Traveler® is one of the most celebrated college mascots! This noble white horse, with the regal Tommy Trojan warrior astride, appears at all USC home football games.
Traveler® first appeared at USC football games in 1961, in the home opener versus Georgia Tech. Earlier that year, Bob Jani and Eddie Tannenbaum (USC’s director of special events and a junior at USC, respectively) saw Richard Saukko riding his white horse, Traveler® I, in the Rose Parade. An idea sprang to mind! They persuaded Richard to bring his horse to ride around the Coliseum during USC football games, and serve as a mascot. The new tradition stuck! To this day, when USC scores, Traveler® gallops around the Coliseum to the tune of the band playing “Conquest”.
Richard first rode Traveler® in the outfit worn by actor Charlton Heston in Ben Hur. That proved cumbersome, however, so in 1962 he crafted his own leather costume, modeled after the Tommy Trojan statue on the USC campus (that outfit is on display in Heritage Hall). But he still sometimes wore Heston’s helmet.
Richard trained and rode USC’s equestrian mascots until 1988, when others took over the role of Tommy Trojan. After his passing in 1992, his wife Patricia continued the tradition of raising and training the famous Traveler® horses until she retired following the 2002 season. She asked Joanne Asman to take over with her own Traveler® 7 in 2003.
The current Trojan mascot is Traveler® IX, a beautiful Andalusian gelding. While the breed of horse has changed over the years (from an Arabian/Tennessee Walker to a pure-bred Arabian to a Spanish Andalusian), every Traveler® has been white in color.
In the fall of 2004, the late USC alumnus Bill Tilley (’61) and his wife, Nadine, donated $2 million to provide a permanent endowment to support Traveler®. Bill was Chairman and CEO of the Jacmar Companies, a multifaceted international restaurant and food service enterprise, and majority owner of the popular B.J.’s Restaurant and Brewery. Nadine is an avid breeder of champion Andalusian horses, and hopes that a future Traveler® will be bred at Tilley Andalusians (in Hidden Valley near Thousand Oaks), now known as “The Home of Traveler®.”
Trojan faithful swear Traveler® can effect the outcome of games, and he has been touted as one of greatest inspirational devices USC has for players. Richard once said, “(Former USC coach) John McKay didn’t want to admit that the horse had anything to do with his success, but he’d always give me a wink when he saw me waiting in the Coliseum tunnel.”
Before Traveler®, there were a handful of appearances by other mascots. In 1927, Louis Shields rode a four-year stint on a white horse owned by a local banker. USC colors were carried by a Trojan warrior on a palomino in 1948; and in 1954, before kickoff of the Pittsburgh game, in a costume once worn by actor Jeff Chandler, Trojan Knights spirit group member Arthur J. Gontier III shakily rode a rented gray/white horse. USC alum Bob Caswell, a more accomplished rider, and his white horse, Rockazar, took over the next game, and retired in 1959.
For a time, USC had a canine mascot: a mutt named George Tirebiter I. Famous for chasing cars through the USC campus, he first appeared at football games in 1940. In 1947, the mascot was the center of a publicized dognapping by UCLA! Sadly, he died under the tires of an automobile in 1950, and was succeeded by George II from 1950-52, by George III for the year 1953, and finally by George IV for the year in 1957.