Then there's the story of the game that almost got away from Giles Pellerin. He was pledging allegiance to the flag at a Rotary Club meeting in Burbank four days before USC's big game with Stanford in 1949. One of the Rotarians told Pellerin he looked as white as a polar ice cap. "It was appendicitis," says Pellerin. "The first question that entered my mind was how long I'd be in the hospital."
He didn't want to mess up his streak. The doctor at Queen of Angels Hospital said he didn't think Pellerin would make the game, but Pellerin had other ideas. Clad in his hospital gown, Pellerin had his brother Oliver walk him up and down the corridors so he could regain his strength. And when the physician didn't show that Saturday, Pellerin slipped on his street clothes, snuck out of the hospital and rode to the game with Oliver.
When Pellerin returned to the hospital later that afternoon, his face was a little sunburnt. "Where have you been?" asked a nurse. "Oh," answered Pellerin, "I've been getting a little exercise."
He has been getting a little exercise now for 58 years. Neither rain nor snow nor appendectomy can keep Perpetual Pellerin away from a USC game. The Trojans haven't played without him since 1926. At his first game he watched them innundate Whittier 74-0. That's 618 games in a row and counting.
Pellerin graduated from USC with an engineering degree in 1923 and spent the next 45 years working at Pacific Telephone. He has traveled more than 750,000 miles to see the Trojans play. He's dapper and goal-post slim, and looks a good deal younger than his 77 years. During the season he watches the Trojans practice two or three times a week, and on the road he hangs out in the team's hotel lobby, talking to the boys and meeting their parents. "We've played in cities like Austin, Little Rock and Ann Arbor," he says, "and each gives me the opportunity to see college campuses and go to pep rallies and make hundreds of friends throughout the United States and correspond with them." At Christmas he sends out about 150 cards to people he has met in his Pellerin peregrinations.
All his old ticket stubs are held together by rubber bands in a shoebox in his San Marino home. He used to have all the programs, too, but he lost most of them in a garage fire. He still has the gold watch USC gave him to commemorate his 500th straight game, the 1973 Rose Bowl. "Sure, I could sit in my rocking chair and grow old," he says. "But I don't intend to do that. You've got to have something to look forward to."
Oliver had a streak going himself, but he took a break for World War II. He hasn't missed a USC game since 1947. Pellerin's youngest brother, Max, had his streaks interrupted by the Korean War and an assignment with Northrup Aircraft in Saudi Arabia. Max is now working on a modest 50-gamer. And then there's Pellerin's wife, Jessie, who has accompanied him to games since 1935. They courted at USC games for almost two years. "When we die," Pellerin says, "we will bequeath $750,000 to the team. We consider them our children."
His extended football family includes such favorite sons as Anthony Davis, Gary Jeter, Lynn Swann, Pat Haden, Mike Garrett, Marcus Allen and Frank Gifford. Gifford's 1951 squad gave Pellerin his quintessential football experience, a quasi-mystical event that began at halftime when USC was trailing Cal 14-0. "At the start of the third quarter," he says, "off in the distance you could hear drumbeats. They got louder and louder. Suddenly, in marched the Trojan band, which had been waylaid by a train wreck. With the beating of those drums you could almost see the momentum building." The Trojans scored the next three touchdowns and won 21-14.
"Every year I tell myself I'm not going back," Pellerin says halfheartedly. "Then I look ahead to something like this season's Arizona State game, in Tempe. We've never won in Tempe, and, I just have to be there with 'em." He can hardly wait until 1992 when, he reckons, he'll see his 700th straight game. "That is," he says, "unless USC goes to the Rose Bowl two or three times before then."