Traveler, the noble white horse that appears at all USC home football games with a Trojan warrior astride, is one of the most famous college mascots.
Traveler first made an appearance at USC football games in 1961 in the home opener versus Georgia Tech. Bob Jani, USC's director of special events, and Eddie Tannenbaum, a junior at USC, had spotted Richard Saukko riding his white horse, Traveler I, in the 1961 Rose Parade. They persuaded Saukko to ride his white horse around the Coliseum during USC games, serving as a mascot. Ever since, whenever USC scores, the band plays "Conquest" and Traveler gallops around the Coliseum.
Because of poor health, Saukko stopped riding after the 1988 season. His successors have been alumni:
Cass Dabbs, Rick Oas, Tom Nolan, Ardeshir Radpour, Brent Dahlgren (student trainee), Chuck O'Donnell, and current rider Hector Aguilar. Saukko passed away in March of 1992. Saukko's wife, Patricia, continued as Traveler's owner until the end of the 2002 Football Season. The current Traveler VII is owned by Joanne Asman who took over in 2003 and still continues the tradition.
Saukko first appeared on Traveler in the outift that actor Charlton Heston wore in "Ben Hur." That proved to be too cumbersome, so Saukko crafted his own leather costume in 1962, modeled after the Tommy Trojan statue on the USC campus (that outfit is still being used). But he still sometimes wore Heston's helmet. Interestingly, Saukko was once employed by Jim Crowley, one of Notre Dame's "Four Horsemen."
Legend has it that Heisman Trophy tailback O.J. Simpson decided to come to USC after seeing Traveler on a televised football game. And Trojan faithful swear the horse has an effect on the outcome of games.
"(Former USC coach) John McKay didn't want to admit that the horse had anything to do with his success," said Saukko, "but he'd always give me a wink when he saw me waiting in the Coliseum tunnel."
Added former USC All-American defensive back and assistant coach Nate Shaw: "The horse is one of the greatest inspirational devices USC has. It definitely got the adrenaline going when I was playing and I think it still has an effect on the players. When I was coaching against USC (at Oregon State), we hated to see that horse come down the tunnel because it got USC a little more pumped up."
Traveler not only appears at Trojan home football games (and even at some away games, including the 1995 Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the farthest Traveler has traveled), but also at other Trojan events, as well as at grade and high schools, charity functions and parades (including the past 40 Rose Parades). Traveler has also appeared on screen (including "The Battle of the Gunfighter" and "Snowfire"), on stage (including the Long Beach Ballet's "Nutcracker Ballet"), and in commercials.
Incidentally, Traveler I was not the first equine mascot for Troy. The first appearance of a white horse at a Trojan football game occurred as early as 1927, when Louis Shields began a four-year stint aboard a horse owned by a local banker. In 1948, band director Tommy Walker once had USC colors carried by a Trojan on a palomino. Then, before kickoff of the 1954 USC-Pittsburgh game, Arthur J. Gontier III, then a member of the Trojan Knights spirit group (subbing for another rider who backed out at the last moment), shakily rode a rented gray/white horse while donning a costume once worn by actor Jeff Chandler. A more accomplished rider, USC alum Bob Caswell, and his white horse, Rockazar, took over the following game and performed until retiring in 1959.
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