USC Trojans:

So why does USC name its team after losers? And not only that, but why did the Trojans lose? Because they were dumb and gullible. What kind of mascot is that?

UPDATE: USC lawprof Howard Gillman points to this explanation (emphasis added):

Originally, the teams of the University of Southern California were referred to as Methodists or Wesleyans, names not favored by university officials. The director of athletics, Warren Bovard, son of university president Dr. George Bovard, asked Owen Bird, a sportswriter for the LA Times, to give the university a new nickname. Although we now are proud of a winning tradition, the USC family was not always successful during the early years. In fact, we were named "Trojans" because we were great losers. Bird dubbed the USC team "Trojans" instead of "Methodists" because he compared our players in 1912 to noble Trojan warriors. His reasons for using the term were that "At this time, the athletes and coaches of the university were under terrific handicaps. They were facing teams that were bigger and better-equipped, yet they had splendid fighting spirit. The name 'Trojans' fitted them. ... I came out with an article prior to a showdown between USC and Stanford in which I called attention the fighting spirit of USC athletes and named them 'Trojan' all the time, and it stuck. ... The term 'Trojan' as applied to USC means to me that no matter what the situation, what the odds or what the conditions, the completion must be carried on to the end and those who strive must give all the have and never be weary in doing so." ...
So they admit it! But I agree that the USC Methodists would be an even odder name for a football team.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Llama Butchers (?) comments: "Two! Four! Six! Eight! Who Got Tricked And Opened Their Gate?"

James Ellis (mail):
my understanding is that the team name was chosen specifically because of their losing tradition--and that "trojans" projected a noble, admirable sort of loser, compared to other monikers...
2.24.2006 2:01pm
tefta (mail):
Because in PCLand there are no winners or losers. Everybody plays for the love of the game.
2.24.2006 2:05pm
Joel B. (mail):
I don't know, maybe the idea is, in the "long term" the Trojans won. Ultimately conquering the Greeks and making them little more than tutors in their great empire. That is, if you accept Virgil. Which let's be honest, is more fun anyways.
2.24.2006 2:05pm
Richard Bellamy (mail):
I would assume because no one knew how to pronounce "Achaeans".
2.24.2006 2:05pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
They may have lost, but they were stylish.
2.24.2006 2:14pm
Anand H (mail):
Choices for team names:
Animals - Lions, Tigers, Jaguars, Eagles. Mostly on the verge of extinction. Losers...
Indians, Chiefs, Redskins - Both not PC and losers...
Steelers, Packers - Now outsourced, mostly, losers...
New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots - Arguably now quite anachronistic.
Seems to me that it's the rare team that's *not* named after losers.
2.24.2006 2:15pm
Chris C.:
Heh, still smarting from Sunday?
2.24.2006 2:16pm
Isaac Z. (mail):
On a related note, why is the most recognizable brand of condoms in this country named after a civilization and military force that was defeated when a mysterious vessel that had penetrated their walls burst open unexpectedly, allowing the soldiers inside it to run amok?
2.24.2006 2:17pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
According to tradition, the Trojans were the forefathers of the Romans. (Aeneas, a Trojan prince, second in strength to Hector, and lover of Venus, led the Trojan survivors from Ilium to Italia. Also, Julius Caesar claimed to be a direct descendent of Aeneas and Venus.) Therefore, arguably the Trojans were not losers but the foundation of the Roman Empire.
2.24.2006 2:21pm
Methodists would be better than the contradictory "Fighting Quakers" of Penn, or even worse, the "Li'l Quakers" of Swarthmore.
2.24.2006 2:21pm
I live near a Catholic school whose team is known as the "Immaculate Lions."

Perhaps T.S. Eliot high school's team would be the "Maculate Giraffes."
2.24.2006 2:31pm
Brian Frye (mail) (www):
Um. Well, it still beats the NYU Violets.
2.24.2006 2:34pm
For the non-Trojan fans out there, Chris C. is referring to Sunday's basketball game. Alas, after last night's disappointment, it's a good thing they are the Trojans after all.
2.24.2006 2:35pm
JGR (mail):
This is really missing the point. After the strictly historical usages, Websters unabridged gives the definition of "trojan" as "a person who shows pluck, determination, or energy".
The Trojan war lasted ten years, and seriously - If a football team possessed the fighting spirit of a group of warriors who fought ten years, they would possess greater spirit than any other football team. We may all believe that at some level, the victory is the thing; But in reality, whether the Trojans ultimately won or lost is only one datum.
If the Spartans had lost, I think "Spartan" would still be a complimentary word in a battle context.
2.24.2006 2:36pm
CJColucci (mail):
Isaac, that has to be the comment of the day.
2.24.2006 2:41pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

On a related note, why is the most recognizable brand of condoms in this country named after a civilization and military force that was defeated when a mysterious vessel that had penetrated their walls burst open unexpectedly, allowing the soldiers inside it to run amok?
Because the king of Troy had 50 sons?

I attended UCLA part-time while I was in high school, and USC for one year before I ran out of money. The real reason that USC named its team the Trojans was because they were being nice to UCLA--we wanted to make it easy for them to come up with "Trojans burst under pressure" when the cross-town rivalry reached its peak each year.
2.24.2006 2:50pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Isaac, CJColluci: Beat you to it.
2.24.2006 2:58pm
Bob Bobstein (mail):
A fine joke, Isaac. And no surprise that it was anticipated by Prof. Volokh.

There was a rumor at Northwestern that we were once called the "Fighting Methodists." That certainly would've been way awesomer than the "Wildcats." Why even bother with a nickname if that's all you're going to do? Why not just the Northwestern Northwesterners? (Or Northwestern Midwesterners).
2.24.2006 3:23pm
bob montgomery:
USC Methodists?

How about the PLU Lutes?
2.24.2006 3:24pm
Way up in the hills of Westwood
So offensive to the eye
Stands a Cal extension campus
Known as Westwood High

Home to all the Bruin bearcubs
UGLY is it's name
The student body's vile
The campus is a pile
And the football team's a shame



(Sung by my obnoxious Trojan-educated wife every once in a while - to the tune of the UCLA fight song)
2.24.2006 3:51pm
Jesse (mail) (www):

Originally, the teams of the University of Southern California were referred to as Methodists or Wesleyans, names not favored by university officials.

Looks like none of the Wesleyan colleges or universities out there have gone with Methodists as their team name. Or "Southern Californians" for that matter.
2.24.2006 4:41pm
nk (mail) (www):
Aeneas, according to Virgil, was the son of Aphrodite, not her lover. And Roman Venus was not merged with Greek Aphrodite until the decadent, Hellenistic time of Rome. As for the Aenead, itself, Virgil wrote it after the death of Julius Cesar and it was a completely obvious kiss up to Augustus.

But for the Professor's statement: "So why does USC name its team after losers? And not only that, but why did the Trojans lose? Because they were dumb and gullible."

No way. The Trojans were the good guys. Defending themselves against bandits. Hector was the real hero and Achilles a spoiled brat of a rapist and killer. Hector's exchange with Andromache is the most touching passage in all poetry. If you want to push it, what did the "winners" get out of it? Achilles got killed by Paris; Agamemnon by his wife; Menelaus spent 10 years on a Mediteranean cruise with his wife (only maybe a little bit better than being axed); Odysseus did the same only to come back home alone, having lost all his ships and men, wipe out the next generation of his nobles and have to go into exile for expiation. Give me the Trojans over the Achaeans any time.
2.24.2006 5:16pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
You mean they weren't named after the condoms?
2.24.2006 5:30pm
David Lyons (mail):
In addition to the already-mentioned connection Virgil creates between Troy and Rome, Snorri Sturluson, in his Prologue to his Edda, similarly claims that the Norsemen were descendants from the Trojans, having been brought out of Turkey by the great king Odinn.

Because Troy was regarded by as having occupied the center of the known world it has been sought as the point of origin for significant civilizations in Western history. It's really no wonder that USC would continue the trend.
2.24.2006 5:47pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
Condoms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,
And haughty Bruins' unrelenting hate,
Expell'd and exil'd, left the South Central shore.
2.24.2006 5:48pm
Jon Black (mail):
Of course we could have called ourselves the "baby bears," used another school's fight song, and then selected the most effiminate football uniforms in the history of the world. But alas, we were not as original as the JC, ... er UC cross town.

With all due respect my ruin friend, the Trojans are the foundation of the greatest empire in all the world, and the baby bears, are well, little.
2.24.2006 5:52pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
I seem to recall reading in history class that you weren't allowed into the city of Troy unless you had a foreign-made chariot.
2.24.2006 5:54pm
Noah Klein (mail):

You also needed to pay the gatesman an outrageous sum in gold.

2.24.2006 6:48pm
Bruce Lagasse (mail):
A story I heard many years ago (perhaps apocryphal) concerns a pep rally at Stanford before a Stanford-USC football game. At the height of the hoopla, a man attired in Trojan-style armor, leggings and a plumed helmet appeared on stage, closely followed by a woman in a toga, and, in descending order of height, some 10 children, holding a banner reading "Trojans Are No Damn Good."
2.24.2006 6:49pm
Shelby (mail):
I've always been fond of UC-Santa Cruz's mascot, the Banana Slug. (Go Slugs!) And who can argue with the greatness of my own alma mater's, the Sagehen? But I must confess, they both lag in the classical-allusion category.

And, what's with the Hoyas?
2.24.2006 6:58pm
Curt Wilson:
In the early 1970s, when Jeff Siemen was an All-American linebacker at Stanford, there were cheers at the Stanford-USC games to the effect of "Not even Trojans can stop our Siemen!"
2.24.2006 8:48pm
Glenn W Bowen (mail):
Um. Well, it still beats the NYU Violets.

...just about anyone beats the (aptly named) NYU Violets.
2.24.2006 8:56pm
George Gregg (mail):
I can't believe none of you are ROFLing at Professor Volokh's linked excerpt.

I mean, sure, none of us wants to appear to eager to compliment the good Professor lest we be seen intemperate or, worse, fawning. But come on! That was funny!
2.24.2006 10:36pm
George Gregg (mail):
And I say that as an alum of USC's grad school.
2.24.2006 10:38pm
George Gregg (mail):
*too eager

2.24.2006 10:38pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
Thank you NK for correcting my misstatement in a prior post. I errantly recalled Aeneas to be the lover of Aphrodite when instead he was her son (it was Aeneas' father, Anchises, who was Aphrodite's lover). However, the Julii clan believed long before Virgil ever penned the Aeneid that they were descendents of Venus (Aphrodite) via Aeneas' son, Iulus (from which the the name "Julius" is derived). This is one reason why Julius Caesar financed the construction of a temple to Venus.
2.26.2006 7:26pm

There was a famed offensive line at Georgetown in the early years of the 20th Century. Adoring fans would cheer their heroes by chanting "Hoia Saxe"--what rocks (an ungodly mixture of Greek and Latin, as well as trademark infringement of Fordham's Seven Blocks of Granite).

Georgetown students, displying the stunning lack of spelling prowess that remains to this day, rendered "Hoia" into "Hoya", for marketing purposes.

I still don't know what's up with the bulldog...
2.27.2006 11:33am