn’t learn their lesson. In 1981 they attempted to drop blue and gold paint from another helicopter, only to whiff on Tommy.
However, Bruin hooligans were successful two years ago when they splashed baby blue paint all over Tommy’s face two weeks prior to the L.A. showdown when they caught the USC campus off guard.
It won’t be nearly as easy getting to Tommy Trojan this week. The student spirit group named the Trojan Knights is watching over the statue 24 hours a day this week, plus he’s secured in a duct tape cocoon and being monitored over the internet via the university’s TommyCam.
On the flip side, USC students have already antagonized their arch-rivals by dumping red dye into three fountains on the Westwood campus on Monday.
“I can officially say we had no hand in that,” said Eshan Mathur, secretary of the Trojan Knights.
Regardless, the Knights are now awaiting the retaliation they know will come.
“Every year, we deter at least three or four attempts on Tommy… It happens every single year,” explained Mathur, saying most pranksters are inebriated frat boys or pledges under orders.
Mathur’s actually disappointed that UCLA students have lost some the creativity shown from decades ago and instead resorted to just trying to throw paint on Tommy every time the game rolls around.
“There’s not a lot of ingenuity behind these pranks and it’s kind of sad because back in the day you used to have a lot of intensity and passion and it feels like a little bit’s gone from there,” Mathur said.
Maybe a more competitive balance on the football field would restore elaborate schemes from the UCLA student body. Since 1998, UCLA has defeated USC just once – although that victory in 2006 prevented the Trojans from playing in the BCS Championship Game.
In fact, the best prank UCLA pulled in recent years might have been by Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel, who took out a huge ad in the Los Angeles Times in 2008 after being hired by his alma mater that proclaimed, “The Football Monopoly In Los Angeles Is Officially Over.”
It’s been just more of the same the last two seasons under Neuheisel. He’s lost both games to USC by identical scores of 28-7. But with this year’s game on UCLA’s turf and USC limping into the game with a 7-5 record and on probation, this might be UCLA’s best chance to turn the tables.
Neuheisel better do it soon because UCLA fans are growing impatient after a 4-7 record in his third year on the job. Most of the attention Neuheisel has brought to the program has actually been for off-the-field stunts like the Times ad and taking a helicopter to watch recruits play across Los Angeles in what’s been dubbed “Air Neuheisel.”
Who knows? With an axe to grind, a history of crazy stunts and a helicopter at his disposal, Neuheisel might even be plotting his own air strike on Tommy this week.