If there’s one opponent sure to raise the ire of Arizona State fans, it’s the University of Southern California. Just the sound of the Trojans’ fight song, “Fight On,” or the sight of their mascot, “Traveler,” gets Sun Devil blood boiling.
It all started on an October evening in 1978, when Arizona State stunned USC in its first Pacific 10 Conference game. The Frank Kush-led Devils played over their heads that night, defeating tailback Charles White, safety Ronnie Lott and coach John Robinson and the mighty Men of Troy, 20-7.
Former All American defensive end Al Harris, who went on from ASU to a stellar career in the NFL with the Chicago Bears, has “fond” memories of the first ASU-USC matchup. “I think most people thought we were going to get slaughtered, including our friends and family members who lied to us about it during the week,” said Harris. “If I was them, I would have thought the same thing.”
Kush recalled the inauspicious start to the heated rivalry in a 2003 article published in the East Valley Tribune. “They (USC) had never played Arizona State before, and they didn’t know who the hell Arizona State was,” he said. “A lot of the kids they had on their team, we had recruited, but they didn’t give us much of a look-see. They were never really interested in coming to Arizona State. We were a backup plan.”
Many long-time Sun Devil boosters still remember the ’78 contest with the Trojans as the loudest ASU game ever played at Sun Devil Stadium. 71,138 fans were in attendance, which at that time set a stadium record.
“When we came on the field in the third quarter — and this is the honest to God’s truth — the crowd was so loud that my helmet started vibrating,” Harris said. “It was a tremendous adrenaline rush, but it was scary because it felt like the whole stadium was going to come down.”
Former ASU cornerback Kim Anderson added his perspective: “They had that damn fight song going and that horse walking around but after we started playing you never heard that band again because they didn’t have anything to cheer about.”
In the two teams’ most recent meeting (2011), Arizona State ended an 11-game USC winning streak by prevailing 43-22.
However, the Trojans have a history of success playing in Tempe, posting a 19-10 overall record against the Sun Devils.