“Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” This age old sports adage has stood the test of time and finds itself still relevant even today. Look no further than Alabama, the New York Giants, and even the Dallas Mavericks for proof that defense, no matter how unsexy it is, gets the job done in the end.
LSU and Alabama put on one of the most boring NCAA championships in recent memory but the trophy Alabama received is just as good as any other. The all-offense Pats looked like an unstoppable machine until they ran into the front four of NY. Even the Mavs were able to stop Miami’s Big Three with their lockdown defense (and Lebron’s fourth quarter naps).
But since when does USC like to do things the normal way? If there is anything that the whirlwind of the last three seasons has taught me is that USC football is anything but boring and normal. That’s why I take the defense wins championships adage with a grain of salt when it comes to USC.
When I first came to USC, all of the marketing materials they sent to my house or via email touted the backdrop of L.A. in which USC resides. It wasn’t till after this most recent season that I grasped the impact Tinsel Town has on the Trojans. Could there be a more perfect setting than the drama and volatility of Hollywood to serve as a metaphor for this team.
The story lends itself to a Hollywood screenplay. The disgraced hero, fallen from his pedestal atop history. The new savior, himself an underdog and downtrodden, comes in to resurrect the once storied Trojans and return them to former glory. Matt Barkley would of course be played by Ryan Gosling in this adaptation.
Nothing about this USC team is normal. Considering the adversity, the negative perceptions, and the stacked deck all going against USC, logic dictates anything but success. Yet, that is exactly what Lane Kiffin and his team have stumbled upon this past season going into the next. And now with that success, this odd team has also stumbled on something a little more familiar to Trojans past and present, the expectation to succeed.
Not demanding but requiring championships comes with the territory. Call it the L.A. mentality but we have always needed more from our teams. Pressure like that would break a lesser team’s backbone. Not the Trojans though. The same reason why the didn’t unravel through the rough patch is the exact same reason why they will succeed next season. Swagger.
Call it arrogance or call it confidence, either way, its hard to deny that when the football teams runs out of the tunnel before games they have a gait that can’t be described. It’s that strut of confidence that comes from a team that believes in its coach and believes in itself. In a grueling season against the best of the PAC-12, that swagger is really all you have to fall back on. When the world is against you (read NCAA) and your fans expect nothing other than a championship, only that confidence in yourself keeps you grounded.
Maybe its USC’s secret ingredient but it is very hard to deny the culture Lane Kiffin has implemented has had a huge impact on the outcome of the last two seasons. Despite the clamor when he was first announced as new coach for the Trojans I like Lane Kiffin and what he has done to the team. It is very hard to deny that Pete Carroll’s last couple teams got complacent. What Kiffin did is flip that mindset on its head and make everyone around him embrace the underdog role with a certain amount of arrogance.
What we saw last season is that the swagger is a bond between teammates thicker than injuries, adversity, and the like. It kept our team together after tough losses like the Stanford game and it pushed us forward like the fourth quarter of the Oregon game.
Every team USC has ever fielded has always been talented from top to bottom. Since USC hasn’t won every single championship since the formation of the NCAA then clearly talent isn’t the secret ingredient. The one consistency across decades of USC football is that swagger of playing for the Trojans.
Offense sells the seats, defense wins championships, but just maybe attitude builds dynasties.