As Fresno State’s football team heads to play the University of Southern California Trojans Saturday night, I am buffeted by a tidal wave of emotions.
The first emotion is one of star-struck awe at the USC football program. My wife’s brother played (second string) fullback for them more than 80 years ago after being recruited all the way from Florida. He was student body president there and later the head of the Trojan Club. And his children and grandchildren have and are attending. So I know their fierce loyalty. For a century their program has been a national leader. Many national championships garnish their record. Indeed, along with Notre Dame this is perhaps the most revered college football program in the history of football.
The vision of the Coliseum where the game will be held looms over me like a giant specter. I can see the fans, all 100,000 of them, mostly cheering their team. I can see Tommy Trojan burying his sword in the ground and riding his white stallion around the stadium after each score. Names of their heroes loom before me. And I can visualize the student body of many privileged students at an elite school cheering and enjoying their outing. It is an awesome scene.
But I also have a different emotion: profound anger. I think of how our Valley has been downgraded in the universal perception to a poverty stricken area of immigrants. I see Fresno State’s team going there, but not the Trojans returning the visit to Bulldog Stadium. This is no doubt fueled by a huge subsidy which the rich USC team can afford; Fresno State is induced to play there as the first game of the season as a warm up, a sort of live bait to be thrown to the raging Troy. An aging stadium, declining attendance at local football games, and declining support for the Fresno State athletic program make this subsidy all the more urgent, but the sacrificial role of the players more apparent.
The huge gap between the richest in the California coastal regions and our own Valley is immense. While I eschew the socialist rhetoric of the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, I do chafe at the huge gap of wealth between the richest of our citizens and the rest. I see our struggling kids facing an elite school. Charles Dicken’s Oliver Swift comes to mind asking rebelliously for “more” food. The sheer injustice of the Valley v. Coastal differential is staggering, unjust, and rage inducing.
But I feel another emotion: pride. I think of David and Goliath. Our players are indeed going into the history-encrusted Coliseum, but with their heads high. There is much of which to be proud in our Valley. Fresno State has a correctly lauded ratio of students from families where they are the first to attend college. This local institution proudly stands as a bastion of learning in a Valley with admitted poverty and homeless problems. It’s agricultural, music and business programs uplift our environs. And the football program is ever increasing its scholastic standing, giving the players needed academic skills for later in life.
So, is there a place for an underdog in the throbbing Coliseum? The game can be viewed as a chance for Fresno State to showcase its team and not as sacrificial lambs. Think of Fresno State coming off a winning season and the Trojans from a losing one. Can these sons of many middle class and struggling families face up to the mighty Troy? I am vastly proud of them for trying. David did defeat Goliath. So I hope that the awe, anger, and local pride that will ride on the bus (airplane?) with our ‘Dogs will make them fierce opponents carrying with them the heart-felt support of the Valley into the Canyon of No Return. Go Dogs!
Phil Fullerton submitted this op-ed before the final complications and death of his wife, Margaret, on Wednesday, Aug. 28. Fullerton is a retired attorney in Fresno. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.