September 12, 1981. I’m a sophomore at USC, warming up in the end zone of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before the season opener, Tennessee vs. USC, my first-ever football game as a USC yell leader.
Although I had been a yell leader for the basketball team during freshman year, football at the University of Southern California was something different altogether. This was the biggest stage, the school’s raison d’etre, so it seemed at times. For goodness sake, this was Marcus Allen’s Heisman Trophy year!
Of course, I was unaware of Allen’s award while stretching in the peristyle end of the Coliseum before the season opener, just that the entire Trojan Universe was about to see me up on one of those wooden podiums flanked by red curtains—a staple seen on USC football telecasts for years—shortly after kickoff, which was more than an hour away.
So I decided to warm up with a few toe-touches, a jump where your feet end up high in the air, parallel to the ground, while your hands touch your toes. I’m pretty sure I was the only person about to attempt one, especially since most of the yell leaders didn’t do jumps.
The all-male, USC yell squad was an enigmatic institution patterned after your great, great grandfather’s all-male, yell leading squad from the earlier part of the 20th century. Essentially a separate entity from the glorified USC Song Girls, the yell fish—as the band was fond of calling us—was mostly made up of white, collegiate-looking fraternity boys who were neither very athletic nor very interested in doing toe-touches.
“Why, there’s nothing wrong with my bright yellow yell pants!”
So the other yell fish, er, yell leaders in the end zone were all standing around, mostly doing nothing, as I tried my first toe-touch, which made it pretty easy to hear the distinctive sound of my bright yellow yell pants ripping as I arrived at the summit of my jump and reached for my toes.
By the time my feet returned to earth, all eyes were on me and by extension, my pants. I can’t remember if anyone offered to help, just the laughter, the knowing looks, and the response by the Yell King (his real name!) when I told him what he already knew, seeing as how the Yell King was within arms reach: “I think I split my pants.”
“So,” said the Yell King, snickering with his cronies. “What do you want me to do about it.”
Act like a leader when one of your teammates has a crisis?
I was on my own, which wasn’t a surprise. It was every yell fish for himself in this pond.
By game time, I was up on my podium in front of the alumni section, having been assured by my lone ally on the squad that the tear wasn’t visible. My best-case-scenario wish was to keep it that way by remaining relatively motionless from the waist down for the entire game (not an impossible dream, considering the alumni section was more subdued than the student section and the game was not expected to be close).
As the Trojans began pummeling the Volunteers, I cheered their every move from the waist up, turning from the crowd to the game—and from the game to the crowd—while squeezing. Oh, and trying to maintain a countenance that said, why, there’s nothing wrong with my bright yellow yell pants!
At one point during the game, a female band member approached me from the stands. We exchanged a few words, then headed for the Coliseum tunnel, me still trying to pull off my best impersonation of the graceful cheerleader exit (swift, non-disruptive, humble, head and shoulders down).
Moments later, I was standing alone in my white draws in the lone restroom underneath the lone tunnel in the LA Memorial Coliseum, a tiny, tiny water closet, if there ever was one. On the other side of the door, the female band member was sewing up my bright yellow yell pants with a needle and thread from her sewing kit. Turns out, yell leaders and football players aren’t the only ones who suffer from rips and tears on game day.
I think I missed most of the third quarter, but I did make it back to my podium for the remainder of the game, thanks to my super sewing hero.
Good thing, too. Turns out, she wasn’t the only one who was aware of my dilemma.
“You had a split in your pants,” noted my boss at work on Monday. She had been sitting in the stands, along with the other 62,146 fans who came to see the season opener.