The first interview I scored via twitter was with retired Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner.
The second? Lost Angeles blogger Zack Jerome.
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Zack Jerome built Arrogant Nation in a season. Two years ago, the Los Angeles based sports aficionado/social media strategist took the blogosphere not quite by storm. Posting almost five times a week, he usually mustered around 30 views. Upon his creation of what he calls “Arrogant Nation,” his readership numbers ballooned to the thousands and then some.
He’s known for his devil-may-care attitude towards the Trojans’ opposition and his never-say-die attitude toward cancer. At least to a traditional reader. But to USC Trojan fans, especially the student body, he has become a fixture in our cardinal and gold culture. And the biggest question is:
How? How in the world does one man worm his way into a culture filled with over one hundred years of tradition that includes everything from 11 national titles to 7, well, 6 bronze statues in Heritage Hall? And how does he do it in one football season?
Well he had a little help from the NCAA. You might have heard of them, especially this summer when they decided, among other things, that USC wasn’t going to a bowl game for the next two years (pending the appeal results). And when ESPN announced that it was the end of USC’s world as we knew it, Jerome decided that reports of the Trojans’ demise were greatly exaggerated. So he tapped into the Trojan Family and brought to the surface a very specific common denominator.
Some call it pride. Others, a bond. Whatever you call it, it’s the force of nature that convinces all that the only place on Earth like USC is USC. But more importantly he told us to be proud of who we are when the rest of the world said we shouldn’t. He knew timing was everything and that out of the worst arises the best. Jerome saw the golden opportunity and seized it. And thus a grass-roots movement swept through the student body.
Below you’ll find an in-depth Q&A with the arrogance expert on cancer, his day job, why Matt Barkley will probably be remembered more for the strength of leadership than the strength of his arm and everything in between. And you’ll only find it here. Zack thought it would be more arrogant that way.
My conclusion: Zack and I are very different, yet oddly similar. We’re hopelessly optimistic people who love the drama of sports more than we do the statistics. And even better, we love writing about it.
So without further ado, an interview with Zack Jerome (answers in bold text):
STARTING WITH THE BASICS….
You do this for free. But have you ever hoped in the back of your mind someone would hire you as a columnist for their site? I do see you write other places but have any of them been a direct result of the Lost Angeles Blog?
I think every writer always is open to being picked up for something where they get paid, but I love being my own editor (because I’m an editor who doesn’t spellcheck). Lost Angeles definitely got me the opportunity to write about the Dodgers for LAist, which was a great venue for me as a season ticket holder. Jimmy Bramlett, their sports editor, has really been a friend in the community. Still, selling out would require a big sale.
If you didn’t have the rather large following you have, would you still keep up the Lost Angeles Blog as consistently as you do?
I started the blog two years ago and used to get about 30 views a day. Back then, I still posted almost five times a week. If anything, I post less now because I want to make sure what I give my readers is cogent and more importantly, so arrogant that their laptops explode.
What was your initial inspiration for Arrogant Nation?
I teared up when I visited USC the first time and saw the band come on the field. I wanted to be a Trojan more than anything. When I got into film school at USC, I sent back my acceptance without considering if I could afford it or mentioning my choice to my parents, which was an arrogant move. I was going, loans, bank robbery, whatever.
After the rulings, I noticed how a lot of Trojans didn’t know how to feel about sanctions and a bowl-less season. I realized that the NCAA should have zero influence over the pure joy of going to the Coliseum, throwing up the Victory V, admiring the Song Girls and rooting for your team. So few years end in “championships”, but every USC game ends in a perfect Saturday as a human being. A human being surrounded by good people, pretty girls and more likely than not, a victory.
USC students have always had this amazing arrogance, a term which I use affectionately. It’s just this love of their school no matter what. It’s leaving early because we already won. It’s tongue-in-cheek and serious-as-cancer at the same time. It’s amazing. I’m at the Orange Bowl watching us kill Oklahoma for the “BCS” title my senior year and I am singing UCLA Sucks. That’s USC. We’re our own kind of beast.
My goal was to brand that emotion and movement and give the community a rallying point and a battle cry. No matter what the NCAA says, no matter what our record, we’re undefeated in arrogance: our deep love for the Trojan way. The NCAA couldn’t govern a 1st Grade class. They aren’t going to sanction our end zone.
You say a lot of really outlandish things. Where do you draw the line?
I don’t want to offend people to the point they vomit on their keyboards because laptops are expensive. The truth is, I’ve worked for a long time to figure out what my voice is and apparently it involves scotch, bears and arrogance. Maybe one day a pool filled with Veuve Cliquot.
I don’t know, it’s stream of consciousness. I’m not winning a Pulitzer anytime soon so why not describe something by saying it is a quest to drown in the toilet in front of people you don’t like? Words are fun. Be hell with a pen. (George Lucas built a time machine to the future to read that sentence, which was his inspiration for the light saber).
The straight answer is that I draw the line at politics and religion. I am not interested in arguing either with anyone for the most part. Love they neighbor and keep it arrogant. Think and worship as you please. That’s the fun part about America.
You’re clearly a self-made man. What are YOUR rules for success (besides attending USC)?
I think the key is doing something because you love it. A lot of people ask me how to create a successful blog and the answer is different for everyone. The gist is to find your voice and use it every day. Blogging is freeform in my mind and the more something I do gets a reaction, the more I explore it.
Another important rule is when you go hunting bears, always leave one alive so he may tell the tale of the battle and the bear community learns to fear your name. I have been told that bears tell bedtime stories about me to keep their kids in line. That makes me happy in a messed up sort of way.
Also, always help a Trojan if you can. If they aren’t a Trojan, help them anyway, but remind them it was a Trojan who helped them and spread the glory of your school.
Have you ever lost or gained a client for your regular business based on your affiliation with this blog?
By day I am a social media strategist so I think my learnings from the blog help shape my knowledge of the space. I take a very organic approach to what I do. I listen to what’s being said and try and weigh in with my voice and start a conversation.
Specifically, I take great care to not blog about clients or even the industry most of my clients work in. The blog is just my voice about the things I care about or bother me. I really make every effort to keep work and Lost Angeles separate subject-wise. The findings from both though are totally connected.
LET’S TALK FOOTBALL….
What qualifies you to write a sports blog in the first place? I don’t see any evidence of you actually playing any of the sports you write about…
Excellent point. I played a largely unnoticed year of freshman football in the Marmonte League here in the Southern Section of CIF. I was a pitcher up through JV in baseball. I guess I should come back 6’4, 240 in my next life.
Regardless, I think your readers decide if you are an authority. I study the game. People and personalities fascinate me. Learning the sport is the easy part. Understanding the game within the game is what drives me. My sports writing has more to do with the theater of competition than the Xs and Os.
Did you expect to essentially become a part of the culture of modern-day USC football?
Not to this level, no. I started noticing it when I delivered t-shirts to campus and people were really excited to meet me. It was weird. When I got invited to talk at Conquest, that was insane. I wish health-wise I could have made it. Next year…
There are lots of different roles that come together to form a team. I’d like to think I am doing something important for my school. Will they let me stand on the sideline? I don’t know. Will I get to lead the band after a game? I don’t know. Am I helping the USC Football Team? I think so. I’m saying there’s life after Pete. Pete was attracted to what we are, not the other way around. We need to keep being us as a fan base, no matter what.
Side note, If you asked me in 2005 if I’d be better liked in the USC community than Reggie Bush, I’d have laughed.
What are your hopes for influence and growth of this blog for the 2011 football season?
I am hoping to continue growth, but it’s been going great. Influence wise, I want to be on campus more. I want to support Arrogant Nation themed events, parties, charities and bear hunts. In a perfect world, I want a seat at the press box. I’d love USC to bring me in a little closer. We’re a private school and essentially, we should be able to say someone with my tone is allowed to exist hand-in-hand with the university.
If not, I’m good leading the underground. You guys are more fun anyway. Arrogant Nation is going to exist no matter what.
How much do you actually research USC’s opponents for each post?
Depends. Normally, I try to statistically grasp the situation and how it will come into play during the matchup, but the truth is, I am never going to research Washington State unless their quarterback gets caught trying to marry a farm animal. I am not a huge Bill Simmons fan, but what I do like is that it is not always about the stats, more the stories and personalities. I’d rather be thought of as a really wimpy version of Hunter S. Thompson than a really hardcore Bill Simmons, although I’d be stoked to drink scotch and talk sports with either (RIP, Hunter).
Did you ever find out what Matt Barkley thought of your own post ode to him and his 2011 Heisman campaign?
Let’s leave it at I know Matt now and he’s a great guy. He deserves the positive attention we’re going to bring him next season. The guy could have left us when we were hurting, instead, he’s here and he’s doing on the field what I hope I am doing off the field for our students and alumni. He’s motivated me and I hope I’ve done so for him.
In a completely hypothetical situation that would never possibly happen, let’s say #7 gets hurt and can’t finish out the season thus taking him out of the Heisman race? How would you frame THAT one?
Then he’s winning the Injured Reserve Heisman, which is probably even more prestigious since I just made it up right now. That said, he’s winning.
In a more plausible situation, what if he leaves early sans Heisman?
I have made it clear that I think no matter what Matt should finish out. He has a chance to be the most special Trojan of his era, the quarterback who led us through sanctions. If he leaves early for the NFL, so be it. He’s a great guy, I want what’s best for him as does Arrogant Nation.
It’s just hard to imagine him not having a statue on campus if he took us from Pete leaving, through sanctions, back to the Rose Bowl. That’s more special than a three-peat in my mind.
Plus, the statue they will build of me will need company.
Speaking of Matt, Barkley vs. Leinart? Which Monarch-turned-Trojan-QB-named-Matt wins?
Barkley, no question. I loved Leinart as an undergrad, but to my earlier point, Barkley is on a journey that goes beyond championships. Even if he simply kept us with a winning record through sanctions, it is the stuff of legends. It is the total opposite of a spoiled athlete. He could have left. He stayed. I thank Leinart for the memories, but Barkley is doing so much more for our future.
What was your gut reaction when you heard Lane Kiffin was named head coach?
Initially, confused. I was hoping Harbaugh took it. In a matter of hours though, I realized we were dealing with a force of nature in Kiffin. The guy plays head games. The guy has a hot wife. The guy wears a celestial white visor. He is our guy. Like Barkley, he took the job when the Jeff Fishers and Jack Del Rios wouldn’t have because of our situation.
It’d have been a lot easier to stay in Knoxville and not get death threats. Kiffin has become a mythological creature to me that is one part dragon, one part 90s action star, one part cowboy with a testosterone floater. He won me over.
It’s literally a dream of mine to take a photo with him where we both have visors on. I want to be his social media advisor. The guy is nails. I’m with you, Kiff.
LET’S GET A LITTLE PERSONAL….
With your popularity you have an incredible opportunity to help with cancer awareness and fundraising. Do you plan to take that opportunity? And how? Have you thought about participating in USC’s Relay for Life or teaming up with Jake Olson?
Absolutely. I am taking my time developing my skin cancer awareness program with my wife and I think it will be both hilarious and life-saving, not unlike Bruce Willis. I keep gravitating towards “Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself”.
What I hope is to be a living focal point for cancer research and fundraising. Naturally, most funds are named for a beloved family member who has been lost. Cancer is a scary thing. It’s a scary word. To my wife’s point, a group or foundation rallying around survival, someone who is still going strong may make it easier for people to get behind.
Livestrong does a great job at this, I found their material so helpful in the hospital. I am hoping I can help create something on a more local level dedicated to skin cancer, a real concern in Southern California.
You’ve shown your softer side with your wedding video and basically every time you mention your wife. How would SHE describe you?
She’d probably tell you I was compulsive to the point I can be exhausting. When I have a good meal, I want to talk to the chef, buy the ingredients, master cooking it, teach other people. I’m like a golden retriever in a field of new smells.
That said, she encouraged me to start the blog. She’ll roll her eyes at me from time to time, but she laughs at my bullshit harder than anyone I’ve ever met.
To be more concise, she’d probably describe me as her best friend. I’d agree with her.
AND BECAUSE IT’S ALMOST THAT TIME….
If Super Bowl had been the Jets vs. the Seahawks, who would you propose Arrogant Nation root for? Their former coach? Or their former quarterback?
Pete is gone. I’ll always pull for him, but it’s all Sanchez for me. Rex Ryan is crazy arrogant. He is into his wife (especially her feet) and they are just a team of arrogant quotes and actions after arrogant quotes and actions.
Your final pick for the 2011 Super Bowl Champ is….
Steelers. It will bore me to death, but Steelers. All they do is run the ball and stop the run. They are going to do it.