Monday, January 01, 2007

Fight on and win for ol' SC

I want to take a quick break from my typical columns full of opinionated drivel just to say how proud I am to have been a USC student and football fan the past four seasons.

Just look at all I've been witness to:

When I came in as a freshman, USC was coming off an Orange Bowl victory, but would have to replace a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Carson Palmer. All of their runningbacks were moving on as well. But this Pete Carroll guy really had something going.

Little did I know. Little did I know.

In four years, I've seen:
-a combined seven wins over rivals Notre Dame and UCLA
-two Heisman winners (Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush)
-an overall 48-4 record
-four Pac-10 titles
-four BCS Bowl births
-three Rose Bowl appearances (2004, 2006 and 2007)
-two undefeated calendar years (2004 and 2005)
-two national titles (2003 and 2004)

I saw Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White develop from untested players to the best the game has ever seen. I watched in awe from my dorm as USC shut out Auburn 23-0 Aug. 30, 2003, and stood for four quarters one week later at my first home game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (a 35-18 win over BYU).

On my way to the BYU game, I stopped by the USC bookstore to buy a USC T-shirt to wear to the game. I didn't have one with me - a bunch of the guys from the dorms had painted our chests, spelling: USC TROJANS.

That day I bought a shirt, and I've worn it for every USC Football game since. Every single one.

These wins were the setting of a new gold standard. Well, a cardinal and gold standard.

I saw Mike Williams make the greatest one-handed catch I'd ever seen (only to be topped by Dominique Byrd the next season in the Orange Bowl, only to be topped by Steve Smith later that game). I remember the "Mike Williams is Gangsta" T-shirts.

I remember when Hershel Dennis was our "next great running back." I remember watching Norm Chow's offense, thinking to myself, "these guys can't be stopped."

I carried dozens of Sweet n Low packets to the regular-season finale against Oregon State, throwing it all over in anticipation of going to the Sugar Bowl for a shot at the BCS title. I sat in my friend Eddie's room eager to buy tickets to New Orleans until ESPN reported that OU and LSU would get the call instead of the Trojans.

I glued myself to the television as USC beat Big 10 champion Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The 28-14 win over the Wolverines made for a very happy new year.

And I watched proudly as Pete Carroll exclaimed, "I think we just won ourselves a National Championship" from the stage at the Rose Bowl in January 2004.

And he was right. USC won the AP National Title.

I sat in my apartment the next season when USC opened the year at Virginia Tech in Reggie Bush's first great break-out game. I'll always remember that one for my buddy's girlfriend saying, "Look, honey, your team scored again," when an instant replay was brought up on the screen.

I never screamed as loud as I did Oct. 9, 2004, when Cal came to the Coliseum and had a chance to win until the very end. I know Brad and Eddie will always remember the Cal hippies who stole a Coliseum seat, and they'll remember the "retrieval process" that took place on Trousedale.

My friends piled into my car for the trip to Pasadena for our first away USC-UCLA game. I never was so excited to hear the band play Tusk. I snuck four oranges into the stadium that day.

I remember Ryan Killeen kicking five field goals and Reggie's two long runs in the Rose Bowl to beat UCLA and send 'SC to the Orange Bowl to face the undefeated and "much better football team" in OU.

I boogied boarded in Miami the day before the FedEx Orange Bowl, and I gave a cocky interview to Oklahoma City's Channel 9, saying the final score would depend on when USC pulled their started out of mercy. And I was right.

I played "Orange Bowling" at the pre-game party, and delt with the "Boomer Sooner" chants all day long, but Jan. 4, 2005 belonged to the Trojans. As quick as OU fans were to get in my face about OU's fast 7-0 lead, they were even quicker getting to the exits that night. I stayed to watch the entire trophy presentation after USC's dominating 55-19 performance.

I jumped out of my seat at ATVN, cheering like a mad man when Matt Leinart announced what no one thought possible: he was coming back.

I wanted to go to Hawaii for the season opener in 2005, but my cousin got married the same weekend in San Diego.

Watched as USC dominated their regular season schedule, getting very little resistance with one exception. I - along with the rest of the Trojan faithful - held my breath on the play that will forever be known as the "Bush push" in South Bend, Ind.

I saw Reggie Bush run from one side of the field to the other sideline, stop in his tracks, reverse toward the opposite pylon, and sprint in against Fresno State. Two weeks later, I saw the Trojans dominate the Bruins, 66-19, sending them to their second straight BCS title game.

And my heart broke when Vince Young scrambled eight yards on 4th down in the Rose Bowl the following January. As much as I can try to rationalize that I was happy for UT, being a native Texan, I can't. USC not winning their third straight championship hurt as much as any sports loss I'd ever witnessed.

I watched as USC started this season 6-0, only to lose to then-unranked Oregon State in the closing seconds. That tipped-ball on the two-point conversion brought back feelings only equaled by the loss to Texas.

I saw 'SC rebound to beat three straight ranked teams (No. 21 Oregon, No. 17 Cal, No. 6 Notre Dame). I even threw my crutches aside, hobbling on a pain-filled ankle in a protective boot to make sure I saw one final game at the Coliseum, from the student section, one more time.

I drove to Pasadena Dec. 2 for one final match up against UCLA, only to witness the unexpected. Even though the Bruins knocked us out of the BCS title game, ending the Trojans' run at a third title in four years, I took some joy in an exchange I overheard between a Bruin fan and a fellow Trojan.

Bruin fan: Guess who's not going to the national championship game now??

Trojan fan: Both of us.

That loss was number four. Think about that. In my four years at USC, the football team lost four games. Just four. They averaged a 12-1 record. What could a football fan ask for more than that?

How about to go out on a high note?

I guess a 32-18 win over Michigan to bookend my career as a USC student football fan makes for a pretty high note. That was the second 14-point win over Michigan in my tenure as a student in cardinal and gold.

The roses never smelled so sweet.

Thanks, USC Football, for the best four years any college football fan could ask for. I only hope you can keep on delivering, so that future Trojans can have the same experience I've had: four years of greatness.

I can only think of one thing left to say, fitting as it is:


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