The 1998 season saw the end of one of the most remarkable streaks in sports history.
Giles Pellerin, a 91-year-old retired phone company executive from Pasadena, Calif., had viewed in person 797 consecutive USC football games, home and away, before passing away on Nov. 21, 1998, at the Rose Bowl during the USC-UCLA game.
As his friends and family said at the time, he died doing what he loved best: watching his beloved Trojans. And, ironically, his death came at the site of the first USC game he ever saw.
Known as USC's "Super Fan," there are devoted college sports fans and then there was Pellerin. Not only was he the Trojans' most loyal football fan, but he was the most rabid college football fan ever!
In all, he traveled by plane, train and automobile more than 650,000 miles and spent upwards of $85,000 doing so.
His streak began at the start of the 1926 season, his sophomore year at USC. Coach Howard Jones' Trojans won that opener, 74-0 over Whittier, and since then, USC compiled a 532-225-40 record with Pellerin in the stands. He saw the first 69 USC-Notre Dame games ever played and the first 67 USC-UCLA games in history. He watched Troy play in nearly 75 different stadiums and in more than 50 cities (even Tokyo). He viewed all eight of USC's national championship squads and all 121 of USC's first team All-Americans (including the four Heisman Trophy winners), plus he saw 11 Trojan coaching regimes. His streak began before USC's famous white horse mascot first appeared at Trojan games (in 1927) and before the on-campus Tommy Trojan statue was built (in 1930).
Interestingly, the first USC football game Pellerin ever saw pre-dated the start of his streak. It was the 1923 Rose Bowl when, while he was a student at Huntington Park (Calif.) High, USC beat Penn State, 14-3. That means he also saw all 28 Trojan Rose Bowls (and nine of Troy's 11 other bowl appearances, missing only the 1924 Christmas Festival and the 1998 Sun Bowl).
So dedicated was Pellerin that he pushed back his honeymoon eight months so that he could celebrate it at a 1935 USC game in Hawaii. And his love for USC was so strong that he donated $1.3 million to endow three football scholarships and a swimming scholarship.
Giles came close to missing a game or two, including in 1993. But Trojan fate stepped in. Pellerin was about to leave his hotel the day after the 1993 Penn State road game when he suffered a ruptured aortic abdominal aneurysm. He was hospitalized in a Harrisburg (Pa.) hospital for 12 days, but fortunately USC had a bye that following week and, after signing a waiver absolving hospital officials from any liability, he was released in time for USC's next game, at home against Washington State. His streak was intact, with two days to spare!
"God must be a Trojan," Pellerin once said. "I've been lucky."
Another near miss came in 1949 when he was hospitalized five days before a home contest for an emergency operation to remove his appendix. On game day, he told the nurses he was going out for a walk on the hospital grounds. Instead, he went to the Coliseum and returned to his bed several hours after USC dumped Oregon, 40-13. The nurses were none the wiser!
He also survived a blown water pump outside Oklahoma City 36 hours before kickoff while driving to South Bend for a Notre Dame game and several instances of lost tickets. He also defied doctors orders to stay bedridden for six weeks following stomach tumor surgery a couple of weeks before USC's 1969 opener.
Football wasn't Pellerin's only cardinal-and-gold passion. He attended many home games of USC's other 18 sports, including almost every home men's basketball game.
In 1996, he won the first annual Sears DieHard Fan Award as "America's NCAA Division I DieHard College Sports Fan." In 1994, Pellerin was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame. And in 1988, he was named a finalist in the Fisher Nut "America's Nuttiest Sports Nuts" Contest (he was flown to New York City for the festivities).
He was constantly interviewed by sportswriters (stories about his exploits have appeared in USA Today and Sports Illustrated) and featured on USC's nationally-televised game broadcasts. He spoke to various service groups, like Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, about his streak.
In his later years, he was asked about his obsession.
"I never played the game, but I love it," he said. "There's just a certain spirit about college football. I've always said that going to USC games is the thing that has kept me alive, young and happy. It keeps me alive looking forward to the next season.
"I don't think I'm a nut. It's all been fun. I could've spent a lot more money on other hobbies. A guy can spend as much money playing golf or poker. Some people think I'm crazy for spending as much money as I have traveling to see these games. They don't understand that I do more than just watch a game when I visit these cities. I've met a lot of nice and interesting people on these trips.
"Sure, I could sit in my rocking chair and grow old. But I don't intend to do that. You've got to have something to look forward to.
"The players all greet me as the No. 1 Trojan. We (he and his late wife, Jessie) had no children of our own, so I think of all the USC players as our family." Giles wasnít alone in his pursuit and, in fact, his spirit lived on through his siblings. Brother Oliver, who died in May of 2002 at age 93, hadnít missed a USC game from 1945 until he couldn't make the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl because of injuries he suffered in a fall, ending his streak at 637 in a row. Another brother, Max, who died in 2001 at age 90, had a 300-plus string interrupted when he was sent overseas to work.